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Farmers Against Unions

Labor organizing in California’s fruit and vegetable farms “has diminished to the point of non-existence,” the state’s top agricultural labor official says.

“Union organizing has completely disappeared” in the state’s fields, despite what Governor Jerry Brown has done to try to help, Agricultural Labor Relations Board Chairman William B. Gould IV said in a speech to farm leaders. Instead of petitioning to join unions, field laborers are petitioning his board to get rid of them.

Gould, a nationally recognized labor lawyer, lamented the decline while addressing the Agricultural Personnel Management Association’s 36th annual forum Jan. 28 in Monterey.

Without identifying the United Farm Workers by name, Gould lamented the union’s decline and called for his agency to intervene in the fields. “Union organizational activity in California agriculture at this moment is completely moribund,” Gould said.

Not only are laborers showing disinterest in joining agricultural unions, said Gould, but they are petitioning the agency to decertify unions that claim to represent them.

“During these past two years, while I have been chairman, there has not been one single representation petition filed under a statute which requires certification through a petition in order for a union to be recognized,” Gould said.

But the workers are actively petitioning Gould’s board to decertify existing unions. “There are quite a few decertification petitions which have been with us, some of them well-publicized,” he said.

The most well-publicized effort was in 2013, when the Agricultural Labor Relations Board supervised the vote of thousands of Central Valley workers at Gerawan Farming on whether to decertify the United Farm Workers. 

“The board still has not counted our votes, because it knows that we don’t want a union,” said Silvia Lopez, who organized the voting initiative and filed suit against the board. “Gould and the rest of the board are trying to use the power of the state government to save the dying union, even though the workers don’t want it.”

Gould has refused to comment on why his board has not counted the workers’ ballots. Paul Starkey, the board’s special counsel, also refused to comment.