Decision on ‘California rule’ will impact who rules California

SACRAMENTO, CA - JULY 21: A sign stands in front of California Public Employees' Retirement System building July 21, 2009 in Sacramento, California. CalPERS, the state's public employees retirement fund, reported a loss of 23.4%, its largest annual loss. (Photo by Max Whittaker/Getty Images)

On its surface, the case heard last Wednesday by the California Supreme Court in CalFire Local 2881 vs. CalPERS doesn’t seem that important. At issue is the so-called “California Rule,” an obscure legal doctrine relating to public employee pensions. But for California’s beleaguered taxpayers, the case is one of extraordinary importance because its outcome will determine the extent to which the local governments will look to taxpayers to shore up failing pension plans even more than they already do.

Labor interests have argued that under the “California Rule,” no pension benefit provided to public employees by statute can ever be withdrawn without replacement with some “comparable” benefit, even if it’s deferred compensation for services not yet provided, and even if the Legislature determines that citizens who are not public employees are unfairly suffering as a result of prior legislatures’ mistakes.

More than a decade ago, California politicians, seeking to curry favor with public-sector labor, began enacting laws to significantly increase public employee compensation. Among these enhanced benefits were a series of laws which allowed public employees to spike their pensions. For example, a 2004 state law allowed employees with at least five years of service to purchase up to five years of additional credits — commonly labeled “airtime” — before they retire. Under this plan, a 20-year employee could receive a pension based on 25 years of contributions.

To read the entire column, please click here.

Can Public Sector Union Power Ever Be Stopped?

unionImagine you’re hoping to support a candidate for local office who will enact reforms that will improve your city, maybe even save it. Someone who will fight tirelessly to eliminate work rules that force agencies to hire more people than are actually necessary. Someone who will insist that incompetent public employees are fired. Someone who will finally do something about compensation and benefit packages that are threatening to bankrupt the city.

What do you say to them, when their response to your suggested reforms is this: “That’s all great, and I’d like to do it all, but who’s going to give me the million dollars for my campaign that I’m not going to get from the public employee unions if I actually try to do any of it?”

That is the sort of conversation that takes place, or would take place if anyone bothered to ask, multiplied by thousands, every election cycle in California.

Public employee unions run California. They exercise nearly absolute power in the state Legislature, and in nearly every city, county, school district and special district. Can public sector union power ever be stopped?

Earlier this year, a California Public Policy Center analysis estimated that for 2016, total membership in California’s public sector unions was 1.15 million, and total revenue was $812 million. This equates to a stupefying $1.6 billion that these unions collect and spend every election cycle.

 

California’s Public Sector Unions (including local affiliates)
Estimated Total Membership and Revenues

While the figure of $1.6 billion per election cycle is a credible estimate, attempts to come up with precise information on California’s public sector union dues is nearly impossible. In California there are many hundreds, if not thousands, of individual local public sector union affiliates. All of them file separate 990 forms, often including financial transfers between entities that have to be offset in any thorough analysis.

Determining how much of California’s public sector union revenue is spent on politics is also a nearly impossible task, despite several online “transparency” portals, including OpenSecretsFollowTheMoneyVoteSmart, and the California Secretary of State’s Campaign Finance “Power Search.” These portals are primarily focused on national races, and in some cases, statewide races, but none of them descend to the thousands of California’s local races, where hundreds of millions of dollars are spent every election.

Moreover, the portals can only display the information they’re given. California’s government unions, like most sophisticated political players, mask their total spending through multiple committees and transfers.

An excellent analysis of how much of teachers union dues end up being spent on political campaigns was written in 2015 by RiShawn Biddle, editor and publisher of Dropout Nation – a leading commentary website on education reform. He writes: “The pro bono consultants who went through the unions’ published national, state, and local tax returns estimated based on their research, interviews, and sampling that roughly one third of the unions’ efforts went toward political advocacy.”

