By: Geoffrey Mohan
Date: February 10th 2016
Source: Los Angeles Times
A proposal by the state’s farm labor watchdog to gain access to fields so it can educate workers about their rights is running into strong opposition from growers, even before it has been written into regulation.
The latest salvo came Wednesday when the Pacific Legal Foundation, a conservative land rights group, filed a federal lawsuit challenging the 40-year-old law that allows unions to gain access to fields to organize workers.
That access regulation also lies at the heart of a plan by the state Agricultural Labor Relations Board to send staff onto farms to educate workers.
Growers and property rights groups worry that the labor board is about to mix policing activities – investigating labor practices and overseeing union elections – with its new educational role.
The Pacific Legal Foundation took pains Wednesday to separate the issues, saying it does not oppose the labor board staff’s efforts to educate workers.
“This case is about basic protections for everyone who owns property,” said Joshua P. Thompson, the land rights group’s principal attorney. “Government may not give out permission slips to unions to trespass on private property.”
Fellow attorney Damien Schiff acknowledged that the board had “relied upon the existing access regulation that we’re challenging in this lawsuit” to justify its proposal to enter onto properties for educational purposes.
The three-member board has not acted on the education proposal. Its chairman, William B. Gould IV, said an eventual regulation would not allow any new access for unions, which currently must file notices before entering onto growers’ property.
The United Farm Workers union “has all kinds of ways under existing law to get access,” Gould said. “They don’t need this rule to get access.”
Public hearings held in September unearthed deep misgivings among growers over whether the labor board can adequately “firewall” its investigative branch from any future education role.
“I think that is a legitimate concern, and it’s something we want to make sure is addressed in the final rule,” Gould said.
The suit was filed in U.S. District Court in Fresno on behalf of Cedar Point Nursery, in the Siskiyou County town of Dorris, and Fowler Packing in Fresno.
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