San Clemente Ranch, Ltd. v. Agricultural Labor Relations Bd.

Citation107 Cal.App.3d 632,166 Cal.Rptr. 375
Decision Date27 June 1980
Docket NumberAFL-CI,R
CourtCalifornia Court of Appeals
PartiesSAN CLEMENTE RANCH, LTD., Petitioner, v. AGRICULTURAL LABOR RELATIONS BOARD, Respondent, UNITED FARM WORKERS OF AMERICA,eal Party in Interest. HIGHLAND RANCH, Petitioner, v. AGRICULTURAL LABOR RELATIONS BOARD, Respondent, UNITED FARM WORKERS OF AMERICA,eal Party in Interest. Civ. 57298, Civ. 57728.

Dressler, Stoll, Hersh & Quesenbery and Marion I. Quesenbery, El Centro, for petitioner Highland Ranch.

Robert P. Roy, Newport Beach, for petitioner San Clemente Ranch, Ltd.

Ellen Lake, Chief of Litigation, Manuel M. Medeiros, Asst. Chief of Litigation, Edwin F. Lowry and Jorge A. Leon, Sacramento, for respondent.

Marco E. Lopez, Carlos M. Alcala, Francis E. Fernandez, Carmen S. Flores, Jerome

Cohen, Keene, William H. Carder, San Francisco, Ellen Greenstone, Keene, Tom Dalzell, Salinas, and Sanford N. Nathan, San Francisco, for real party in interest

EPSTEIN, Associate Justice. *

These cases are before us on writs of review sought by petitioners, as parties aggrieved, seeking review and annulment of a final Order of the Agriculture Labor Relations Board (Board). (Lab.Code, § 1160.8.) 1 The Order arises out of unfair labor practice charges brought by the Board's General Counsel (§§ 1149, 1160.2), and adjudicated under the hearing and review provisions (§§ 1160-1160.9) of the Agriculture Labor Relations Act (ALRA). (§§ 1140-1166.3.)

The petitions present questions of an employer's duty to provide pertinent information to and to bargain with a union during the time between the union's apparent victory at a representational election and the resolution of election challenges; the criteria for successorship and the liability of a successor; the substantiality of evidence to sustain various unfair labor practice determinations; and the appropriateness of remedies.

With respect to Highland Ranch, we have decided that certain aspects of the Order must be annulled and remanded to the Board for further proceedings, that some provisions of the Order must be annulled and that the remaining provisions should be affirmed. In a separate opinion, the court concludes that the question of San Clemente's status as a successor must be remanded for resolution of certain factual issues. (See Opinion of Hanson, J.) Consequently, the portion of this opinion relating to that subject (III-C) expresses the view of the undersigned rather than the court.

I PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Between August 1 and December 19, 1977, the Union, United Farm Workers of America, AFL-CIO (UFW or Union) filed 12 separate unfair labor practice charges against either or both of two agricultural employers, Highland Ranch (Highland) and San Clemente Ranch, Ltd. (San Clemente). The unfair practices were alleged to have occurred on a ranch operated first by Highland, then by San Clemente, in Orange County.

The Board's General Counsel filed a complaint based on some of these charges, on November 7, 1977. Four amended complaints followed, the last filed on March 3, 1978. Answers were duly filed by Highland and San Clemente.

A consolidated hearing was held before an Administrative Law Officer of the Board on March 13-30, 1978. The Administrative Law Officer issued his decision and recommended order on September 8, 1978. In the decision he found most of the charged unfair labor practices to have been committed. 2 His proposed order granted relief for these violations.

All parties to the hearing (Highland, San Clemente, the Union, and General Counsel) filed timely exceptions to the decision, as authorized by section 1160.3. The Board issued its consolidated Decision and Order on August 16, 1979. The Board sustained and upheld the findings of the Administrative Law Officer essentially in the form recommended. (5 A.L.R.B. No. 54 (1979).)

San Clemente filed its petition for writ of review and mandate in this court, since its principal place of business is in Ventura County. 3 Highland originally sought review

in the Fourth Appellate District, the court having jurisdiction over Orange County. The Supreme Court ordered that case transferred to this court. (Cal. Rules of Court, Rule 20.)

Following certification and filing of the record by the Board and the filing of briefs by all parties, we exercised our discretion to grant writs, thereby affording a full appellate review to each case. (§ 1160.8; Tex-Cal Land Management, Inc. v. Agricultural Labor Relations Board (1979) 24 Cal.3d 335, 351, 156 Cal.Rptr. 1, 595 P.2d 579.) We have consolidated the cases for purposes of section 1160.8 review. We also stayed enforcement of the Board's orders pending determination of the petitions.

