Supreme Court to Hear Challenge to California Law Allowing Aggressive Labor Recruitment

Supreme Court to Hear Challenge to California Law Allowing Aggressive Labor Recruitment
The U.S. Supreme Court is pictured in Washington on Feb. 1, 2020. (Daniel Slim/AFP via Getty Images)
Matthew Vadum

The Supreme Court has agreed to hear a challenge to a California law that gives labor organizers permission to trespass on private property and disrupt business operations 120 days a year to recruit new members.

The high court granted the petitioners’ application Nov. 13 to review a ruling of a divided U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit in a case known as Cedar Point Nursery v. Hassid.

As is its custom, the court didn’t explain why it granted the petition.

The petitioners are Cedar Point Nursery, a strawberry farm in Dorris, and Fowler Packing Co. Inc. in Fresno, which produces grapes and mandarin oranges. Together they employ about 3,000 people.

The lead respondent is Victoria Hassid, a Democrat, in her capacity as head of the California Agricultural Labor Relations Board.

If after hearing oral arguments, the Supreme Court rules in favor of the petitioners, some aggressive recruitment tactics by labor activists may be curbed.

California law forces agricultural producers to open their property and businesses to labor activists, which disrupts their business operations, effectively taking their property without compensation, according to the Pacific Legal Foundation (PLF), a public interest law firm based in Sacramento that is representing the two companies.

In 2015, union recruiters arrived unannounced at Cedar Point Nursery “during a busy harvest and conducted disruptive protests and actually scared some of the workers at 5 in the morning,” PLF attorney Wen Fa told The Epoch Times in an interview.

“This is about whether the government can force you to allow unwanted strangers onto your property without providing just compensation for that,” he said.

The government is arguing that even though this is a taking of the growers’ property, the growers are not owed compensation, he said.

“That rationale is very dangerous for property owners,” Wen said.

At the nursery, 500 employees were hard at work in trim sheds, tending to strawberry plants that would soon ship to growers throughout the country.

They were suddenly shocked when a crowd burst through the doors and made its way through the building, yelling into bullhorns that the workers needed to join the United Farm Workers (UFW). Some workers were so scared and intimidated that they left the property, but most stayed on the job, uninterested in union membership, according to PLF. The disruption was captured on video.

Similarly, for three straight days, UFW organizers tried to storm Fowler Packing Co., but the company refused them access. The company’s 2,500 employees and their families “already enjoy workplace perks typically promised by labor unions: safe and immaculate facilities, free health care with an on-site health clinic, and free meals any time of the day at an on-site cafeteria,” PLF states.

A California statute mirrors Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act, which guarantees employees “the right to self-organization, to form, join, or assist labor organizations, to bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing, and to engage in other concerted activities,” according to court documents.

But 45 years ago, the California Agricultural Labor Relations Board interpreted the law as granting union organizers the right to access the private property of all agricultural employers “for the purpose of meeting and talking with employees and soliciting their support.” Regulations dispense with any requirement that organizers obtain an employer’s consent before taking access. Once the appropriate notice is filed with the board, “organizers may descend upon an employer’s property for three hours per day for up to 120 days each year.”

The visits may take place one hour before work, one hour during lunch, and one hour after work.

The rule, called the Union Access Regulation, violates the companies’ constitutional rights, PLF argues.

“This petition directly presents the question of whether the appropriation of an easement, permanent in duration but limited in time, effects a per se physical taking,” contrary to the Fifth Amendment, the petition states.

Hassid’s legal team filed a brief in October urging the Supreme Court not to take the case.

“There is no indication that the access regulation poses a significant problem for California farms. The regulation has been in place for more than four decades.”