Gerawan Farming, Inc. v. Agric. Labor Relations Bd., S227243

Decision Date27 November 2017
Docket NumberS227243
CourtCalifornia Supreme Court
Parties GERAWAN FARMING, INC., Petitioner, v. AGRICULTURAL LABOR RELATIONS BOARD, Respondent; United Farm Workers of America, Real Party in Interest.

3 Cal.5th 1118
405 P.3d 1087
225 Cal.Rptr.3d 517

GERAWAN FARMING, INC., Petitioner,
v.
AGRICULTURAL LABOR RELATIONS BOARD, Respondent;

United Farm Workers of America, Real Party in Interest.

S227243

Supreme Court of California

Filed November 27, 2017


Michael P. Mallery, Fresno; Irell & Manella, David A. Schwarz ; Georgeson, Belardinelli and Noyes, Georgeson & Belardinelli, C. Russell Georgeson, Fresno; Barsamian & Moody and Ronald H. Barsamian, Fresno, for Petitioner and for Plaintiff and Appellant.

Luke A. Wake; Damien M. Schiff, Sacramento; Benbrook Law Group, Bradley A. Benbrook, Sacramento, Stephen M. Duvernay ; Walter & Wilhelm Law Group, Paul J. Bauer, Fresno; McCormick, Barstow, Sheppard, Wayte & Carruth and Anthony Raimondo, for National Federation of Independent Business Small Business Legal Center, Cato Institute, California Farm Bureau Federation, California Fresh Fruit Association, Western Growers Association and Ventura County Agricultural Association as Amici Curiae on behalf of Petitioner and for Plaintiff and Appellant.

Walter & Wilhelm Law Group, Paul J. Bauer, Fresno; Raimondo & Associates, Anthony Raimondo, Gerardo V. Hernandez and Jasmine Shams, Fresno, for Silvia Lopez as Amicus Curiae on behalf of Petitioner and for Plaintiff and Appellant.

405 P.3d 1089

Carl G. Borden, Robert P. Roy, John C. Eastman, Orange, Anthony T. Caso, Sacramento, and Jason E. Resnick, for Western Growers Association, California Farm Bureau Federation, Agricultural Council of California, California Citrus Mutual, California Grape and Tree Fruit League, Grower–Shipper Association of Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo Counties, Nisei Farmers League, and Ventura County Agricultural Association as Amici Curiae on behalf of Petitioner and for Plaintiff and Appellant.

Carl G. Borden for California Farm Bureau Federation as Amicus Curiae on behalf of Petitioner and for Plaintiff and Appellant.

Robert P. Roy for Ventura County Agricultural Association as Amicus Curiae on behalf of Petitioner and for Plaintiff and Appellant.

John C. Eastman, Orange, and Anthony T. Caso, Sacramento, for Center of Constitutional Jurisprudence as Amicus Curiae on behalf of Petitioner and for Plaintiff and Appellant.

Jason E. Resnick for Western Growers Association as Amicus Curiae on behalf of Petitioner and for Plaintiff and Appellant.

Kamala D. Harris and Xavier Becerra, Attorneys General, Kathleen A. Kenealy, Chief Assistant Attorney General, Gregory D. Brown, Deputy State Solicitor General, Douglas J. Woods, Assistant Attorney General, Constance L. LeLouis, Mark R. Beckington and Benjamin M. Glickman, Deputy Attorneys General, for Defendant and Respondent.

225 Cal.Rptr.3d 520

Martínez Aguilasocho & Lynch, Mario Martínez, Thomas P. Lynch, Edgar I. Aguilasocho, Bakersfield; Altshuler Berzon, Scott A. Kronland, Danielle Leonard and Jonathan Weissglass, San Francisco, for Real Party in Interest and Respondent.

Liu, J.

3 Cal.5th 1129

In 1975, the Legislature enacted the Agricultural Labor Relations Act (ALRA) "to encourage and protect the right of agricultural employees to full freedom of association, self-organization, and designation of representatives of their own choosing, to negotiate the terms and conditions of their employment, and to be free from the interference, restraint, or coercion of employers of labor." ( Lab. Code, § 1140.2 ; all statutory references are to this code unless otherwise specified.) The ALRA established an elaborate framework governing the right of agricultural workers to organize themselves into unions to engage in collective bargaining with their employers. (

3 Cal.5th 1130

Agricultural Labor Relations Bd. v. Superior Court(1976) 16 Cal.3d 392, 398, 128 Cal.Rptr. 183, 546 P.2d 687 ( ALRB I ); see § 1140 et seq.) It also created the Agricultural Labor Relations Board (ALRB or the Board) and granted it "specific powers and responsibilities of administration, particularly in conducting and certifying elections and in investigating and preventing unfair labor practices." ( ALRB I, at p. 399, 128 Cal.Rptr. 183, 546 P.2d 687.)

