In a stunning development, the state Agricultural Labor Relations Board ruled that the UFW broke the law when it lied to security guards to prevent Pick Justice members from attending a public meeting.
The ALRB also found that the UFW committed “a very serious Unfair Labor Practice,” and seeks a cease and desist order to force the UFW to comply with the law.
The unusual ruling contained an order for the UFW to admit in writing that it broke the law, and to pay to have that admission sent to every affected Gerawan worker.
This startling turnaround occurred on December 11, when ALRB Principal Administrative Law Judge Mark R. Soble issued the finding. The full text can be downloaded here: ALRB ruling that UFW broke the law
This is the second time in two years that Soble has heard evidence and found that senior UFW officials lied in their campaign against Gerawan farmworkers who seek to de-certify the union as their collective bargaining representative. Last year, Soble found that UFW National Vice President Armando Elenes lied under oath to cover up for what he called the “smallness” of the UFW membership.
At issue: UFW blocked Pick Justice from 2015 ALRB meeting
Soble’s recent ruling concerned a September 9, 2015 incident in which the UFW lied to security guards to prevent Pick Justice members from attending a public ALRB hearing.
After hearing from UFW and Pick Justice witnesses, as well as hotel security personnel, Soble ripped into the UFW. For some reason, Soble avoided identifying Pick Justice by name, so he referenced the color of the blue shirts that they wore. Here are highlights from his December 11 ruling:
- Pick Justice workers were fully within their rights to assemble and petition the ALRB at the public meeting.
- “By their employee Nancy Oropeza directing or misleading hotel security to exclude the blue-shirted workers, the UFW committed an unfair labor practice by restraining protected, concerted activity.”
- “The UFW’s ‘virtual blockading’ of anti-UFW workers from an ALRB hearing is a very serious unfair labor practice.”
- “The anti-UFW workers initially had no way to know whether or [not] the ALRB was complicit in their denial of entry. Had the anti-UFW workers not been accompanied by attorneys wearing dressier clothing, it is possible that the hotel security might have refused the workers access into the hotel needed to alert ALRB staff as to what was happening.”
- “If an employer representative impersonated a government official to restrain a worker from testifying, there is no doubt that the UFW would consider the allegation to be egregious.”
Concern about ALRB credibility
Soble, who is an administrative law judge (ALJ) employed by the ALRB, and not a member of the independent judiciary branch, repeatedly stressed the UFW’s damage to ALRB credibility.
“By directing or misleading the hotel security guards, UFW employee Nancy Oropeza was undermining worker confidence in the [Agricultural Labor Relations] Act and the [Agricultural Labor Relations] Board,” Soble said in his ruling.
While ALRB staff fixed the problem and allowed the Pick Justice workers into the hearing, the UFW’s staged incident served to undermine worker confidence (if any) in the ALRB’s impartiality.
“It is correct that the ALRB staff learned of the worker exclusion, correcting the matter within ten minutes and ensuring that all workers could get inside before the meeting started,” Soble said. “But being permitted into a governmental meeting only after your adversaries are admitted sends a powerful and disturbing message.”
The Pick Justice workers spread word of their exclusion from the meeting, and the story quickly spread. “The record contains ample evidence that the anti-UFW workers spread the word of their temporary exclusion from the ALRB meeting,” Soble said.
Incident occurred days before Soble found ALRB & UFW to be colluding on ‘litigation strategy’
“The [September 9, 2015] meeting occurred just eight days before the ALJ decision in the consolidated election case so there would have been already . . . a strong motive at this time period for active communication among the anti-UFW workers,” said Soble. “The anti-UFW workers had strong motivation to tell their colleagues about being temporarily excluded from the ALRB meeting and it reasonably follows the story was thereafter repeated and passed along.”
In a 192-page ruling issued on September 17, 2015, Soble found that the ALRB and UFW actively colluded on “litigation strategy” against Gerawan workers and Pick Justice members.
Soble ordered the UFW to issue statements in writing, admitting that it had broken the law, and admitting that farmworkers have the right to choose a union or choose not to have a union at all.