Supreme Court Tackles Union Issues

Chriss Swaney

Washington, DC ( – A case now being considered by the U.S. Supreme Court is being watched closely by labor unions anxious to add agricultural workers to their network.

The case involves the ability of union organizers to visit workers on farms.

Experts say the Supreme Court seems ready to pare back union organizers’ ability to visit farmworkers in California’s agricultural fields.

“I just argued the case before the U.S. Supreme Court March 22,” said Joshua Thompson, a lawyer for the Pacific Legal Foundation, an advocacy group representing the growers. “We are optimistic that the court will see that the access regulation violates the 5th amendment to the constitution. A decision could come at the end of June at the latest.”

California growers argue that organizers’ access rights, authorized in 1975 under the state Agricultural Labor Relations Act, amounts to a government taking of their private property for public use, for which the Constitution requires they be paid just compensation.

The state contends that the access regulation, which allows union organizers to meet with workers during lunch and immediately before and after work under restricted conditions, lacks the characteristics of real property.

Still, most growers are very protective of their property. “We are watching this case very closely,” said Kevin Rogers of the Arizona Cotton Growers Association which represents growers manning 150,000 acres of cotton.

Legal analysts report that this case, Cedar Point Nursery v. Hassid, is broader than simply limiting the union access rights, which typically are exercised only a few dozen times annually in a state with 16,000 agricultural employees.

The Pacific Legal Foundation is also arguing for a more sweeping rule that would declare a taking whenever the government limited a property owner’s “right to exclude” others, like in regulations providing access to public coastlines across private property.

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