In the Age of the Janus Ruling, Unions Must Prove Their Worth While Government Must be a Fair Umpire

Joel Fox
Editor and Co-Publisher of Fox and Hounds Daily

On the California Democratic Party website under the category Economic Justice is highlighted the following: Dems Lead: California Governor Jerry Brown signed the Agricultural Labor Relations Act in 1975, the nation’s only law that protects farm workers’ right to unionize. But as the California Supreme Court upheld an appellate court ruling last week, workers also have the right to decertify a union. In the new world of the US Supreme Court’s Janus ruling it is another reminder that unions must fairly prove their worth to workers.

The California union battle over the right to represent workers by the United Farm Workers (UFW) at Gerwan Farming of Fresno went on for five years. A Wall Street Journal editorial offered its particular view of the situation this weekend. “Soon after winning an election at Gerawan Farming in 1990, the United Farm Workers disappeared. Two decades later the union returned to claim its orphaned members and demand that Gerawan’s 5,000 workers—few of whom were employed there in 1990—agree to a labor contract skimming 3% of their wages for dues.”

The state Agricultural Labor Relations Board sided with the union against Gerwan Farming trying in every way to prevent the workers from having votes counted in the effort to decertify the contract with the UFW.

The Journal editorial pointed to the appellate court’s reasoning for allowing the vote count: The board “was apparently so zealous to punish this employer, it lost sight of the importance of the election itself” and “unnecessarily disenfranchised the workers,” the court ruled.

When the secret ballots were counted the workers voted to decertify the union by a margin of 5 to 1.

The decision is significant in light of the US Supreme Court’s Janus decision which relieves workers the need to pay agency fees to public unions that some workers don’t want representing them.

In California, where unions, especially the public unions, are powerful and tied to the majority Democratic Party as major donors, the unions are looking toward the legislature and the governor to build walls that make it difficult for members to jump over and leave the unions. In spirit, this is similar to the stand the Agricultural Labor Board took in supporting the UFW against Gerwan.

The legislature has been accommodating, passing bills that buttress the ability of the unions to interact with workers, giving the unions special privileges to try and keep members aboard.

All this activity doesn’t mean the death of unions. It means in the Age of Janus the unions must prove their worth to workers so that they will remain in the union. The Gerwan-United Farm Workers situation is a learning moment for both the workers and the unions.

It is also a reminder that government is supposed to be a fair umpire in any disputes between workers and employers and not favor one side or another. As the record shows, California elected and appointed officials put their thumb on the scale of fairness when it comes to supporting unions.

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