Supreme Court Rules Against Union Recruiting on California Farms

The case concerned a unique state regulation allowing labor representatives to meet with farm workers at their workplaces for up to three hours a day for as many as 120 days a year.,


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WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Wednesday ruled that a California regulation allowing union organizers to recruit agricultural workers at their workplaces violated the constitutional rights of their employers.

The vote was 6 to 3, with the court’s three liberal members in dissent.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., writing for the majority, wrote that “the access regulation grants labor organizations a right to invade the growers’ property.” That meant, he wrote, that it was a taking of private property without just compensation.

The ruling was the latest blow to unions from a court that has issued several decisions limiting the power of organized labor.

The case, Cedar Point Nursery v. Hassid, No. 20-107, arose from organizing efforts in 2015 at Fowler Packing Company, a shipper of table grapes and citrus, and Cedar Point Nursery, which grows strawberry plants. They sued California officials in 2016, saying the regulation letting unions to have access to their properties amounted to a government taking of private property without compensation. The growers lost in the lower courts.

The state regulation, issued in 1975 and unique in the nation, allows union organizers to meet with agricultural workers at work sites in the hour before and after work and during lunch breaks for as many as 120 days a year. The regulation’s drafters said this was the only practical way to give farmworkers, who can be nomadic and poorly educated, a realistic chance to consider joining a union.

The court has in recent years dealt blows to public unions and limited the ability of workers to band together to take legal action over workplace issues. At the same time, the court has been protective of property rights.

In 1956, the Supreme Court has said a federal labor law, one that excludes agricultural workers, may allow union organizers to enter private property in limited circumstances. “If the location of a plant and the living quarters of the employees place the employees beyond the reach of reasonable union efforts to communicate with them,” Justice Stanley Reed wrote for the court, “the employer must allow the union to approach his employees on his property.”

Later precedents pointed in opposite directions. In 1982, the court ruled that requiring landlords to allow cable television companies access to their property was a per se taking of property requiring compensation, even if minimal. But in 1980, it ruled that a California Supreme Court decision that allowed high school students to gather petitions at a private shopping mall did not amount to a taking of the mall’s property.

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