The esteemed Pacific Legal Foundation (“PLF”), with the support of Sagaser, Watkins & Wieland PC, is currently representing two of Sagaser, Watkins & Wieland PC’s valued clients – Fowler Packing Co., of Fresno, CA, and Cedar Point Nursery, of Dorris, CA – in litigation regarding the legality of the California Agricultural Labor Relations Board’s (“ALRB”) “access rule” regulation. The PLF is a national, nonprofit legal organization designed to defend the individual liberty and constitutional rights of Americans threatened by government overreach and abuse.
In 1975, the California legislature enacted the Agricultural Labor Relations Act (“ALRA”). In doing so, the legislature also created the ALRB, which is an administrative agency in charge of implementing and administering the ALRA. The ALRB regulation at issue in the PLF litigation allows unions to trespass onto an employer’s private property. Specifically, that regulation grants a “right of access by union organizers to the premises of an agricultural employer for the purpose of meeting and talking with employees and soliciting their support….” (8 C.C.R. §20900(e).)
This regulation survived a challenge in the California Supreme Court in 1976. However, no one has challenged the regulation in the federal court system as a violation of fundamental property rights protected by United States Constitution or as a violation of the Constitution’s prohibition on unreasonable searches and seizures by the government. Therefore, in February 2016, the PLF filed a lawsuit on behalf of Fowler Packing and Cedar Point Nursery, alleging that the regulation – also known as the “access rule” – is unconstitutional because it violates the employers’ constitutional property rights by forcing them to allow union activists onto their property for union organizing and recruitment campaigns.
Before filing the lawsuit, both Fowler Packing and Cedar Point Nursery had their business operations disrupted by United Farm Workers’ (“UFW”) activities. The UFW trespassed, or attempted to trespass, onto the employers’ property, citing the unconstitutional “access rule” as a justification for their illegal conduct.
The litigation is currently pending before the Ninth Circuit. The United States District Court for the Eastern District of California (“Eastern District”) dismissed the complaint. Fowler Packing and Cedar Point Nursery appealed the Eastern District’s decision to the Ninth Circuit. A three-judge panel in the Ninth Circuit affirmed the Eastern District’s ruling, with two justices voting in favor of affirming the District Court and one justice vigorously dissenting.
Fowler Packing and Cedar Point Nursery are in the process of requesting rehearing before an en banc Ninth Circuit panel. An en banc hearing is an additional hearing procedure before the 9th Circuit, involving an 11-justice panel, as opposed to the three-justice panel that originally decided Fowler Packing’s and Cedar Point Nursery’s appeal. If necessary, the PLF will appeal an adverse Ninth Circuit en banc decision to the United States Supreme Court. Sagaser, Watkins & Wieland PC will continue assisting the PLF in an effort to preserve property rights for agricultural employers in California.
As this case proceeds through the federal court system, Sagaser, Watkins & Wieland PC will continue to issue updates on the litigation considering the profound importance of the legal issues involved to the California agricultural industry.
Sagaser, Watkins & Wieland PC is currently advising employers that have received access notices and other union communications. If you have any questions regarding this lawsuit, the ALRB’s access rule, or communication attempts and/or a Notice of Access by the UFW and/or other Unions, please contact our office at 559-421-7000 to discuss how Sagaser, Watkins & Wieland PC can help you defend your rights.