Written by: Amie Alexander, JD/MPS Candidate, William H. Bowen School of Law

The Supreme Court of California upheld the state Agricultural Labor Relations Board’s order compelling an employer to participate in the mandatory mediation and conciliation (MMC) of the Agricultural Labor Relations Act (ALRA) on November 27. You can read the opinion in its entirety here.

The California Legislature enacted the MMC provisions to “ensure a more effective collective bargaining process between agricultural employers and agricultural employees.” In cases where an employer and a labor union fail to reach a first contract, either party may choose to invoke MMC. MMC involves a mediation process before a neutral mediator. In the event that parties do not reach an agreement through mediation, the mediator submits a proposed contract to the Agricultural Labor Relations Board.

Here, the United Farm Workers of America filed a request for MMC after failing to reach an agreement with Gerawan Farming, Inc. (Gerawan), the petitioner in this case. Mediation also failed, after which the Board adopted the mediator’s suggested report in its final order. Gerawan petitioned judicial review of the Board’s actions, arguing that the MCC process was unconstitutional. The Court of Appeal held that the MCC statute violated equal protection, departing from jurisprudence of a previous case, Hess Collection Winery v. California Agricultural Labor Relations Board. The California Supreme Court reviewed the case to resolve this split.

Gerawan claimed that the MCC statute violates substantive due process and equal protection; and unconstitutionally delegates legislative power. The California Supreme Court rejected all of these claims, holding that interest arbitration is a fairly common feature of public sector labor relations, and the legislature had a rational basis for enacting such legislation here. Additionally, the court held that an employer may not defend against a union’s MMC request by alleging that the union had abandoned employees and therefore was no longer certified as a bargaining representative.