Thursday, June 24, 2021

Union Rights or Property Rights?

 The U.S. Supreme Court decision (pdf) in Cedar Point Nursery vs. Hassid "makes a racist, broken farm labor system even more unequal," said the United Farm Workers of America (UFW). "SCOTUS fails to balance a farmer's property rights with a farm worker's human rights."

The ruling 6-3 that a California regulation granting union representatives access to farms challenges land-owners private property rights. It dealt a significant blow to the rights of agricultural workers to organize. At issue was a California regulation that allows labor organizers to enter private farms to talk with farm workers during non-working times about joining a union.

Chief Justice John Roberts argued that "the access regulation grants labor organizations a right to invade the growers' property."  He characterized it as an appropriation without just compensation because it limited the employers' "right to exclude."

Steve Vladeck, the Charles Alan Wright Chair in Federal Courts at the University of Texas School of Law said, as a result of the decision, Vladeck" states cannot authorize unions (or anyone else) to enter private property, even for lawful activities (like union organizing) without compensating the property owners"—an additional cost the labor movement can ill afford.

"Farm workers are the hardest working people in America," UFW explained. "This decision denies workers the right to use breaks to freely discuss whether they want to have a union."

Samir Sonti, assistant professor at the CUNY School of Labor and Urban Studies, described the decision as "an attack on California agricultural workers and their right to organize for better working conditions."

"The 1975 California Agricultural Labor Relations Act (CALRA) was a landmark victory for the UFW and others, which at least in one state confronted the historic injustice of farm worker exclusion from federal labor law," Sonti commented. "That important law has now taken a major hit...Decades of precedents have already undermined the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) as it pertains to union organizers' access to the workplace," he said. "Only under the most exceptional circumstances are private sector workers attempting to form a union able to speak to an organizer while on the employer's property."

Jenny Breen, associate professor of law at Syracuse University, says the decision is setting a judicial precedent with potentially profound consequences.

"Employers continue to wield property rights as forms of their "sole and despotic dominion" (in the words of Blackstone, quoted approvingly by the court) over their employees, with no meaningful check by the court. It is truly incredible that the court interprets a regulation impacting a workplace employing thousands of workers in the same manner it would interpret a regulation impacting your backyard. There is no justification for such an extreme commitment to ignoring reality." She continued,  "This decision does not bode well for the fate of labor regulations—or any other government regulations that could conceivably impact private property rights—in future cases to reach this court."

Breen warned of a return to the Lochner era, a pre-New Deal period when the Supreme Court routinely shot down regulations and defended employers' right to exploit workers without state interference.

Right-Wing SCOTUS Majority Rules Union Organizing on Farms Violates Landowners' Rights | Common Dreams News

“There’s class warfare, all right, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.” Warren Buffett

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