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July 2020, Volume 26, Number 3

UFW, ALRB, Unions

The United Farm Workers reported that 50 workers went on strike to demand personal protective equipment in June 2020 at Primex Farms in Wasco after some of the employees contracted Covid-19. Primex has over 5,000 acres of nuts, and confirmed 30 Covid cases among employees.

The United Farm Workers replaced the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers at the Foster Poultry Farms in Livingston in 2017. In July 2020, the NLRB held an election to determine if the 2,400 employees wanted to decertify the UFW.

The UFW?s reported 7,500 members in its 2019 LM-2 filing, down 17 percent from 8,700 members in 2018. The UFW reported 10,300 members in 2013. Since 2000, the UFW reported a high of 27,000 members in 2000 and a low of 4,300 members in 2011.

Between 2010 and 2019, the UFW reported an average 7,700 members. Receipts averaged $7.5 million a year, and disbursements $7.6 million a year. UFW assets averaged $4.1 million

The UFW?s Robert F Kennedy Farm Workers Medical Plan reported $22 million in revenue in 2017, down from $23 million in 2016. The average employer contribution to the RFK was about $2.20 per hour, suggesting 11 million hours worked on farms with the RFK health care plan in UFW contracts, or 5,500 full-time (2,000 hour) equivalent workers.

ALRB. A panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in 2019 that the ALRB?s access rule that allows union organizers to enter employer property and talk to farm workers about their union rights is constitutional; Cedar Point Nursery had challenged the access rule as an unconstitutional taking of private property. In April 2020, the Ninth Circuit refused to have all judges consider Cedar Point?s appeal, drawing a dissent from eight of the 29 judges.

Proposition 64 legalized recreational marijuana use after January 1, 2018 amidst expectations that the legal cannabis industry would supplant the largely illegal industry and generate tax revenues for state and local governments. This has not happened. California growers produce about 16 million pounds of raw dried marijuana flowers a year, and send 13 million pounds or over 80 percent out of the state. Of the three million pounds sold in California, 80 percent is sold in the unlicensed market.

The average wholesale price of medical marijuana was $1,200 a pound in 2020, and ranged from $850 a pound for marijuana grown outdoors to $1,800 a pound for marijuana grown indoors; greenhouse-grown marijuana was worth $1,200 a pound. About 60 percent of the state?s marijuana is grown outdoors, and over 70 percent is grown north of the Sacramento-San Francisco corridor.

Growing marijuana requires farm workers, and they were granted special rights under Prop 64 and its implementing regulations. Tending and harvesting outdoor marijuana plants requires about 20 hours of labor per pound of dry bud produced, and trimming marijuana flowers to obtain the buds requires 10 hours per pound, for a total of 30 hours per pound. At $15 per hour, labor costs are $450 per pound of dried leaves; at the average grower price of $1,200 a pound, labor costs are 38 percent.

Most trimmers are paid-piece rate wages per pound of leaves trimmed, and many earn $15 per hour trimming outdoor-grown marijuana in Northern California. Some growers pay their workers in-kind, with marijuana buds.

Many Northern California trim workers are family groups from Asia and Eastern Europe whose members aim to earn $200 to $600 a day trimming marijuana leaves. In Coastal California, where more marijuana is grown in greenhouses, wages are typically $20 an hour and farm workers are often ex-field workers who were born in Mexico. Up to 100,000 people may be employed in the state?s cannabis industry sometime during the year.

Workers on cannabis farms are protected by the state?s labor laws, including the Agricultural Labor Relations Act that gives farm workers the right to organize and bargain collectively with farm employers. Under a unique labor peace provision, AB 1291 requires marijuana growers with 20 or more employees to sign a neutrality agreement with a union trying to organize employees within 60 days of a request. Employers and unions in cannabis, but not in other commodities, may negotiate collective bargaining agreements without an election to determine if workers want to be represented by a particular union.
California?s 2020-21 budget includes $9.6 million to create an 87-person police force to enforce the state?s cannabis regulations.

Unions. Unions organized protests around the US May 1, 2020, Labor Day in most countries, to protest unsafe working conditions and to demand extra pay for essential works during the pandemic. Some city councils required businesses that lease city-owned land to continue contributing to health insurance premiums for laid off workers and to recall laid-off workers by seniority.

As their members were laid off and stopped paying dues, unions furloughed their own staff.

Some unions seeking NLRB-supervised elections in April-May 2020 accused employers of laying off union supporters and attributing the layoffs to the effects of the coronavirus. There were several cases of Amazon warehouse employees being laid off after complaining of poor working conditions. Some employers hired consultants who warned employees of the dangers of trying to unionize in periods of high unemployment.

The death of George Floyd on May 25, 2020 at the hands of Minneapolis police unleashed protests across the US. The Triumph of Injustice book estimates that the US spends twice as much federal, state, and local monies on police, courts and prisons, two percent of national income, than is spent on the major welfare support programs including TANF, SNAP, and SSI, one percent.

US spending on police rose during the war on drugs in the 1980s and 1990s, while spending on welfare fell after reforms in 1996. Many cities spend 30 to 40 percent of their budgets on police, including for active police and retirees.

Most police officers in major urban areas are represented by unions, many of which protect their members from charges of lying and unlawful conduct. Police unions donate to political campaigns, and their endorsements are often sought by candidates. In return for support, unions demand high bars to fire officers and restrict public access to disciplinary records.

New York City has the largest city police force, 24,000 officers and a budget of $6 billion a year. Some cities, responding to calls to ?defund the police,? voted to restructure their forces and, in some cases, substitute county for city police forces.