Patterson’s AB 1389 Deserves Bipartisan Support

Barry Bedwell
President of the California Fresh Fruit Association based in Fresno

Farm employees at Gerawan Farming, Inc. have been enduring an incredibly frustrating situation for over two years. In the fall of 2012 they were informed that that there had been an election in 1990, when, in a close vote, field employees had approved joining a union. They were told that the union was now appearing after more than a two-decade absence to represent them and, oh by the way, the union was going to collect three percent from their wages as dues.

Never mind the facts that the employee base had grown from hundreds to thousands. Or that almost all the current employees had no contact ever with the union. Or that the conditions related to wages, benefits, health and safety issues had changed dramatically in favor of employees during the many years of a total absence of organized labor. Even ignore the most obvious fact – that the employees failed to see value in union membership when evaluating what they would receive in exchange for three percent of their wages.

Then after only what can be described as a pretense of negotiation, the union invoked mandatory mediation provisions related to a law that had been passed and put into effect in 2003.

At the same time, as employees were working hard to decertify the union, a mediator created a contract that would be “imposed” on the workers. That would be fine if the workers really wanted that contract in the first place; but in this case they clearly did not. What they really wanted was to have their votes counted from the November 2013 decertification election they had worked so hard to get.

Out of this frustrating process, Assemblyman Jim Patterson (R-Fresno) stepped forward. He spoke with the workers and got to know some of them personally. After all, they were his constituents. After hearing their storie he decided to act.

To the Assemblyman, this was not a Republican or Democrat issue. It wasn’t a pro or anti-union issue. It was a fairness issue for these individuals who were struggling to have their voices heard. The Fresno lawmaker evaluated the problems he saw, identified major deficiencies in the law and then put forth proposals to correct those flaws.

His work resulted in AB 1389, a bill that would do three very basic things: 1) allow farm workers who come under the Agricultural Labor Relations Act (ALRA) the right to ratify a mandatory mediated agreement; 2)allow all farmworkers who will be subject to the mandatory mediated agreement the right to attend mediation sessions and 3) in cases where the union abandons the workers for more than three years that union will automatically be decertified as the bargaining representative for those workers.

To a reasonable person, any opposition to this common sense bill would be difficult to understand. However, those of us familiar with Sacramento know that it is a place where reason does not always dictate results.

There will be those who will try to allege that Patterson’s legislation somehow is anti-union and is designed to interfere with the process that now involves Gerawan’s employees. Such assertions would be absolutely incorrect.

This bill would not impact the Gerawan workers and their situation. However, as those Gerawan employees have stated, the solutions offered in AB 1389 to correct inequities in the ALRA would go a long way in preventing other workers at other companies from going through similar unfair situations in the future.

California farmworkers deserve bi-partisan support for the bill in the May 6 hearing of the Assembly Labor & Employment Committee.

Bedwell is President of the California Fresh Fruit Association based in Fresno.

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