About 1,000 farm workers were said to be involved in a protest at the offices of the California Agricultural Labor Relations Board (ALRB) in Visalia Tuesday afternoon.
The protest was over what event organizers said is the ALRB’s refusal to count ballots cast last November to decertify United Farm Workers of America representation of farm workers at Fresno-based Gerawan Farms.
At least six buses carried farm workers to the protest where they joined others to call on the ALRB to count their ballots, which organizers believe will validate their wishes to not be represented by the union.
“This is an enormous sacrifice to come out at the height of harvest season for this event,” said Matt Patterson, executive director of the Washington D.C.-based Center for Worker Freedom, which gave logistical support to Tuesday’s protest.
Patterson said the event was organized after repeated attempts to get the ALRB to count the ballots farm workers filed late last year in a long-standing battle that now includes at least one lawsuit.
Silvia Lopez, a farm worker for 15 years with Gerawan Farms, sued the ALRB to force the counting of ballots filed in a November election last year to decertify United Farm Worker representation of farm workers at Gerawan Farms.
The UFW has never formally represented Gerawan farm workers because the union allegedly failed to contact the company for two decades after workers 20 years ago voted for union representation.
Officials with the ALRB say the issue is not as simple as their alleged refusal to count ballots.
Arcelia Hurtado, an attorney for the ALRB, said the board is currently investigating allegations that Gerawan Farms broke the law by instigating last year’s decertification vote. Hurtado says other allegations are currently being investigated by the ALRB as well.
“We are investigating irregularities in the vote,” Hurtado said.
A Sept. 29 hearing in Fresno will determine when the ballots are counted.
The issue stems from reports that Gerawan farm workers voted more than 20 years ago to join the UFW. A defamation lawsuit filed last year by Gerawan against the UFW alleged that the UFW failed to contact the company for at least 20 years after the early 1990s vote.
Tuesday’s protest was an opportunity for a new generation of Gerawan farm workers to reassert their opposition to UFW representation and to force the ALRB to count their decertification ballots.