Dan Walters

Dan Walters: Jerry Brown hands United Farm Workers a setback

Dan Walters
Dan Walters

What goes around comes around.

Jerry Brown devoted much of his first governorship to seeking other offices, so his record of accomplishment was scant.

He’s often touted a 1975 deal to give farmworkers, excluded from the National Labor Relations Act, union rights in California, supposedly settling years of strife between the United Farm Workers Union and growers.

However, it merely ignited decades of new strife, which continues with Brown’s recent veto of a new farm labor bill.

Brown erred 39 years ago by having the law take effect immediately and by appointing an obviously pro-UFW Agricultural Labor Relations Board, including the auxiliary Catholic bishop of Fresno, Roger Mahony, as chairman.

Farmers bristled at the board’s makeup, it struggled to organize while being deluged with UFW election petitions, and the union was frustrated by not immediately gaining contracts.

The UFW did score some wins during the early years, thanks to having a pro-union board and staff, but then went into a decades-long skid.

UFW leader Cesar Chavez and his successors contended that Republican governors emasculated the ALRB and growers stalled on contract negotiations. The union’s critics say that as Chavez pursued other causes, the UFW failed to supply seasonal workers under contract “hiring halls.”

In 2002, Democratic legislators and then-Gov. Gray Davis tried to help the UFW with mandatory mediation of stalled negotiations.

Three years ago, after Brown had returned to the governorship, he and lawmakers empowered the ALRB to certify a union if it found employer misconduct.

The legislative activity was largely spurred by a conflict between the UFW and Gerawan Farming, a huge, Fresno-based fruit grower with thousands of workers. The union won a Gerawan representation election in 1990 but never got a contract. Both sides say the other stalled.

Using the new ALRB powers, the UFW tried to get back in the game with mediation, but Gerawan said it would be unfair since only a handful of current workers voted in the 1990 election.

The company and its anti-union employees petitioned for a new election in 2013, but the ALRB never counted the ballots and earlier this month, its chief prosecutor issued a 28-page complaint alleging that Gerawan interfered.

The farming company denies the charges, saying they were trumped up to void an election that the UFW had lost, and the whole issue is now in the courts.

Meanwhile, the Legislature passed still another bill requiring the ALRB to implement its mediation order while reviews are pending and limiting the ability of courts to intervene.

Over the weekend, Brown vetoed Senate Bill 25, saying he wanted a “balanced and fair” process.

“We should look at the entire process before making further changes,” he said, handing the UFW a big defeat and farmers a victory.