One-third. In California, that is equal to approximately $540 million per election cycle. That is, California’s public sector unions likely spend over a half-billion per election cycle. And this spending does not include other “non-political” spending. For example, not reportable as political spending can include massive public education campaigns that are designed to influence voters but aren’t engaging in explicit advocacy.

Also not considered political spending, but having immense political impact, is litigation. There are countless examples of how government union power is exercised in California’s courts. Pension reforms in San Jose and San Diego, approved by voters, were eviscerated through relentless court challenges. Statewide pension reform pushed by Gov. Brown and partially realized in the PEPRA legislation of 2012 was undermined, and continues to be undermined, beneath an ongoing avalanche of lawsuits. Charter schools are the targets of continuous litigation designed to wear them out. You can do this, when you have hundreds of millions of dollars pouring in every quarter, year after year.

California’s political landscape over the past 20-30 years has been defined by public sector unions. While the recent Janus v AFSCME decision by the U.S. Supreme Court has taken away the ability of government unions to compel payment of fees, the unions are resorting to clever contractual gyrations to make it extremely difficult in practice for anyone to stop paying. That too, will have to sort itself out in court, where union money guarantees tenacious defense and endless appeals.

Even if public employees can easily withdraw from paying government unions, in many cases, why would they? These unions have made California’s public employees some of the highest paid public servants on earth. A California Policy Center study in 2017 concluded “The composite average total compensation (pay and benefits) for a full-time city, county or state worker in California during 2015 was $121,843; for the average full-time private sector worker in California, including benefits, it was 62,475, which is 51% of what the public sector worker earned.” As a result, it is no coincidence that California’s state and local governments confront over $1.0 trillion in debt and unfunded pension liabilities.

The political and financial power of public sector unions has transformed California politics. Their influence is felt everywhere; education, environmental policy, the business climate, important cultural issues. In every area, their primary agenda is to grow their membership and influence. The effect of this agenda is pernicious. If schools fail, spend more public money on schools. If crime increases, hire more police and build more prisons. Wherever society fails, grow unionized government.

Perhaps the next major U.S. Supreme Court case concerning government unions will abolish them due to this inherent conflict between their agenda and the public interest. Perhaps someday they will be outlawed entirely. That would be a happy, happy Thanksgiving indeed.

This article originally appeared on the website of the California Policy Center.

California state worker union accepts contract with 10 percent pay hike

Unions2A small California state employee union decided on Thursday that a contract with two more consecutive years of 5 percent raises was too good to pass up in the waning months of Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration.

The California Association of Professional Scientists approved the contract by a vote of 802 to 339. It will give about 3,400 state scientists a 5 percent raise on July 1, 2019 and another 5 percent raise on July 1, 2020.

State scientists have received a 5 percent general wage increase each year since 2016. A state salary survey that year reported that the state’s total compensation for environmental scientists was 34 percent below what their peers could earn in the private sector and 26 percent below what they could make working for the federal government. …

Click here to read the full article from the Sacramento Bee

Is Anything Off-Limits for California’s Police Unions?

Police tapeA few weeks ago the Costa Mesa Police Association (read: Police Union) and their former law firm agreed to pay $607,000 to settle a lawsuit after their scheme against two Costa Mesa city councilmen came to light.

As I wrote in my book, this settlement represents a small but important victory in the broader philosophical war between California’s public employee unions’ unquenchable demand for more and the handful of public officials willing to stand and say there is simply no more to give. This result should also give hope to public officials across the state who have been at the pointy-end of the public employee unions’ so-called “advocacy” during labor negotiations or an election cycle.

The plot that eventually led to the settlement sounds like the set-up for a Don Winslow novel, but everything you are about to read is true.

On August 22, 2012 a private investigator, Chris Lanzillo, who was employed by the police union’s law firm was tailing the two councilmen in hopes of digging up dirt for use against them in the upcoming November city council elections.