II FACTUAL BACKGROUND 4

We begin our inquiry mindful of the scope of review applicable to factual determinations of the Board. Section 1160.8 provides that "(t)he findings of the board with respect to questions of fact if supported by substantial evidence on the record considered as a whole shall . . . be conclusive." Given the statutory safeguards provided for Board determinations of unfair labor practices charges, this is a valid standard of review. (Tex-Cal Land Management, Inc. v. Agricultural Labor Relations Board, supra, 24 Cal.3d at 346, 156 Cal.Rptr. 1, 595 P.2d 579.)

It is undisputed that both Highland and San Clemente are "agricultural employers" engaged in "agriculture" as those terms are defined in section 1140.4, subdivisions (a) and (c). It is also established that UFW is a "labor organization" as defined in section 1140.4, subdivision (f).

A. Highland

For some years before November 29, 1979, Highland was engaged in farming operations at a 647 acre ranch leased from the United States Marine Corps at Camp Pendleton.

The ranch grew vegetables for the fresh market: tomatoes, cauliflower, cabbage, cucumbers, and corn. It also operated a packing shed on the ranch. Crops were moved from the fields to the shed, where they were placed on a conveyor belt, sorted and packaged in boxes, which were formed on site.

Many of the agricultural workers were housed in a rent-free labor camp operated by Highland.

The number of agricultural workers required by Highland accordioned in and out during the crop cycles. It was apparently at its lowest ebb in late November or early December, after the second tomato crop had been harvested and the cabbages had been planted.

The Administrative Law Officer did not specifically find when the labor force was at its peak. An officer of San Clemente testified (at the March, 1978 hearing) that he expected the number of employees to peak at "300 plus" the following November, during the tomato harvest. The Petition for Certification filed by the Union on July 21, 1977, 5 includes a verified statement that 250 agricultural employees were then working on the ranch. The verified response, filed by Highland's president on July 23, 1977, stated that 255 persons were then employed, and that the peak employment period is July 10-16. We also note that 203 ballots were cast in the July 28, 1977, representational election.

B. The Organizational Effort and the Election

The election was preceded by an organizational effort by the Union that began no later than Spring 1977.

As the months went by, the level of campaign intensity increased. With knowledge that an organizational effort was in full swing, Highland, on June 1, 1977, announced a set of new work rules. The rules increased existing benefits, created new ones, and made other changes.

The campaign peaked during the two weeks preceding the election. The Union's petition for certification was filed on July 21, and the Board directed that the election be held within one week of that date, as required by section 1156.3, subdivision (a).

On the day of election, Highland's officers sought to deny access to Board election personnel, and had them arrested in the presence of workers. 6

No other union contested UFW in the election; the balloting was between the UFW and "no labor organization." (§ 1156.3, subd. (a).)

As we have seen, 203 ballots were cast in the election. Of these, 187 were for the Union, 14 for no union, and 2 resulted in unresolved challenges.

Four days after the election, Highland filed a petition to set it aside under section 1156.3, subdivision (c). It argued that the Board lacked jurisdiction to hold the election because the ranch was on property leased from the federal government, and that Board agents had committed acts of misconduct by interfering with a fair election. The latter charges were supported by a declaration by a labor relations consultant retained by Highland.

On November 2, 1977 (three months after the election challenges were filed), the Board issued an order without hearing, dismissing the challenges on the ground that the supporting declarations did not set forth facts which, if uncontraverted, would constitute grounds to refuse certification to the Union.

On November 29, 1977, the Board certified the election and the Union as exclusive collective bargaining representative for Highland's agricultural employees. No review has been sought from the Board's dismissal of the election challenges and its certification of the Union.

C. Sale of the Ranch

We now turn to the actions of Highland during the period between the election and the Board's certification of the Union as collective bargaining representative.

In late September, Highland's president, Toby Tsuma, contacted Deardorff-Jackson Co. about selling the ranch. Deardorff-Jackson is a California corporation engaged in farming operations. By mid-November, Tsuma had had some twelve substantive discussions about the sale with Deardorff-Jackson officers. Deardorff-Jackson established San Clemente as a limited partnership (with itself as the general partner) to act as purchaser and operator of the ranch.

The agreement finally entered into provided...

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