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April 15, 2021

News West

West Coast News Network

Supreme Court hears fight between California farmers, unions

Lawyers for the California agriculture industry will urge the Supreme Court on Monday to strike down a state regulation that gives union organizers a limited right to enter farms and speak with workers.

They denounced the long-standing rule as a “union trespass” measure that violates their right to private property. And they are hoping that a more conservative high court is prepared to protect these agribusinesses from state regulations.

The case of Cedar Point Nursery vs. Hassid is being closed watched not only for its effect on unions and farm workers in California, but also on a host of federal, state and local laws that authorize inspectors to go into factories, warehouses, packing plants, office buildings or restaurants to check for health and safety violations.

The Constitution’s 5th Amendment says private property shall not “be taken for public use without just compensation.” All sides agree this means the government must pay the owners of property if it takes possession of the land. However the justices have disagreed over whether the “just compensation” rule extends to government regulations that limit use of the property.

Lawyers for the Pacific Legal Foundation, representing landowners, describe the California regulation as creating an “easement” across the grower’s property because union organizers may enter an hour before work begins, during the lunch break or at the end of the day. They urged the court to adopt what they called a simple rule: “the government violates the takings clause when it appropriates an easement across private property for the benefit of third parties without compensation.”

In response, lawyers for the California Department of Justice said the state rule is not a “taking” because it does not “authorize a permanent physical occupation of property.” It allows “only temporary and limited access” to farms and processing stations so union organizers may speak with workers.

The access rule was adopted in 1975 by the California Agricultural Labor Relations Board shortly after the state became the first in the nation to extend collective bargaining rights to farm workers. It was later upheld by the state Supreme Court and has not been seriously challenged since.

But that changed in 2015. The owners of the Fowler Packing Co. in Fresno refused to allow union organizers onto its property. A few months later, union organizers entered a strawberry packing plant near the Oregon border and disrupted the work, according to Mike Fahner, owner of the Cedar Point Nursery.

The two companies then joined in a lawsuit seeking to have the California regulation declared unconstitutional.