Agency threatened by union viewpoint
While most farmers are talking about the shortage of workers the state agency that deals with farm labor relations is facing a crisis of impartiality that threatens its credibility.
After the governor appointed a new general counsel to the Agricultural Labor Relations Board (ALRB) last fall observers have seen a steady increase in the allegiance of board personnel to union objectives and practices.
That is a sharp abridgement of the intentions of the shapers of the board who dedicated its functioning to a principle of impartiality, a steady balance between management (farm owners) and labor (workers and their unions). The board is committed to follow the precedence of the National Labor Relations Board in that and all its practices.
But the new general counsel has reshaped the staff she inherited to reflect a strong bias for union objectives. The result has been three pro-union election outcomes in short order, one of them a settlement of a worker election held in 1984 that has been languishing for 30 years.
Cleaning up unresolved election results apparently fits well with the recently announced goal of the governor of getting (things) done. However, doing so at the expense of established goals and procedures is a questionable and perhaps dangerous course.
The resurrection of outdated elections has been accompanied by wholesale terminations, retirements and resignations by several of the state employees who were supervised by former general counsels at the agency. It has been a brutal housecleaning.
Some of those let go were the agency contacts that growers and their attorneys found the most cooperative and helpful as the act (ALRA) manifested itself.
Several of the exiting employees have banned together in a whistle-blower group. It is charging that unfair and unreasonable demands on their time led to their resignations, that the attitude and behavior of supervision was demeaning, that working conditions at the agency became intolerable and that they were expected to favor union positions.
Noticeable to outsiders and in harmony with the claims of the whistle-blowers are the backgrounds and leanings of replacement staff members One of the new attorneys is the granddaughter of an original founder of the United Farmworkers union Others newly hired exhibit similarly close ties to the union or groups that share its objectives.
The whistle-blowers say the new general counsel has violated the state’s established hiring practices by employing people whose names have not been posted on the recognized potential employee listing. They urged senators to deny confirmation to the general counsel. Instead, her confirmation hearing in August was a lovefest of approval by fawning Democrat senators.
Meanwhile, the three-members of the ALRB now serving as a quorum of the five-member board can only observe as the general counsel (designated as the board’s attorney) carries out her responsibilities in a dubious and possibly harmful way.
Division of the board and general counsel’s responsibilities and areas of concern is in keeping with the precedence of the older National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), which has from its establishment excluded agricultural workers.
During his first term in 1975, the governor expressed great pride in the establishment of the ALRA and its implementing board. Observers at the time believed he was the primary author of the act.
Farmers were not easily convinced that the law would quiet the noisy and violent practices of the union, but they committed to upholding it and working with it, and have offered no amendments to it in its nearly 40 year existence.
On the other hand, a docile, divided and defeated United Farmworkers union has tried repeatedly to amend the law in its favor.
Apparently the union has enlisted the governor on its side. In his commitment to get (things) done, allowing the ALRB’s general counsel to run with the bit in her teeth might be the first step in seeing that the good will and positive effects of the law’s 40 years gets undone.
Don Curlee is an agriculture consultant in the Valley. His column appears each Monday in The Recorder.