• By The Financial District

U.S. Supreme Court Farm Organizing A Jim Crow Verdict: Unions

The US Supreme Court’s 6-3 ruling on June 23, 2021 junking the California Agricultural Labor Relations Act of 1975 and denying farmworkers access to labor organizers “assures farm owners that they once again reign over their employees like plantation owners in the antebellum South, just without bullwhips,” reported Joe Maniscalco for Raw Story.

"It seems like a return to indentured servitude," Rev. Richard Witt, executive director of the Rural and Migrant Ministry in New York State, said of the SC’s decision in Cedar Point Nursery v. Hassid. The ruling means that farmworkers cannot access union organizers unless they leave the farm, creating a legal barrier that segregates the workers from the right to organize a union.

The case arose after an incident when some labor organizers met with workers during work hours, causing a ruckus in which some of the laborers walked out, Maniscalco reported. “Throwing out the California law over this incident would be akin to the high court invalidating stoplight traffic laws because one driver ran a red light,” he added.

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The high court ruling thrilled the American Farm Bureau, with its president Zippy Duvall, saying the organization "appreciates the US Supreme Court for reaffirming private property rights, which are foundational to our nation and critical to ensuring secure and well-managed farms. We hope this decision sends a message to state regulators that it's simply wrong to give outsiders access to farms, where families live and work hard to safeguard their animals and harvests."

The court conservatives have now effectively barred unions from approaching workers at all as long as they are on the owner's property. Assuring access to workers, the majority said, is a "taking" of the owners' property rights, which our Constitution allows only with "just compensation" to property owners.

The Constitution's prohibition on uncompensated "takings" was limited to government acquiring private property. Mere access to private property was not considered an unconstitutional taking.

Edgar Franks, political director of Familias Unidas for la Justicia, an independent farmworker union representing workers from indigenous families across Washington State, was appalled by the court decision. "We definitely think this is an anti-worker ruling," Franks recently said. "But it also goes beyond that. Chief Justice [John] Roberts redefined the 5th Amendment 'taking clause.' AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka also took issue with the view that farmworkers' fundamental right to organize at the location where they work constitutes an unconstitutional "taking of their employers' property."

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As the state of California recognized more than 45 years ago, meeting with the union during off-hours at their workplace is the only practical way for workers to organize when they must regularly move from farm to farm throughout the growing season, Trumka said.

Bruce Goldstein, president of Farmworker Justice, which is based in Washington, D.C., believes Roberts wrote so broadly that the ruling invites employers to test its limits.

Suzanne Adely, co-director of the Food Chain Workers Alliance, thinks farm owners and other property owners will take an extreme view of how much the ruling limits access to workers. The alliance is a coalition of 31 worker-based organizations advocating for more than 3,750,000 food workers in the United States and Canada. Adely fears that the ruling set a corrosive precedent.


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