Twenty-five years later, the Legislature determined that additional legislation was necessary to fulfill the goals of the ALRA because it had proven ineffective at facilitating the negotiation and completion of collective bargaining agreements. The Legislature therefore enacted the ALRA's "mandatory mediation and conciliation" (MMC) provisions to "ensure a more effective collective bargaining process between agricultural employers and agricultural employees." (Stats. 2002, ch. 1145, § 1, p. 7401.) In certain cases in which an employer and a labor union have failed to reach a first contract, either party may invoke MMC, which involves a mediation process before a neutral mediator. (§ 1164 et seq. (the MMC statute).) If the parties do not reach an agreement on all terms through mediation, the mediator resolves the disputed terms and submits a proposed contract to the Board, which can then impose that contract on the parties.

In this case, the United Farm Workers of America (UFW) filed an MMC request with the Board after failing to reach a collective bargaining agreement with petitioner Gerawan Farming, Inc. (Gerawan). When mediation similarly failed to produce an agreement, the mediator submitted a report fixing the contractual terms, which the Board adopted in its final order. Gerawan petitioned for review of the Board's order, contending, among other things, that the MMC statutory

405 P.3d 1090

scheme was unconstitutional. The Court of Appeal agreed, holding that "the MMC statute on its face violates equal protection principles" and that it "improperly delegated legislative authority." In so holding, the Court of Appeal adopted the reasoning of the dissent in Hess Collection Winery v. Agricultural Labor Relations Bd.(2006) 140 Cal.App.4th 1584, 1611, 45 Cal.Rptr.3d 609 (dis. opn. of Nicholson, J.) ( Hess ), in which the court upheld the MMC statute against a similar constitutional challenge (see id. at pp. 1603–1610, 45 Cal.Rptr.3d 609 (maj. opn.)). We granted review to resolve this conflict, and we conclude that the MMC statute neither violates equal protection nor unconstitutionally delegates legislative power.

We also granted review to resolve an important statutory question. In arguing that the final order should be set aside, Gerawan also claimed that the UFW, the

225 Cal.Rptr.3d 521

labor union certified as the bargaining representative under the ALRA, had abandoned its employees after a lengthy absence and therefore forfeited its status as representative. Applying the settled rule that a union remains certified until decertified by the employees in a subsequent election,

3 Cal.5th 1131

the Board concluded that the ALRA precludes employers from raising an abandonment defense to an MMC request. The Court of Appeal acknowledged the validity of the general rule but held that an employer may raise an abandonment defense against a union's demand to invoke MMC because MMC is "a postbargaining process" materially different from ordinary collective bargaining.

We hold that the distinction drawn by the Court of Appeal is untenable and that employers may not refuse to bargain with unions—whether during the ordinary bargaining process or during MMC—on the basis that the union has abandoned its representative status. As the Board and lower courts have consistently observed, the Legislature intended to reserve the power to decertify labor organization representatives to employees and labor organizations alone. Allowing employers to raise an abandonment defense would frustrate that intent and undermine the ALRA's comprehensive scheme of labor protections for agricultural employees.

I.

The Legislature enacted the ALRA in 1975 to "ensure peace in the agricultural fields by guaranteeing justice for all agricultural workers and stability in labor relations." (Stats. 1975, 3d Ex. Sess., ch. 1, § 1, p. 4013.) "To achieve this goal, the act declares the right of agricultural employees to organize themselves into unions and to engage in collective bargaining, free from intimidation by either employers or union representatives." ( ALRB I, supra, 16 Cal.3d at p. 398, 128 Cal.Rptr. 183, 546 P.2d 687 ; see § 1140.2.) In enacting the ALRA, the Legislature intended to fill a gap in the labor protections afforded by the federal National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), which exempts "any individual employed as an agricultural laborer." ( 29 U.S.C. § 152(3) ; see Lab. Code, § 1140.4 [defining "agricultural employee" as "those employees excluded from the coverage of the National Labor Relations Act, as amended, as agricultural employees"].) Accordingly, the ALRA identifies a number of unfair labor practices and other unlawful acts (§§ 1153, 1154, 1154.5, 1155.4, 1155.5), and empowers the Board...

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