Soapbox

Farmers deserve a balanced ag labor board

George Radanovich
George Radanovich

The purpose of the Agricultural Labor Relations Act was to bring about a sense of justice and fair play during a tumultuous time in the farm fields of California in 1975.

When the Agricultural Labor Relations Board was formed, it was with the understanding that membership would consist of two members representing labor, two representing agriculture, and one public or neutral member. Instead, the board has become one of the most contentious, lopsided administrative boards ever assembled by the state of California.

The recent resignation of Chairman William Gould IV and his prompt replacement by former state Sen. Isadore Hall, D-Compton, only further illustrate this imbalance. Gould brought a wealth of experience from the National Labor Relations Board and the private sector. He was unabashedly pro-union and presumed the worst of agriculture employers, but he still reached out to many in the agricultural community by forming an Ag Advisory Committee.

We anticipated that finding a replacement for Gould might have been a significant task for the Brown administration, one that would have included outreach to all affected stakeholders, including agriculture. Rather, in a matter of 48 hours, Gov. Jerry Brown appointed a termed-out state senator and failed congressional candidate who has no labor law background whatsoever but with strong ties to the United Farm Workers.

Hall’s Senate district was urban Los Angeles and his only ties to agriculture are through the United Farm Workers union. He is intelligent and well liked by both sides of the aisle in the Legislature. However, his financial support by the UFW, his personal ties with UFW President Arturo Rodriguez and raising the union banner while marching with the UFW do not inspire much confidence that he will be an impartial member of this board.

While a state senator, Hall was the principle co-author of two UFW-sponsored bills and voted in favor of two other bills that would make it easier to force Agricultural Labor Relations Board-written contracts on farmers and workers. These close ties should disqualify him from the position where he will judge UFW issues almost daily.

The UFW has hijacked the Agricultural Labor Relations Board with the help of a Legislature and governor infatuated with the labor lore of the 1970s. Gould had no respect for the UFW because they’ve only managed to unionize about 1 percent of farmworkers over the last 40 years. He actively pursued other unions to organize farmworkers. There is no denying that the Agricultural Labor Relations Board’s recent decision to prevent the disclosure of the election results, from the high-profile decertification fiasco of Gerawan Farming of Fresno was to cover up the fact that most farmworkers don’t want to unionize.

Today, California farmworkers are protected by the strictest labor laws in the nation, and they decline to unionize because they value a good employer over a union. Brown should recognize this and rewrite the Agricultural Labor Relations Act to guarantee employer representation on the board. California farmers deserve better than a lopsided Agricultural Labor Relations Board.

George Radanovich is president of the California Fresh Fruit Association and can be contacted at gradanovich@cafreshfruit.com. Joel Nelsen is president of California Citrus Mutual and can be contacted at jnelsen@cacitrusmutual.com. Tom Nassif is president of Western Growers Association and can be contacted at tnassif@wga.com.

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