The two Costa Mesa city councilmen were in the police union’s cross-hairs because they were trying to cut-back public employee pensions and benefits. The city had a $5.1 million budget deficit that year, and the offending proposal reduced retirees’ pensions from 90 percent of their salary at age 50 to a mere 81 percent of their pay at 55. That same year, Costa Mesa had 99 employees who earned more than $200,000.  …

Click here to read the full article from Townhall

CA Supreme Court Could Make Local Ballot Initiatives More Difficult

CA Supreme Courtrecent unanimous ruling by the California Supreme Court (pictured) that may force the city of San Diego to retroactively create pensions for non-police employees hired since the start of 2013 isn’t just bad news for pension reformers. It also serves notice to elected officials who participate in signature-gathering campaigns for local ballot measures that they need to be wary of doing so in a way that interferes with state laws requiring that changes in work conditions be collectively bargained with employee unions.

At issue was Proposition B, approved by San Diego voters in 2012 by a nearly 2-to-1 margin. The measure required that all city employees who began their jobs on or after Jan. 1, 2013 – except for police officers – get 401(k)-style retirement benefits instead of the defined benefit pensions that left San Diego finances in near ruins more than a decade ago because of City Council decisions to underfund them.

But San Diego employee unions and the California Public Employees Relations Board (PERB) argued even before the measure reached the ballot that it violated state collective bargaining laws because the campaign for the pension changes was led in 2011 and 2012 by then-San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders. He claimed that his role in the Prop. B campaign was as a private citizen – not as mayor – and thus he faced no obligation to collectively bargain with public employee unions before touting the direct-democracy initiative.

Before reaching the state high court, a trial judge first disagreed with Sanders and San Diego, then an appellate court sided with the city. But all seven state justices joined in a ruling that found that city leaders had not met their requirement to first seek changes at the bargaining table before seeking to impose them through direct democracy.

“Allowing public officials to purposefully evade the meet-and-confer requirements of [state collective bargaining rules] by officially sponsoring a citizens’ initiative would seriously undermine the policies served by the statute: fostering full communication between public employers and employees, as well as improving personnel management and employer-employee relations,” the court held. It ordered the case be sent back to the appellate court to determine how San Diego should untangle its mess.

Elected leaders may be less likely to lead ballot fights

The decision seems likely to change the nature of direct democracy going forward – at least at the local level of California government.

Direct democracy, brought forward in California by Gov. Hiram Johnson in 1911, has greatly benefited from the active participation of elected officials. They are often more able to win public approval of sweeping reforms through the ballot box than they can through the Legislature or city or county governing boards, which are often allied with deep-pockets special interests.

For example, Earl Warren – the former U.S. Supreme Court chief justice and California governor – repeatedly led ballot campaigns as Alameda County district attorney that directly affected many areas of California life.

But similar efforts by a politician in 2018 would face a different kind of vetting than Warren faced. Going forward, any ballot proposal that affects public employees in any way is subject to a potential court veto if it can be established that it were led by elected officials who didn’t live up to their collective bargaining obligations.

The California PERB Blog’s analysis noted that justices “did leave open the possibility that government officials can separate their official actions from their private activities. However, the court did not provide any guidance on what a government official would have to do to make such a distinction clear.”

This article was originally published by CalWatchdog.com

Why Teachers Unions are the Worst of the Worst

Teachers unionWhen considering the influence of unions on American society, there are vast differences depending on what type of union one considers.

Private sector unions, for all the criticisms they may deserve, have nonetheless played a vital role in securing rights for the American worker. Subject to appropriate regulations, private sector unions have the opportunity to continue to play a vital role in American society. If they would bother to embrace the aspirations of their members, instead of the multinational corporations their leaders now apparently collude with, they might even support immigration reform. That would elevate the wages and benefits of all American workers, especially those doing low paying jobs.

Public sector unions, on the other hand, should be illegal. They negotiate with elected officials who they help elect. They negotiate for a share of coerced tax revenue, rather than for a share of profits, meaning there are no competitive checks on how much they can demand. The agenda of public sector unions is inherently in conflict with the public interest. But given the reality of public sector unions, it is important to recognize that some public sector unions are worse than others.

