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January 2019, Volume 25, Number 1

UFW, ALRB

The ALRB issued 12 decisions in 2018, including three involving Gerawan Farming and four involving Premiere Raspberries.

The Gerawan case involved an election in 1990 won by the UFW, but no contract was negotiated. The UFW returned to Gerawan in 2012 to negotiate a contract under the state's Mandatory Mediation and Conciliation (MMC) law that allows the ALRB to appoint a mediator to develop a contract that the ALRB can impose on the parties if the employer committed an unfair labor practice before 2002.

A mediator-arbitrator developed a UFW-Gerawan contract that Gerawan refused to implement. The California Supreme Court in November 2017 declared the MMC law constitutional, but the Fifth Appellate District of the California Court of Appeal in May 2018 ordered the ALRB to count the 2,500 ballots cast by Gerawan workers in a decertification election held on November 5, 2013.

The votes were counted and the UFW was de-certified by a vote of 1,100 to 200, so the UFW-Gerawan contract that was developed by the mediator was not implemented. Before the vote count, the UFW complained that Gerawan unlawfully interfered with and affected the outcome of the election. An ALJ and the ALRB agreed, but the Court of Appeal did not, and the California Supreme Court refused to hear the ALRB's appeal.

Premiere (formerly Dutra Farms) was similarly ordered to implement a mediator-developed contract and refused despite an ALRB order to do so. Premiere is challenging the ALRB's decision to certify the UFW as bargaining agent for its workers. Premiere workers went on strike in September 2018 to encourage Premiere to implement the contract.

Employer groups are pressing DOL to investigate worker centers, such as the Coalitional of Immokalee workers. If worker centers are found to be unions, they will have to provide financial information to DOL.

Private equity firms sometimes buy struggling firms, sell their most valuable assets to recoup their investment, and then declare bankruptcy, leaving workers expecting pensions to receive them from the federal government's Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. The PBGC, which provides benefits to 44 million workers, often reduces pensions from what employers promised.

One study found that private-equity firms have used bankruptcy to shed more than $650 million of pension obligations. Sun Capital put Fluid Routing Solutions into bankruptcy in 2009, and Friendly's into bankruptcy in 2011. Bankruptcy courts removed pension debts of $30 million and $115 million and Sun Capital bought the same companies as they exited bankruptcy, now without pension debts.