Two California growers disputed a California law stating unions had rights to enter private property at will to solicit new membership from employees. The Supreme Court agreed with the growers and struck down the law.
On-farm agriculture operations have been excluded from federal labor law since 1935. California filled this gap by creating its own law in 1975, the California Agricultural Labor Relations Act (ALRA). The ALRA differs from federal law in several key areas. Most important among them, the ALRA gives union organizers the right to physically access the farm property to solicit support for unionization. Agricultural employers must allow union organizers onto their property for up to three hours per day, 120 days per year.
Cedar Point Nursery and Fowler Packing Company are California growers that challenged this regulation as a state-sponsored “taking” of their property rights, without the just compensation guaranteed by the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution.
“In a 6-3 decision Wednesday, June 23, the US Supreme Court agreed with the growers, holding that the ALRA’s access regulations were a per se violation because they allowed “physical invasion” of the land without compensation," said Michael Droke, who is a senior partner at the international law firm Dorsey & Whitney in its Food and Agriculture group. The firm regularly advises California agriculture corporations and co-ops.
Cedar Point Nursery and Fowler Packing Company produce fruit for millions of Americans. Collectively, they employ around 3,000 Californians. In 2015, the United Farm Workers (UFW) viewed the workers as ripe for the picking and sent union organizers into the workplaces without warning during harvest time to encourage them to unionize.
According to Pacific Legal Foundation (PLF), a law firm that defended the growers, the employees said in a PLF video that they were suddenly shocked when a crowd burst through the doors and made their way through the building, barking through bullhorns that the workers needed to join the UFW. Some workers were so scared and intimidated that they left the property, but most stayed on the job, uninterested in union membership.
Similarly, for three straight days, UFW organizers tried to storm Fresno-based Fowler Packing Company, one of the nation’s largest growers of table grapes and citrus. Its 2,500 employees and their families have workplace perks typically promised by labor unions: safe and immaculate facilities, free health care with an on-site health clinic, and free meals any time of the day at an on-site cafeteria, according to Pacific Legal.
Mike Fahner, owner of Cedar Point Nursery, similarly treats his employees well, with many of them staying for twenty years or longer, the firm said. Seasonal workers keep coming back to Cedar Point year after year. With little demand from his staff in joining the union, he consulted with the police and an attorney to stop the harassment of his business and was stunned to discover that the union’s property invasion was legally authorized under California law.
The Pacific Legal Foundation said the regulation is a hold-over from the days when farm workers had little access to media or other means of communications and often lived on their employers’ property during busy times of the season. Now seasonal workers stay at nearby hotels. And most workers have access to hundreds of Spanish-speaking radio stations and other media outlets, cell phones and smartphones, and the internet. Nevertheless, the board insists its regulation is still necessary to reach these employees.
Represented by PLF free of charge, the owners of Cedar Point Nursery and Fowler Packing Company asked the US Supreme Court to invalidate California’s unlawful union access regulation.
"This case applies to agricultural employers only. Non-agricultural employers are governed by the federal National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). The NLRA allows employers to prohibit non-employee access to their property," Droke said. "Agricultural employers should clearly delineate what property is theirs, in order ensure that they can establish their property lines for purposes of union access."