California Supreme Court rules for farmworkers, and upholds binding mediation

California’s highest court decided unanimously Monday that farmers may have a labor contract imposed on them if negotiations with a union fail to produce an agreement. 

The state Supreme Court, overturning a lower court ruling, upheld a 2002 law that permits the state to order farmers and unions to reach binding contracts. 

The Legislature passed the law after determining that farmers were refusing to negotiate with unionized workers. The law allows either side to ask for a neutral mediator and for that mediator to impose a contract covering wages and working conditions.

The court said the law provided “numerous safeguards” to ensure fairness, including opportunities for appeal.

Monday’s ruling came in a dispute between the United Farm Workers of America, founded by Cesar Chavez, and Gerawan Farming Inc.

Gerawan owns 12,000 acres in Fresno and Madera counties and employs thousands of workers to grow, harvest and pack stone fruit and table grapes.

After winning the right to represent workers but failing to reach a contract, the UFW asked the state Agricultural Labor Relations Board in 2013 to intervene.

The board ordered a binding mediation, and the mediator eventually wrote a contract that the board approved.

Gerawan sued, arguing the state law was unconstitutional.

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