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May 2020, Volume 26, Number 2

UFW, ALRB, Unions

National Farmworker Awareness Week, typically celebrated the last week of March to coincide with the Cesar Chavez holiday on March 31, aims to raise awareness of farm worker issues and concerns. Farm workers were declared essential workers, prompting media stories about the fact that many are unauthorized and live in crowded housing with US-born children.

The UFW in March 2020 called on farm employers to offer 40 hours of paid sick leave to their employees due to the coronavirus, to eliminate the typical 90-day waiting period before newly hired workers are eligible for paid sick leave, and to end the practice of requiring doctor’s notes when absent workers return to work. The UFW, which has about 10,000 members and contracts with 25 to 30 farms, said that farm employers with contracts are responding positively to the challenges posed by the virus.

ALRB. Victoria Hassid, chief deputy director of the state Department of Industrial Relations, was appointed chair of the ALRB in February 2020, giving the board five members.

Premiere Raspberries (formerly Dutra Farms) refused to implement a mediator-developed contract and instead challenged the ALRB’s certification of the UFW to represent its workers. The ALRB in August 2018 ordered Premiere to implement the mediator-developed contract that was the UFW proposal because Premiere refused to participate in mediation. The three-year contract would raise wages by 15 percent, provide health insurance for workers and their families, and grant eight paid holidays.

Premiere, whose berries are sold under the Well-Pict label, appealed the ALRB’s order to the 6th District Court of Appeal.

Unions. Some 10.3 percent of US workers, 14.6 million of 142 million, were members of unions in 2019, the lowest share since 1983. Some 16.4 million workers were represented by unions, meaning that almost two million workers covered by collective bargaining agreements elected not to join the union that negotiated the agreement under which they worked.

Unions are strongest in the public sector, where 7.1 million workers or 34 percent of public employees were union members, and weaker in the private sector, where 7.5 million workers or six percent of private-sector employees were union members.

By occupation, a third of workers in protective services such as police and fire, and a third of teachers, were union members. Only two percent of workers in farming were union members.

Men were slightly more likely to be union members than women, 11 percent compared to 10 percent. About 11 percent of Black workers were union members, compared to 10 percent of white workers, nine percent of Asian workers, and nine percent of Hispanic workers.

Hawaii and New York had the highest union membership rates, with over 20 percent of workers union members, while North and South Carolina had the lowest rates, less than three percent. Unionized workers had higher weekly earnings, almost $1,100, than nonunion workers, $900.

There were 25 major work stoppages involving 1,000 or more workers in 2019, more than the average 15 major work stoppages between 2010 and 2019. Over half of the 425,500 workers who went on strike in 2019 were teachers, who were often on strike for only a few days.

The work stoppage that involved the most work days lost was between General Motors and the United Auto Workers in September-October 2019. Over 85 percent of US work stoppages occur in workplaces with fewer than 1,000 employees, and half are in places with fewer than 100 employees.

The National Labor Relations Board in February 2020 reversed the 2015 Browning-Ferris Industries ruling that made it easier for workers to say they were jointly employed by a franchise and the master brand, as with McDonald’s restaurants owned by franchisees. Browning-Ferris was found to be a joint employer with the staffing firm that provided workers to sort waste in its facility.

The 2020 NLRB rule says that an employer must “possess and exercise substantial, direct and immediate control” over employees brought into a workplace by a contractor to be a joint employer. This means that most of the 7.6 million employees of franchisees cannot consider the master brand to be a co-employer with the franchised restaurant.

Unions say that franchisees are often so tightly regulated by their contracts with master brands that the master brand should be a joint employer.

DOL in January 2020 issued a similar revised joint-employment regulation that generally exempts franchise owners from liability for labor law violations committed by franchisees if the master brand does not supervise the franchisee’s employees and does not determine wages or maintain employee records.

The House approved the PRO Act on a 224-194 vote in February 2020 to allow unions to be certified via card check rather than NLRB-supervised elections and to require employers to provide unions with employee information. The PRO Act, which is not likely to be approved by the Senate, would eliminate state right-to-work laws.