Public safety unions, for example, have successfully lobbied for pension benefits that are not sustainable. This calls for a difficult but necessary economic discussion that can only end two ways – either these pension benefits are going to be reduced, or cities and counties across California and elsewhere will go bankrupt in the next major recession. But public safety unions have not undermined their profession the way the teachers unions have.

The teachers unions are guilty of all the problems common to all public sector unions. They, too, have negotiated unsustainable rates of pay and benefits. They, too, elect their own bosses, negotiate inefficient work rules, have an insatiable need for more public funds, and protect incompetent members. But the teachers union is worse than all other public sector unions for one reason that eclipses all others: Their agenda is negatively affecting how we socialize and educate our children, the next generation of Americans.

Work Rules Harm Public Schools

One of the most compelling examples of just how much harm the teachers union has done to California’s schools was the 2014 case Vergara vs. the State of California. In this case, attorneys representing public school students argued that union negotiated work rules harmed their ability to receive a quality education. In particular, they questioned rules governing tenure (too soon), dismissals (too hard), and layoffs (based on seniority instead of merit). In the closing arguments, the plaintiff’s lead attorney referenced testimony from the defendant’s expert witnesses to show that these and other rules had a negative disproportionate impact on students in disadvantaged communities.

Despite winning in the lower courts, the Vergara case was eventually dismissed by the California Supreme Court. Teachers still get tenure after less than two years of classroom observation. Incompetent teachers are still nearly impossible to fire. And whenever it is necessary to reduce teacher headcount in a district, the senior teachers stay and the new teachers go, regardless of how well or poorly these teachers were doing their jobs. The consequences of these self-serving work rules are more than academic.

The evidence that California’s public schools are failing is everywhere. Los Angeles, a city whose residents are – perhaps more than anywhere else – representative of America’s future, is home to the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), with 640,000 K-12 students. And as reported earlier this year in the LA School Report, according to the new “California School Dashboard,” a ratings system that replaced the Academic Performance Index, LAUSD is failing to educate hundreds of thousands of students. In the most recent year of results, 52 percent of LAUSD’s schools earned a D or F in English language arts, and 50 percent earned a D or F in math. Fifty percent of LAUSD’s schools are failing or nearly failing to teach their students English or math.

Attack Innovative Charter Schools

In the face of failure, you would think LAUSD and other failing school districts would embrace bipartisan, obvious reforms such as those highlighted in the Vergara case. But instead, these unions are relentlessly trying to unionize charter schools, which would force those schools to adhere to the same union work rules. In Los Angeles, the Alliance Network of charter schools has delivered demonstrably better educational outcomes for less money, while serving nearly identical student populations.

How does it help to impose union work rules on charter schools that are succeeding academically? How does that help the children who are America’s future?

A Left-Wing Political Agenda

The other way the teachers union is unique among public sector unions is their hyper-partisanship. Despite and often in defiance of their memberships, nearly all unions are left-wing partisan organizations. Nearly all of them support left-wing causes and Democratic political candidates. But the teachers unions do so with a zeal that dwarfs their counterparts. Larry Sand, a former LAUSD teacher and prolific observer of teachers union antics, has spent years documenting their left wing agenda.

For example, reporting on the annual conventions of the two largest national teachers unions, Sand writes: “The National Education Association convention at the beginning of the month gave us a clue which theory would become reality when the union passed quite a few über liberal New Business Items, maintained its lopsided leftward political spending, and gave rogue quarterback Colin Kaepernick a human rights award. And here in the Golden State, the California Teachers Association continues its one-way spending on progressive initiatives and endorsed 35 state legislators in the June primary – all Democrats.

