The U.S. Supreme Court last month
ruled that union organizers can be kept off of farm properties to
speak with field workers on their breaks or at lunch periods because
doing so would be a “taking” on the part of organizers.
a bit of a stretch to say that the organizers are “taking”
something from the growers, just to be allowed to meet with workers
in the place where they work. A taking in the legal sense usually
occurs when land or property is actually taken from an owner, such as
when a municipality takes a few dozen homes to build a casino, the
rationale being that the casino is good for the overall economy of
court, in this case, voted 6-3 to negate the California law that for
decades allowed union organizers access to the fields where the work
is done, provided that the work was not disrupted. That meant the
organizers could visit workers in their workplace during breaks from
the deadly heat or when they stopped for sustenance at mealtimes. The
California law made sense because, after an exhausting day at work
under the hot sun, workers just want to seek relief and rest. But the
growers and the court decided that union organizers could contact
them after work or at other times. Pretty much, workers scatter and
are unable to be contacted as a group outside the workplace. Growers
and the court majority know this and, therefore, are striking another
blow against workers and their right to unionize.
Stephen Bryer, in a dissenting opinion, noted that the right to
contact field workers where they are is not a “taking,”
in that nothing was being taken from the grower if an organizer was
allowed to walk onto the property and talk to workers. The California
law allowed access, during some specified periods during the day,
month, and year. It did not require permission from the grower.
in California or in any other state where migrant workers are
employed never wanted their workers to even think about a union or
what it means to have a contract that conferred rights that the
growers would have to honor. Most migrant field workers speak another
language and to speak with a union organizer in their own language
might give them an idea that they had labor rights under U.S. law.
Growers could never be expected to explain their rights to their
workers, many of whom are undocumented and live in constant fear of
arrest and deportation. That condition makes for a very pliant
workforce, the kind that giant fruit and vegetable corporations like.
mention was made in a dissenting opinion, the June ruling on the
California law could have a negative effect on other instances in
which entry on growers’ properties without their permission is
allowed. For example, there are times for safety and compliance
reasons, a government entity might enter the farm property for
inspections. By definition, such entries would be most effective if
done without the prior knowledge of the property owner, the grower.
agencies of the various governments, state, federal, or local, have a
responsibility to see that work is being done in a safe and healthy
way. That’s why there is such an agency as the Occupational
Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Oregon OSHA is investigating
the death of a farmworker, who was found “unresponsive”
in a field in St. Paul because of the current heatwave that is
sweeping the Pacific Northwest. The worker, from Guatemala, was said
to have been in the U.S. only for a few months, according to an AP
report. He reportedly had been on a crew moving irrigation lines.
is no way to know the enormity of the problem of farmworkers exposed
to excessive heat and other ongoing threats to their well-being,
because no agency keeps track of the general health of the people
exposed to the dangers of the workplace, only if and when they die at
work. That extends to other workers, as well, but farmworkers are in
particular danger, because of the amount of chemical pesticides,
herbicides, and fertilizers that surround them unless they work on
organic farms. Now, however, the killing heat being experienced in
the Pacific Northwest and the West, in general, is another layer of
danger for those who simply show up for work in the heat of the day.
agencies that are charged with ensuring a safe and healthy workplace
for all workers are a positive thing, but they are not there all of
the time and are not welcome much of the time by employers. The only
thing that will protect workers is workers, themselves. Fellow
workers will take care of each other, if they are confident of their
rights and protections, especially those who live precarious lives,
such as migrant workers, who fear their employer, their labor
contractors, and the government, which can arrest and deport them.
their full rights will only come with a union contract and, in the
farm fields of the U.S., a contract is found only occasionally.
Growers, along with other employers, have fought the unionization of
workers every day of their lives and they have all of the money to do
that and they have the political power to influence politicians to do
Supreme Court’s decision on property rights last week has
struck another blow against workers, who need their unions to provide
education about their rights and protect those rights through their
union contract. As in so many cases, the court can come up with all
kinds of rationales and suggest how workers can secure their rights
and they can reach back for precedent on which to base their
decisions. In the end, however, they are simply doing the bidding of
capital against labor.
BlackCommentator.com Columnist, John
Funiciello, is a former newspaper reporter and labor organizer, who
lives in the Mohawk Valley of New York State. In addition to labor
work, he is organizing family farmers as they struggle to stay on the
land under enormous pressure from factory food producers and land
Mr. Funiciello and BC.