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Supreme Court rules in favor of growers

By
Ryan G. Beckman, digital editor

The Supreme Court ruled in favor of two growers in Cedar Point Nursery v. Hassid, a case centered around Cedar Point Nursery and Fowler Packing Co., who objected when United Farm Workers union organizers demanded access to their property under a California regulation.

The regulation mandated agricultural employers allow union organizers onto their property for up to three hours per day, 120 days per year. "The growers 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," said Michael Droke, a senior partner at the international law firm Dorsey & Whitney in its Food and Agriculture group.

In a six-three decision, Chief Justice John Roberts delivered the opinion of the court, stating, "The access regulation appropriates a right to invade the growers’ property and therefore constitutes a per se physical taking.... The  regulation  appropriates  for  the  enjoyment  of  third  parties  the  owners’  right to exclude... 'one of the most treasured' rights of property ownership."

“This is a simple property rights case," said Western Growers President and CEO Dave Puglia. "States cannot take private property without just compensation, and property owners have the fundamental right to exclude trespassers. We applaud the Supreme Court for protecting the notion of private property rights as envisioned in our Constitution. We also commend Cedar Point Nursery, Fowler Packing Company and the Pacific Legal Foundation team for seeing this case through to its unequivocal conclusion.”

“Today’s ruling involving Cedar Point Nursery and CFFA member Fowler Packing protects the constitutional rights of agricultural employers and brings the ALRA access rule into alignment with the National Labor Relations Act," said Ian LeMay, president of the California Fresh Fruit Association. "For 45 years, California's farmers have seen their property rights ignored by the Agricultural Labor Relations Board by allowing organizers onto their property. No other industry in the United States, including California, has had to allow union organizers onto their property in a similar manner. We appreciate both Fowler Packing and Cedar Point’s efforts in leading the fight to restore the same property rights that are enjoyed by all other industries in the United States, to California farmers.”

Cedar Point Nursery, a strawberry grower in Northern California that employs more than 400 seasonal workers and around 100 full-time workers, none of whom  live on the property, filed a complaint after an October 2015 incident when members of the United Farm Workers entered company property at 5 a.m. one morning without prior notice. Union organizers disturbed operations, causing some workers to join in a protest and others to leave the worksite altogether. Cedar Point filed a charge against the union for taking access without giving notice. The union responded with a charge of its own, alleging that Cedar Point had committed an unfair labor practice.

Fowler Packing Co., a Fresno, CA-based grower-shipper of table grapes and citrus, has 1,800-2,500 employees in its field operations and around 500 in its packing facility.  As with Cedar Point, none of Fowler’s workers live on the premises. "In July 2015, organizers from the United Farm Workers attempted to take access to Fowler’s property, but the company blocked them from  entering," said Roberts. "The  union  filed  an  unfair  labor  practice  charge  against  Fowler, which it later withdrew. Believing that the union would likely attempt to enter their property again in the near future, the growers filed suit in Federal District Court against several board members in their official capacity. The growers argued that the access regulation effected an unconstitutional per se physical taking under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments by appropriating without compensation an easement for union organizers to enter their property. They requested declaratory and injunctive relief prohibiting the board from enforcing the regulation against them."

"On-farm agriculture operations have been excluded from federal labor law since 1935, said Droke. "California filled this gap by creating its own law in 1975, the California Agricultural Labor Relations Act. 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 in order to solicit support for unionization."

Droke said employers should immediately review their policies and practices regarding on-farm access and should clearly delineate what property is theirs.  Access should be limited to employer-approved business. The policy/practice should also specify who is authorized to allow access.

 

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