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Union Jobsite Access Heard by Supreme Court

Case revolves around a union's right to enter a farm, but will have wider ramifications

Brian Young's picture
Mar 22, 2021

On Monday, the Supreme Court heard the case of Cedar Point Nursery v Hassid. The case challenges a California law that allows union organizers to gain access to the property of agricultural employers during limited time frames throughout the day to speak to the workers about joining a union.

The case was filed by two companies in California who are challenging the law saying that it amounts to the government seizing private property without compensation. The California law was passed in 1975 during the height of Cesar Chavez organizing farmworkers. Under the law, union organizers are allowed access to the property of a business three times a day for 120 days a year. The organizers are permitted to visit one hour to speak to workers during scheduled break times. The union doesn’t need to get consent from the employer before coming onto the property, but they must let the state Agricultural Labor Relations Board know of their intent. In the past, the state has defended the law saying that due to the nature of farm work, these workers are often living in temporary housing and are migratory. Some may even stay on the farm's property and they will often work long hours in the fields leaving little time for organizers to reach these workers outside of the company’s property.

During oral testimony in front of the court on Monday, the justices seemed sympathetic to the two companies’ argument, although they wrestled over how far they should go in bolstering the rights of a property owner. The lawyers for the growers argued that the Constitution gives a business owner broad rights to exclude unwanted persons from private property although this could have larger consequences than just preventing union organizers from entering the property. One concern is that the court will issue a broad decision that could be used to keep governmental agencies off of a company’s property. For example, a wide decision could accidentally prevent the FDA from entering a pharmaceutical company’s lab to ensure that a drug is being created under the right conditions, or it could prevent an OSHA inspector from coming onto a job site to ensure that safety rules are being followed.

Conservative Justice Amy Coney Barrett brought up this point asking the lawyers for the companies, “If the government requires landowners to allow access to their property, at what point does that access become a taking?”

Justice Kavanaugh also pushed back on the companies’ assertion that the law created a government taking, suggesting that in this case the California law instead violated the Supreme Court ruling in NLRB v. Babcock & Wilcox, which said that an employers’ right to exclude union organizers from their property must yield when employees would be otherwise unreachable through normal channels. Kavanaugh instead suggested that the companies’ lawyer, Joshua Thompson, was trying to reinvent the wheel when the growers would likely win their case under Babcock.

Thompson also argued that the state law violates the Fifth Amendment's “Takings Clause” which provides that private property shall not “be taken for public use, without just compensation.” If the court finds that the California rule violates this part of the Fifth Amendment, they could keep the rule in place but require that union organizers compensate the farm for their time on the property.

A decision from the court is likely to be issued in June.

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