U.S. Supreme Court rules unions cannot recruit on California farms

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- The U.S. Supreme court ruled in favor of a Fresno County-based packing company.

The ruling reverses a decades-old state regulation that allowed unions to access farm property in order to organize workers.

Union organizers have been allowed to go onto farmer's properties to organize workers as long as they gave the company a heads up and visited during non-working hours.

But Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme court ruled 6-3 along ideological lines in favor of farmers -- saying it was a violation of their constitutional rights.

The ruling revered a long-standing state regulation.

"Private property is private property. The public does not have a right just to access it anytime it wants and do what it wants with the employees that work on that property," said Manual Cunha, the President of Nisei Farmers League, which protects growers rights.

The case centers around Cedar Point Nursery, a strawberry grower in northern California, and Fowler Packing, a Fresno County-based grower and shipper of table grapes and citrus.

In July of 2015, organizers from the United Farm Workers attempted to access Fowlers' property, but the company blocked them. Believing they would try to access the property again, the growers filed suit in Federal District Court.

They argued unions in any other industry are not able to do what was being done to farmers.

"Agriculture was over here. Everybody else was over here protected and we weren't. Our small farmers were being they would just come on their farms whenever they wanted to and cause havoc," Cunha said.

On Wednesday, the US Supreme Court ruled in favor of Fowler Packing and all farmers, saying the state regulation was a violation of the property owners' constitutional rights.

However, the United Farm Workers Foundation says it was in place to help balance an unequal playing field for farmworkers.

"Farmworkers are some of the hardest working people in America. This decision really denies their right to have access to one of the very few tools in their tool box as far as making improvements in their lives," said Elizabeth Strater with the United Farm Workers Foundation.

The state regulation was a major victory in the farmworkers movement led by Cesar Chavez in the 1970s.

Supporters said it was the only practical way to give farmworkers a chance to consider joining a union.

Growers argue with today's technology, farmworkers can be reached by digital means.

The UFW disagrees.

"These are people that are really in isolation," Strater said. "But, in addition, they're far less likely to have access to the internet, they're far less likely to have a smartphone or the capability of using that."

The UFW expects discussions will begin Wednesday night over how to proceed.

"The people that best know the risks and the challenges are the farmworkers and they're going to be the ones who are sort of plot the path forward." said Strater.

The California Labor Agricultural Relations Board said it is considering potential workarounds that could allow union organizers to continue accessing farm property.
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