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Supreme Court Rules Against Unions in California Case

The court took away unions right to enter farms to organize workers

Kris LaGrange's picture
Jun 23, 2021

On Wednesday, the United States Supreme Court ruled in the Cedar Point Nursery v. Hassid that a California law that protected union organizers' rights was unconstitutional. This decision deals a huge blow to California unions, especially the United Farmworkers.

The California law allowed organizers to enter the property of a business three times a day for 120 days a year. Organizers were permitted to file written notice of their intent with the State’s Agricultural Labor Relations Board. The law was passed during the farmworker’s union organizing campaigns in the 1970s that were led by Cesar Chavez and were extremely important since many farmworkers are temporary workers and live in housing on the farm. This made it difficult for union organizers to reach these workers to talk to them about their rights on the job. 

Two agricultural businesses and property rights activists sued to argue that this law allowed unions and the government to access private property without compensation, an argument that the conservative side of the court agreed with in the 6-3 ruling.

"The access regulation amounts to simple appropriation of private property," Roberts wrote in the majority opinion. Roberts added that the "access regulation grants labor organizations a right to invade the growers' property. It, therefore, constitutes a per se physical taking. "

One concern about the ruling is how it would affect the government’s ability to enter a property to enforce health and safety rules. In his decision, Roberts suggested that the ruling would not impact the government’s ability to enforce these laws because such access would be beneficial to the employers and the public.

In the liberals’ dissent, Justice Stephen Breyer said that the access issue in the case was “temporary” and not “permanent” and therefore it would not constitute a government “taking” under the law. He noted that the employers are not permanently losing access to control the property, just temporarily. He said the regulation is "not functionally equivalent to the classic taking in which government directly appropriates private property or ousts the owner from his domain."

The liberals also questioned whether the decision was overreaching, expressing fear that the Cedar Point decision could be used by landowners to reject a law authorizing temporary access “to verify proper preservation of wetlands or the habitat enjoyed by an endangered species, or for that matter, the safety of inspected meat."

Opponents of the law also say that it is no longer needed as workers can be reached remotely on their phones or computers. However, farmworkers and other low-income workers pose a unique organizing issue as many come from other countries and don’t own smartphones as is the case with many workers at Cedar Point. Many also speak different indigenous Central American languages which makes reaching those that do have internet access even harder to reach with targeted advertising.

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