Government agency informs workers of voting rights then repeatedly blocks election
Having been abandoned by the UFW for more than 20 years, Gerawan farmworkers resisted when the union resurfaced in 2012, demanding that they be fired unless they fork over 3 percent of their pay.
To the farmworkers, this was an unfair labor practice (ULP) – just the kind of issue the Agricultural Labor Relations Board (ALRB) was created to investigate and prosecute.
Instead, the ALRB’s new general counsel, Sylvia Torres-Guillen, responded as if she was an enforcer for a UFW protection racket.
Thousands of Gerawan workers – the majority of the company’s employees – signed a petition asking the ALRB to allow them to hold a decertification election to grant them the ability to choose whether to remain with the union that abandoned them decades before.
With Torres-Guillen’s backing, ALRB Regional Director Silas Shawver dismissed the farmworkers’ request.
Shawver claimed that many of the signatures were fraudulent or invalid. Rather than try to discover the facts, Shawver said that the signatures didn’t count.
So the Gerawan farmworkers held the largest strike in history to oppose an ALRB action. The workers completed a second effort to collect the required signatures.
Shawver once again invalidated the signatures and dismissed the petition. This time Shawver alleged illegal employer involvement, even though he had personally met with Gerawan employees to ensure that they were aware of the decertification process and that they knew their rights under California law. Shawver had even declared to Judge Jeffrey Hamilton that the alleged unfair labor practices had been remedied.
Pointing to Shawver’s own contradiction, the ALRB in Sacramento unanimously overturned Shawver’s decisions and on November 1, 2013 ordered that the workers be allowed to hold a decertification election.
The elections would proceed, but ALRB intended for them not to matter
Though the election was held on November 5, 2013, the ALRB ultimately had no intention of allowing the farmworkers’ views to be known. Only hours before the election, the ALRB notified Gerawan that it would be segregating over 800 votes from selected work crews and would be “investigating” the employees.
ALRB General Counsel Sylvia Torres-Guillen also personally visited the voting site on election day to “monitor” the employees. Knowing of Torres-Guillen’s backing of Shawver, workers saw her presence as an attempt to intimidate them from voting against the UFW.
ALRB refuses to count the workers’ ballots
After the election, rather than count the farmworkers’ votes, the ALRB filed new unfair labor practice claims against Gerawan, alleging the company intimidated employees into voting against the union. ALRB kept the ballots uncounted into 2014. In April and May, Torres-Guillen and the ALRB twice demanded in court that the state impose the UFW contract on the farmworkers, even though the status of the relationship between the UFW and Gerawan employees had yet to be determined by counting the ballots.
One-and-a-half years later, ALRB wants the ballots destroyed
A year and half later, the farmworkers’ November 2013 votes remain uncounted and in ALRB possession. The ALRB, under Torres-Guillen’s direction, is trying get its own internal court to destroy the workers’ uncounted ballots and impose the UFW contract.