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Employer Found in Contravention of California Labor Law

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Monterey, CAAn effort by some employees of a California-based employer to promote decertification from a union was aided and abetted, in part, by the employer—a violation of California labor law. While D'Arrigo Bros. was reported to have rules against interfering with union activities, a 97-page judicial ruling suggested several instances where the employer became involved.

The Monterey County Herald (06/20/12) reported that the majority of the 1700 employees of D'Arrigo are affiliated with the United Farm Workers (UFW) and have been since 1975. However, according to the report the unionized workers were without a contract until 2007, although it was never explained why the workers were 32 years without benefit of a collective agreement.

A campaign for decertification began in tandem with a request by union representatives of D'Arrigo management to begin negotiations for a new collective agreement. The company's alleged involvement in the decertification process was deemed a contravention of the California labor code.

The ruling, written by Administrative Law Judge Mark Soble, noted various examples where the employer was directly involved in the attempt to decertify from the UFW.

Amongst the activities cited in Soble's ruling, was an allowance for workers to promote the decertification process and solicit signatures from other employees during work hours, a violation of D'Arrigo's own rules. A temporary foreperson was seen to be gathering signatures on behalf of the decertification effort. And the employer held 14 presentations—again, held during work hours—allegedly urging a 'no union' vote as part of the decertification effort.

Attendance at the presentations was described in the report as mandatory, a violation of California labor employment law. "In tandem, the signature gathering and a multitude of forceful presentations are much more likely to intimidate and chill employee free choice than either of the activities in isolation," Soble wrote in his opinion.

It should be noted that amongst the areas in which Soble ruled in favor of the employer, was D'Arrigo's efforts to provide reasonable notice to laid-off employees as to their right to vote.

Still, the majority of the ruling sided with the workers bound by California state labor laws. Any participation by the employer, no matter how subtle, in union organizing or decertification activity is deemed a violation and thus inappropriate. Even the simple act of allowing workers to gather signatures in support of decertification on company time and during work hours implies that the employer was in favor of the effort.

"Given the totality of these circumstances, there is no way to know if the signatures collected represent the workers' true sentiments," Soble concluded in his California and labor law ruling. "Workers had reason to believe that supervisors might see the signature list and thus know whether they signed it or not. If a worker thinks that his employer supports decertification, and that supervisors may see whether or not the worker signs the petition supporting it, he or she may feel compelled to sign the petition regardless of his or her personal feelings on the issue.

"Similarly, the employer misconduct created an environment which would have made it impossible for true employee free choice when it came time to vote." The California employee labor law ruling was handed down June 15.

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