April 2021, Volume 27, Number 2
UFW, ALRB, DOL
In January 2021, President Biden placed a 22-inch bronze bust of Cesar Chavez in the Oval Office. First lady Jill Biden visited to the UFW?s Forty Acres compound in Delano on March 31, 2021 to mark Chavez?s birthday and praised farm workers as essential workers.
Chavez in a 1984 speech to the Commonwealth Club asserted that demography is destiny, that ?farmworkers and their children, and the Hispanics and their children, are the future in California.?
There were several commentaries on Chavez that noted his imperfections in light of efforts in San Francisco to rename 44 schools to remove historical figures who had racist ideas or discriminated against minorities. Chavez strongly opposed unauthorized migrants in the 1970s, calling them ?wets.? UFW Vice President Philip Vera Cruz quit the UFW after Chavez embraced Ferdinand Marcos in 1977.
Assembly member Rob Bonta, son of a Filipina immigrant mother who was active in the UFW in the late 1960s, was appointed California Attorney General in March 2021. Bonta?s family lived in a union-owned trailer and received stipends of $10 a week while volunteering for the UFW.
The UFW in February 2021 was decertified by a 560-101 vote at Foster Farms poultry processing plants in Livingston and Delhi that employ 1,800 workers.
ALRB. The US Supreme Court on March 22, 2021 heard arguments in a case that questions the constitutionality of the 1975 ALRB access rule, which allows union organizers to enter farms and talk to workers up to three hours a day and four-30 days a year. The California Supreme Court upheld the access rule in a 4-3 decision in 1976.
Cedar Point Nursery (400 employees) and Fowler Packing (2,000 employees) argue that California is ?taking? their property without compensation by requiring them to allow union organizers to enter and talk to their employees. The Fifth amendment to the US constitution says ?nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.? Cedar Point and Fowler argued that their employees do not live on their property and have smartphones, giving unions alternative ways to contact farm workers.
The ALRB and worker advocates emphasized the unique characteristics of farm workers, including their low-levels of education, to justify giving union organizers automatic access to farm workers on private property. Sone experts warned that if the US Supreme Court agrees with the employers and rules that the granting automatic access to union organizers is unconstitutional, property owners might try to block government inspectors from their property.
The Trump administration supported the employers; the Biden administration reversed and supported the ALRB. The questions posed by the judges suggest that a majority may strike down the ALRB access rule and endorse the 1956 NLRB Babcock & Wilcox access rule, which allows union organizers to enter private property to talk to workers if there are no other ways to communicate with them, as with workers employed on ships or logging camps. Under the Babcock & Wilcox rule, unions must seek and obtain permission from the NLRB to take access to workers on private property.
DOL. The Wage and Hour Division announced during National Farmworker Awareness Week, March 25-31, 2021, that WHD conducted over 1,000 agricultural investigations in FY20, found $7 million in back wages owed to 11,000 workers, and assessed over $6 million in civil money penalties. The number of agricultural investigations, back wages, and CMPs assessed was similar in FY20 to earlier years.
Unions. The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union hoped to win an election at a 5,800 employee Amazon warehouse near Birmingham, Alabama after the mostly Black workers voted by mail in February-March 2021.
Amazon has 950,000 US employees, most in 820 US distribution facilities covering 274 million square feet, making it the second-largest private US employer after Walmart, and none are unionized. Workers who want union representation say that Amazon tracks their movements constantly to monitor productivity, while Amazon counters that it treats workers fairly and pays at least $15 an hour. Amazon has settled past allegations of unlawful labor practices during unionization efforts by not admitting guilt and promising not to engage in anti-union behavior.
The RWDSU represents 100,000 workers, including 15,000 at southern poultry plants, where right-to-work laws mean that workers do not have to join the union even if a majority vote for union representation. The RWDSU joined other unions to oppose Amazon?s plans for a second headquarters in New York City in 2018, criticizing the $3 billion in subsidies offered to Amazon for 25,000 jobs.
Amazon says that most of its employees earn $15 to $20 an hour and have employer-provided health and pension benefits. Some polls find Amazon ranked only behind the military among institutions trusted by Americans. Over three fourths of the US employees of UPS are unionized, but only the pilots of Fed Ex are represented by a union.
President Biden, considered the most pro-union president in recent history, announced his support for workers at Amazon?s Alabama warehouse. Biden supports the Protecting the Right to Organize or PRO Act approved by the House on a 225-206 vote in March 2021, which would enhance protections for workers trying to form unions and increase penalties for employer interference in unionization efforts.
The PRO Act would allow card checks to substitute for secret ballots in representation elections, would reclassify many gig workers as employees, and would eliminate right-to-work laws in 27 states that currently prohibit contracts that require all workers to join unions or pay dues to unions. The PRO Act would also expand the concept of joint-employer liability for labor law violations, and introduce penalties beyond back pay for workers who are unlawfully fired for their union activities.
Biden?s $2 trillion infrastructure bill includes the PRO Act, which pleased unions but drew opposition from employers and may meet the same fate as the $15 federal minimum wage proposal, that is, approval by the House but not the Senate. A 2020 Gallup poll found that two-thirds of Americans support unions, up from less than half in 2008-09.