Wonderful Company asks court to throw out new card check unionization law

May 13, 2024 /

Farming empire Wonderful Company filed a lawsuit in Kern County Superior Court Monday afternoon, claiming that the state’s new unionization card check law is illegal and should be nullified.  According to the 79-page court document, the card check law is a violation of due process against employers, is unconstitutional, and violates workers’ rights to a secret ballot election. 

The card check system went into effect in January 2023 as authorized by Assembly Bill 2183, allowing farmworkers to select union representation.  This gave farmworkers the option of authorizing a union by signing cards off-site from their workplace, rather than voting in person at a designated polling place.  AB 2183 was sponsored by the United Farm Workers union. UFW claimed this was necessary as workers were being intimidated by voting at a work site. Wonderful Company and other growers vehemently disagree workers were being intimidated, noting the secret ballot process has been in place for years. 

According to the company, the new law gutted any sort of due process right to judicial review and the right to secret ballot elections that were previously in place.  The company is asking for three forms of relief; to enjoin or stop the state from enforcing the card check law against anyone in the state, to stop a current administrative hearing between Wonderful Nurseries and the United Farm Workers, and to stop all legal impacts from the law to go forward. 

UFW spokesperson Elizabeth Strater fired back at Wonderful with the following statement, “It’s unfortunate but not surprising that three weeks after the ALRB general counsel found that Wonderful Nurseries broke the law that protects farm workers, Wonderful Nurseries now wants to get rid of the law that protects farm workers.”

The company’s latest legal action comes after the Agricultural Labor Relations Board certified in February that enough workers at Wonderful Nurseries in Wasco had signed cards authorizing UFW to be their labor representative.  But that was quickly challenged by the company and by 148 workers who claimed they were duped into signing cards authorizing UFW to be their labor representative.  These workers claimed they attended meetings at homes where they were told they would get help applying for $600 in federal relief for farmworkers who worked during the pandemic.  Despite signing the cards, workers claimed UFW representatives misled them into signing and asked their names be revoked from union certification.  Wonderful appealed the union certification and requested an administrative hearing from the ALRB.  That hearing began in April and is being held virtually, expected to last weeks, if not months as some 200 witnesses are expected to testify. 

To date, UFW has won union representation through the card check system at Olive Hill Nursery in San Diego County, DeMare Brothers Fresh Tomatoes in Merced, Ho Sai Gai in Kern County, and Wonderful Nurseries in Wasco.  According to UFW, farmworkers at six New York State farms recently voted for the UFW under a similar card check law enacted there in 2019.

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Jose Gaspar

José Gaspar is a veteran journalist and former news anchor/reporter with Telemundo, Bakersfield. Prior, he worked 28 years at KBAK-TV as a reporter. Email him at jose@southkernsol.org.