A week after the NEA convention, the other national teachers union, the American Federation of Teachers held its yearly wingding and left absolutely no doubt as to its future political direction. The resolutions passed by the union at the convention would make any socialist proud. Universal health care – whether single-payer or MediCare for All, full public funding for, and free tuition at all public colleges and universities, and universal, full-day, and cost-free child care are what AFT wants for the country. Additionally, the union resolved to double per-pupil expenditures for low-income K-12 districts and to ‘tax the rich’ to fully fund ‘IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act), Title I and state allocations to public colleges and universities.’”

Left-Wing Student Indoctrination

This left-wing political agenda finds its way into the classroom, of course. At the same time as California’s K-12 public school students are not being effectively taught English or math skills, they are being exposed to agenda-driven political and cultural indoctrination.

Again, as documented by Larry Sand: “Nor are textbooks safe. Communist and notorious America-hater Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States” is assigned in many high school history classes. Zinn felt that the teaching of history “should serve society in some way” and that “objectivity is impossible and it is also undesirable.” As a Marxist, he’d prefer a society that resembles Stalin’s Russia. Additionally, Pacific Research Institute’s Lance Izumi notes that pages and pages of the latest California History, Social Science Framework ‘are devoted to identity politics, and the environmentalist, sexual, and anti-Vietnam War movements, with detailed and extensive bibliographical references. In contrast, the contemporaneous conservative movement, which succeeded in electing Californian Ronald Reagan as president, with its complex mixture of social, economic and national security sub-movements, is given cursory and passing mention, with no references provided.’”

Public sector unions are going to be with us for a long time. But in the wake of the Janus ruling, members who don’t agree with the political agenda of these unions can quit, depriving them of the dues that – to the tune of nearly a billion per year just in California – make them so powerful.

Teachers, in particular, should carefully consider this option. America’s future depends on it.

Ed Ring is the co-founder of the California Policy Center and served as its first president.

L.A. teachers union schedules strike authorization vote

UTLAThe Los Angeles teachers union announced Friday that it has scheduled a strike-authorization vote for later this month.

A strike would not be automatic, even if a majority of members vote yes. But such a result would give union leaders the authority to call a strike without returning to members for another vote. Having members authorize a strike is a well-established pressure tactic, and once in a while, a strike does occur.

United Teachers Los Angeles scheduled the vote after the state’s Public Employment Relations Board agreed with the union that talks were deadlocked.

Other district employee unions have reached deals that provide for about a 6% raise over three years. L.A. Unified has yet to offer that much to teachers, but that’s clearly where officials want to end up. …

Click here to read the full article from the L.A. Times

The Unions Keep Rigging the Rules as Workers Sue Them

Unions2The public employee unions have not been at all contrite since their 41 year run of legalized theft came to an abrupt halt. On June 27th, the Supreme Court overturned 1977’s abysmal Abood v. Detroit Board of Education decision and ruled for Mark Janus, thus freeing government workers from all forced union payments. But, ahead of the SCOTUS decision – pretty much a forgone conclusion – the union wheels were already grinding away, notably in California where a bevy of bills that attempt to re-rig the rules in favor of organized labor are currently going through the legislative process.

California’s creepy AB 119, already law, gives government unions access to all workers’ personal contact information and requires new hires to attend a mandatory union “orientation” meeting, during which a captive audience is harangued about the joys of union membership. A companion bill, AB 2970, would prohibit government agencies from publicly disclosing information about the new employee orientations. Some organizations like the Freedom Foundation and the Mackinac Center, you see, are trying to counter the union spin by contacting public employees. Like all good totalitarians, however, the unionistas are doing their utmost to stifle free speech.

In another anti-free speech, Big Brotherly move, the unions are behind an attempt to expand existing law that prohibits an employer from “deterring or discouraging public employees from becoming or remaining members of an employee organization.” AB 2017 would broaden the definition of “public employer” and also prohibit public employers from deterring or discouraging prospective public employees “from becoming or remaining members of an employee organization.”

