Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Thursday, July 6, 2006


Page 3


C.A. Allows Mediator to Break Impasse Over Farm Labor Contract


By a MetNews Staff Writer


State laws allowing a private mediator to set binding terms to an initial agricultural collective bargaining agreement when the parties cannot not reach an agreement are constitutional, the Third District Court of Appeal ruled yesterday.

Presiding Justice Arthur G. Scotland and Justice Richard Sims III voted to affirm the Agricultural Labor Relations Board’s decision upholding terms set by a private mediator for an initial collective bargaining agreement between a  grape grower and its employees’ union. Justice George Nicholson dissented.

Sims, writing for the court, said:

“The Legislature regards agriculture to be the state’s most vital industry. It can certainly act to protect that industry by promoting stability in agricultural employment.”

Hess Collection Winery grows grapes and makes wine in the Napa area. After several attempts, Hess and the United Food and Commercial Workers Union were unable  to reach an initial bargaining agreement covering Hess’ employees.

Pursuant to state law, the Agricultural Labor Relations Board assigned Gerald McKay to mediate, and, if necessary, set the terms of the contract, upon which the parties would be bound.

Of 14 issues upon which Hess and the union could not agree, McKay sided with the union on 13.After the board denied Hess’ petition to review McKay’s decision, it petitioned the Court of Appeal to review the board’s order.

Hess argued that the statutory scheme giving a private mediator the right to determine the terms of a collective bargaining agreement which would bind both sides violates its due process and equal protection rights and improperly delegates legislative authority to a private party.

Sims said that Hess’ substantive due process arguments were based on outdated case law decided at a time when courts struck down  “laws which were thought unreasonable, that is, unwise or incompatible with some particular economic or social philosophy.”

Quoting a Supreme Court precedent, the justice said:

“The day is gone when this Court uses the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to strike down state laws, regulatory of business and industrial conditions, because they may be unwise, improvident, or out of harmony with a particular school of thought.”

The jurist explained:

 “The Legislature could reasonably conclude that agricultural employees are in an especially unequal bargaining position with respect to their employers and that their health, safety and welfare require special protection. That the Legislature acted to protect the stability of the industry and/or the health, safety and welfare of employees does nothing to condemn the legislation.”

Although he conceded that,  “The wisdom of the legislative scheme certainly can be debated,” he concluded that, “in view of the Legislature’s broad authority over employment, and the limited role of the courts in reviewing legislative policy decisions...this statutory scheme meets the constitutional test for substantive due process review.”

The court rejected Hess’ equal protection arguments. Sims said that the “peculiar problems with the collective bargaining process between agricultural employers and agricultural employees,” provide a “rational basis” for requiring binding arbitration of initial contracts in the agricultural area, but not in other areas.

Sims rejected Hess’ argument that the legislation invalidly delegates legislative authority, saying that the “fundamental policy decisions” were contained in the legislation. 

However, in order to hold the statutory scheme constitutional, Sims interpreted the word “may” in regulations describing considerations to be considered by the mediator, to mean “must,” saying:

“Because a permissive use of the word ‘may’ . . .  could render illusory the criteria in the regulation and the statute, we conclude that, in this context . . . ‘may’ means ‘must.’”

In his dissent, Nicholson said:

“In my view, Labor Code section 1164, as of the time relevant to this case, delegated legislative power unconstitutionally and violated equal protection guarantees of the state and federal Constitutions.”

The case is Hess Collection Winery v. California Agricultural Labor Relations Board (United Food and Commercial  Workers Union and Fresh Fruit and Vegetables Workers Local 1096), C045405.


Copyright 2006, Metropolitan News Company