While California Secretary of State Alex Padilla claims there’s no voter fraud in the state, while refusing to release the data to federal investigators, the state’s unelected Agricultural Labor Relations Board has repressed the votes of California farmworkers who chose to decertify the United Farm Workers union.
In 1990, Gerawan Farms, one of the largest peach, plum and nectarine growers in the state, signed a contract with the UFW, which once boasted some 50,000 dues-paying members. By the time the union reappeared at Gerawan more than 20 years later, it had only 5,000 members, about the same number of workers employed there alone.
Ninety-nine percent of Gerawan’s 2013 employees did not work for the company in 1990, when the union election took place; that is, these employees never voted for the UFW.
Nevertheless, the UFW demanded that Gerawan workers pay it 3 percent of their wages. Those who refused would be fired.
The UFW invoked a 2003 law that empowers three people appointed by the governor, the ALRB, to impose wages and working conditions. Employers and employees alike have no ability to opt outa Don Corleone-style offer they can’t refuse.
In April 2013, the ALRB compelled Gerawan to adopt the agreement to force the worker payments. The employees, who earn the highest wages in California agriculture, cried foul. They held protests outside ALRB offices, and the agency finally agreed to let them vote.
Thousands of Gerawan workers cast ballots in November 2013, but the ALRB impounded the ballots and complied with UFW demands that they not be counted.
In response, 1,000 Gerawan workers protested outside the ALRB’s Visalia office in August 2014, denouncing the agency’s refusal to count their votes. The protesters told anybody who would listen that they did not want UFW representation, and that nobody forced them to oppose the union.
“They robbed us of our rights and trampled us,” said one worker. Another said he “never imagined there would be so much corruption” in the United States.
“Perhaps they think we are ignorant,” said another. “Perhaps they think that we are worthless. But they are wrong. We are worth something. And we want our votes to count.”
But the ALRB doesn’t want to count them, and the public does not get to vote for the ALRB members. Gov. Jerry Brown established that body in 1975, when he first held the office, and it reflects his affection for unelected government. The governor appoints all members of the ALRB, just as he appoints key members of the California Coastal Commission, an unelected body that rides roughshod over property rights.
The state court of appeals will decide whether to overturn the ALRB’s suppression of workers’ ballots, the sort of oppression workers would expect in Venezuela. Also, the California Supreme Court will hear arguments on the law that allows Gov. Brown’s appointees to dictate wages and working conditions.
That abuse of government power is bad for farmers, workers and consumers alike. All Californians should pay close attention when the Supreme Court takes up the case on September 5.
|K. Lloyd Billingsley is a Policy Fellow at the Independent Institute and author of the Independent Briefing, Cross-Currents in California Water: A Case Study of Bureaucracy Versus Tradable, Private Water Rights.|