LOS ANGELES TIMES

January 13, 2017

 

California farm labor board chairman quits in anger

 

By Geoffrey Mohan

 

William B. Gould IV, California Gov. Jerry Brown’s’s appointee to lead the board charged with protecting the rights of the state’s farmworkers, announced his resignation Friday, accusing the state bureaucracy of stalling one of his key proposals.

Gould, appointed by Brown to chair the Agricultural Labor Relations Board in March 2014, said a board proposal to send educators to farms to inform workers of their rights “has languished in the bowels of state bureaucracy for the past 14 months.”

In an angry letter addressed to Brown, Gould also characterized the 1975 law creating the labor board — a signature achievement of Brown’s first term and a milestone in the farmworker movement led by Cesar Chavez — as “irrelevant to farmworkers,” who know little about its provisions and are mostly not unionized.

Gould had attempted to remedy that situation by pushing through controversial rules that would allow the board to demand access to farms for the purpose of educating workers about their rights — for years, a role considered the exclusive bailiwick of unions such as the United Farm Workers of America.

Brown did not directly respond to the letter. He elevated board member Genevieve Shiroma to the chairman position and appointed former state legislator Isadore Hall, 45, of Compton, to fill her position. Cathryn Rivera-Hernandez, the third member of the board, serves until next year. 

Growers saw the proposed Worker Education Unit as a dangerous expansion of the board’s primary responsibilities to investigate and rule on unfair labor practices and to oversee unionization efforts.

“We did not always see eye to eye with Chairman Gould, but we have great respect for him,” said Jason Resnick, vice president and general counsel for the Western Growers’ Assn. trade group. “We hope that the administration will restore a balance of perspectives and views on the board.”

Gould has frequently expressed exasperation with the state of the farm labor movement. In his resignation letter, he noted that only one petition for unionization had come before the board during his tenure, and that 99% of field workers are not unionized. In previous comments, Gould has said the board spent more of its time on petitions from workers trying to kick out the UFW than on petitions to join the union.

Labor infraction cases, meanwhile, have languished for years, with several stretching for decades.

The UFW spends most of its time in Sacramento, lobbying for laws and regulations, and has “absolutely no interest in organizing the unorganized,” Gould said in a telephone conversation.

UFW President Arturo Rodriguez said the union supported the board’s education efforts, but took issue with Gould’s view of the labor law and the farmworker movement.

“We appreciate his frustration with the often very slow and unresponsive state bureaucracy,” Rodriguez said Friday. “However, the chairman’s frustration should not have led to him attacking Gov. Brown or the United Farm Workers.” 

In the past two years, the union has won elections covering 3,500 workers and helped win passage of laws protecting pickers from heat exposure and extending overtime pay, Rodriguez added.

Brown and Gould have generally been close and appeared together at a 2015 commemoration of the 40th anniversary of passage of the Agricultural Labor Relations Act. 

The governor “is a genuine proponent of the law — it’s his baby,” Gould said. “He wants this thing to work. So there’s that part of him. But the other part of him is he’s a political leader.”

Gould said he had urged the governor to make a major speech on the board’s proposed education initiative and had lined up a favorable grower to host the event. “He would never give me a straight answer,” Gould said of Brown.

Gould blamed the state Labor and Workforce Development Agency and the Department of Finance for holding up the worker education proposal, passed by the board in late 2015. He suggested the board should be modeled more closely after its national counterpart, which is a stand-alone, independent agency. The ALRB answers to the Labor and Workforce Development Agency.

Shiroma, whose term expired Jan. 1, was reappointed last week. Although Gould’s term also expired Jan. 1, a statutory extension remained in effect for 60 days.