In a direct slap at taxpayers, SB 1085 would grant leaves of absence, without loss of compensation or other benefits, to allow unionized employees to do union business on work time. Moreover, as provided in this bill, the worker would have a right of reinstatement to the same position and work location held before the leave, “or if this is not feasible, a substantially similar position without loss of seniority, rank, or classification.” While the union would have to compensate the state for any work done for the union, this law clearly could be extremely disruptive to the workplace and quite costly to taxpayers.

SB 550 stipulates that if there is a dispute alleging an employer’s failure to provide wages, benefits, or working conditions and it winds up in court, the employer, if he loses, must pay the union’s attorney’s fees and any other expenses incurred. But the “loser pays” provision only applies to the employer, not the union.

There is much more that the California legislature has been doing to give government unions perks that none of the rest of us could ever dream of. The California Policy Center’s Ed Ring has posted a detailed list of the new and proposed legislation, as has the law firm of Lozano Smith. They can be accessed here and here.

On the other side of the coin, there is worker-initiated litigation, most of which was set in motion before the Janus decision was handed down. In fact, as of this writing there are class action law suits against teachers unions in seven states, including three in California. All the litigation revolves around educators who never wanted any part of a union, but were forced to pay “agency fees” – about two-thirds of a full dues payment – because the union-friendly law in 22 states said they had to. One of the California cases is typical, where six current and former teachers allege that despite refusing to join the union because they disapproved of its political advocacy and collective-bargaining activities, they were still forced to pay a fee to the California Teachers Association as a condition of employment.

And it’s not just the teachers unions that are under fire. Hamidi et al v. SEIU Local 1000, filed by the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation (which litigated the Janus case) could force the union to refund money taken from 40,000 California state workers dating back to 2012. The money had been seized from employees who wanted to have no union involvement but were forced to pay some money to them nevertheless. The lawsuit, which includes suing for return of the forced dues payments as well as for compensatory damages, could cost the union $100 million.

While the Janus ruling ended Abood, the door has opened to a new world in which unions are desperately trying to recapture their former status as a very special interest. But at the same time, workers are fed up with union privilege and are determined to fight to get monies forcibly taken from them by an organization they never wanted any part of.

The wheel is in spin and will remain in motion for some time to come.

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.

Public-Employee Unions Maintain a Privileged Status

School union protestAs a result of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Janus v. AFSCME, teachers and other public employees in 22 states can no longer be compelled to pay “agency fees”—the money that the union claims it costs to represent them—as a condition of employment. A teacher in newly liberated California can now save $1,100 or $1,200 per year in fees that the union claimed were necessary to cover the cost of representing him in collective bargaining.

Unions are preparing to take a hit. In advance of the decision, which was widely expected, the California Teachers Association projected a loss of 23,000 members. The union also figures to lose revenue from 28,000 non-members who had quit the union but were forced to cough up the agency fees. In order to soften the financial blow, CTA has announced a per-teacher dues hike of $23 a year for the 2018-2019 school year, bringing teachers’ state dues to $700 annually. CTA’s parent, the National Education Association, bracing for a 10 percent loss in membership, is slashing its budget by $50 million and raising its per-teacher share of dues from $189 to $192.

But while teachers and other public employees are off the unions’ hook, the rest of us Californians are still paying. Taxpayers foot the bill for the collection of union dues, which local school districts deduct from a teacher’s monthly paycheck, just like federal and state withholding taxes. The school districts turn the money over to local teachers’ unions, which don’t pay a penny for the transactions. Simply put, the taxpayer is the bagman for the union. Some states are pushing back, however. A proposed bill in Louisiana would allow school boards to charge unions an administrative fee of up to 3 percent of the union dues.

That’s a start, but public unions remain financially formidable. All unions enjoy tax-exempt status with the IRS. The NEA took in $365.8 million in 2015, according to its most recent available tax return—just about all of it coming from taxpayer-supported teachers’ salaries. The CTA’s income was $183.1 million, per its latest return. In total, the NEA and its state affiliates take in about $1.6 billiona year in tax-free money, and that doesn’t include money paid to NEA locals, the American Federation of Teachers and its affiliates, or AFSCME, SEIU, and all the other public-employee unions. The numbers are staggering, and will remain so. The irony is that these unions persistently use their taxpayer-paid, tax-free money to lobby legislators to raise taxes.

