Capitol Alert

California Senate reconfirms controversial ag labor board member

Richie Ross, a lobbyist for the United Farm Workers, worked on Genevieve Shiroma’s campaigns for the Sacramento Municipal Utility District board. Their relationship is at the center of a controversy over her reappointment to the Agricultural Labor Relations Board.
Richie Ross, a lobbyist for the United Farm Workers, worked on Genevieve Shiroma’s campaigns for the Sacramento Municipal Utility District board. Their relationship is at the center of a controversy over her reappointment to the Agricultural Labor Relations Board. The Sacramento Bee file

Despite a concerted campaign by growers who objected to her ties to a farmworker union lobbyist, the California Senate on Thursday approved Genevieve Shiroma’s appointment to the Agricultural Labor Relations Board for a fourth time. After vocal objections from Republicans who questioned whether she could be “fair and balanced,” Shiroma was confirmed 26-11 along partisan lines.

Sen. Tom Berryhill, R-Twain Harte, who voted against Shiroma during a confirmation hearing in June, led the opposition again on the Senate floor. Noting that Richie Ross, a Democratic campaign consultant who lobbies for the United Farm Workers, had worked on Shiroma’s campaigns for the Sacramento Municipal Utility District board of directors, Berryhill said there was a perception among growers that she has a conflict of interest in adjudicating their disputes.

“Frankly, her actions back up that perception,” he said. “It’s time for her to retire. She’s been on that board a long time.”

Shiroma was first appointed to the Agricultural Labor Relations Board by Gov. Gray Davis in 1999. But agricultural interests were angered in recent years as Shiroma refused to recuse herself in an ongoing conflict between UFW and Gerawan Farms of Fresno County, and blocked the counting of ballots in a vote by Gerawan workers on whether to decertify UFW from their representation. They launched a social media campaign highlighting her connection to Ross following her reappointment by Gov. Jerry Brown in January.

“Unfortunately, the ALRB has turned its back on farm workers and now sees its number-one job as a shill for the UFW,” Sen. Andy Vidak, R-Hanford, said Thursday. “The ALRB has become corrupt and not helping the people at the bottom of the chain as was originally intended.”

He drew an audible “ooh” in the Senate chamber as he closed his scathing remarks with a quote from Cesar Chavez, the late founder of UFW.

A handful of Democrats rose to defend Shiroma against the accusations of bias before she was easily confirmed with the support of the entire Senate Democratic Caucus.

“I’ve known Genevieve Shiroma for a long time,” Sen. Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, said. “I’ve found her to be very fair, someone who actually is a good listener, is very well-respected, who works well not only with the labor community but also the business community.”

Alexei Koseff: 916-321-5236, @akoseff

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