Effective January 1, 2012, California's Agricultural Labor Relations Act (ALRA) was amended in ways that will likely help unions to organize agricultural employees in California and obtain favorable labor contracts with agricultural employers. Specifically, the ALRA has been amended to: (1) permit the Agricultural Labor Relations Board (ALRB), if it finds that an agricultural employer committed significant misconduct affecting the result of a union election, to issue an order requiring the employer to recognize and bargain with a union even if a majority of the employees voted against union representation in the election; (2) require the ALRB to process election objections and challenged ballot disputes within an expedited timeframe; (3) enable the ALRB to obtain injunctive relief more easily; (4) shorten the time within which the ALRB may compel mandatory mediation/interest arbitration of a first collective bargaining agreement; and (5) prevent an employer's appeal to an appellate court from stopping commencement of the ALRA's mandatory mediation process. These changes place significant new weapons in the hands of unions seeking to represent agricultural employees.
SB 126 was sponsored by Senate President pro Tempore Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) – the same legislator who sponsored SB104, which would have required an agricultural employer to recognize a union solely on the basis of a "card check." After Governor Jerry Brown vetoed SB 104, Steinberg introduced SB 126 as a "compromise" to the card check legislation. Governor Brown signed SB126 on October 9, 2011.
SB 126 includes several changes to the ALRA. Specifically, SB 126 contains the following amendments.
Bargaining Orders. SB 126 amends the ALRA to provide that if the ALRB refuses to certify a union's loss of an election because of employer misconduct that, in addition to affecting the results of an election, would "render slight the chances of a new election reflecting the free and fair choice of employees," the union will be certified as the bargaining representative of the employees. In other words, if an employer engages in misconduct that the ALRB concludes taints the possibility of a fair re-run election, SB 126 compels the ALRB to certify the union as the bargaining representative even if a majority of the employees casting ballots have voted against union representation.
Election Objections and Challenged Ballots. SB 126 includes a provision setting forth new time limits applicable to the ALRB's procedures and processes regarding the resolution of election objections and challenged ballots. Specifically, the legislation provides that: (1) within 21 days of the filing of objections or the submission of evidence concerning challenged ballots, the ALRB must make a decision whether to set a hearing on those issues; (2) within 28 days of the date of the ALRB's decision to set a hearing, the hearing on the objections and/or challenged ballots must be scheduled; (3) within 60 days of the close of the hearing (unless the parties mutually agree to extend the time period an additional 30 days), the investigative hearing officer who is responsible for conducting the hearing must issue a recommended decision on the issues presented at the hearing; and (4) within 45 days of its receipt of any exceptions to the hearing officer's decision, the...