To add insult to injury, a new bill in California would make union dues tax-deductible. “Californians, in effect, will collectively subsidize union dues,” reports the Pacific Research Institute. “The bill would cost taxpayers $250 million the first year, $170 million in 2019-20, and $180 million in 2020-21.” The bill has passed muster in the state assembly and is on its way to becoming law. On an ongoing mission to kill off charter schools and voucher programs, the teachers’ unions rail against “privatizers” who seek to profit from public education. But when it comes to a private entity making a killing from public education, the teachers’ unions have the market cornered.

Before, during, and after the Janus proceedings, public unions pumped out a steady stream of clichés, claiming that the court case represented an attempt to “rig the system,” “rig the economy,” and “rig the rules.” But what the Janusdecision really did was to bring a semblance of fairness to a system that the unions have been gaming for years. Now that Janus has freed public employees from union domination, taxpayers in California and elsewhere need emancipation from the same abusive special interest.

California Farm Workers Fight Their Union — and the State — in Court

Gerawan FarmingIn 2012, Dan Gerawan received a message from the United Farm Workers (UFW). The essence of the message, Gerawan tells National Review, was simple: We’re back. Gerawan, whose family owns and operates Gerawan Farming — a farm based in northern California that grows peaches and nectarines and employs more than 5,000 people — was confused. In 1992, Gerawan Farming employees indeed had decided to certify UFW as their bargaining representative. But since that election, UFW had been effectively absent: It never negotiated a contract between the company and its workers, and the only bargaining session, which was held in 1995, went nowhere. In the intervening 17 years, there had been zero contact between the union and management.

After receiving the UFW’s message, Gerawan entered his company into negotiations with the union. These hit a snag after just three months, however, when the union invoked California’s Mandatory Mediation and Conciliation (MMC) law — a provision of the state’s Agricultural Labor Relations Act that creates a third-party arbitrator for union disputes: the Agricultural Labor Relations Board (ALRB).

Not long after the union invoked MMC, a group of Gerawan employees petitioned for an election to decertify it as their representative. Shorn of context, this might seem an unusual step for a group of farm hands to take. It’s no secret that agricultural workers in California tend to be Latino, occupy a dubious legal status, and earn compensation that pales in comparison with that of their employers. Life in 21st-century California recently has been compared to life in the sci-fi movie Elysium, in which earthbound laborers toil away as their plutocratic overlords luxuriate in low-Earth orbit; one might expect Gerawan workers to fight for representation to avoid such a fate.

The results of this election are set to become public in the coming weeks — but only after five years of bitterly contested legal battles, a bizarre turn of the ALRB from neutral mediator to active defender of the UFW, and several large-scale protests held by Gerawan employees to demand that their votes be counted. This is the rare labor dispute in which labor and management are fighting a common foe: the state of California’s byzantine legal regime.

UFW challenged the decertification push almost as soon as it began. It does not boggle the mind that a majority of workers would want to cast off the union — especially given that its numbers had been dwindling for years before it reached out to Gerawan, and that it opened negotiations by demanding that workers contribute 3 percent of their paychecks in dues. UFW accused Gerawan management of illegally instigating the push for decertification and forging signatures on the initial petition. At the time, an attorney for Gerawan employee Sylvia Lopez suggested that UFW supporters had deliberately forged the signatures to tank the decertification push — a charge Gerawan told National Review was more plausible than it seemed.

The ALRB, however, consistently came down on the side of the union. It disallowed the initial petition filed by employees to hold a decertification election. When a second petition was filed, it challenged that as well. When the election was finally held, it suppressed the results. …

Click here to read the full article from the National Review