The United Farm Workers union has won another round in its long-running legal fight to continue representing about 300 Gallo vineyard workers in Sonoma County.
The state Agricultural Labor Relations Board last week overturned the 2007 vote to oust the union from Gallo Vineyards Inc., citing interference from the powerful Modesto-based wine company.
It?s the second time this decade that a vote to remove the union from Gallo?s Sonoma County operations has been thrown out following allegations the winery illegally tried to influence the election.
A 2003 decertification vote was also tossed after the ALRB found the company had allowed its labor contractors to aid in the petition drive that triggered the vote.
In the latest case, the five-member board found that Gallo hindered the union?s efforts to communicate with workers by giving UFW officials a flawed and incomplete employee list.
In July 2007, workers gathered at Gallo?s Dry Creek Valley estate and voted 125-95 to reject the union that had represented them since 1994.
Many workers cited limited contact with union officials, high dues and few apparent additional benefits as reason for rejecting the union.
But in the days running up to the vote, the company provided union leaders with a flawed list of its 282 vineyard workers.
The list of 65 workers hired by Gallo and 217 other workers hired through labor contractors contained 82 incorrect or invalid addresses, according to an April report by an investigative hearing officer.
The bulk of those errors, 58, involved out-of-area addresses, a reflection of the fact that Gallo relied on Central Valley-based labor contractors to farm its 3,200 acres of Sonoma County vineyards.
The case turned on whether there were enough inaccuracies in the list to have made a difference in the vote. Gallo argued there weren?t enough errors to influence the outcome of the election, noting that UFW officials managed to contact most of the workers by other means.
But the UFW argued the flawed list made it particularly difficult for organizers to contact workers at their homes to discuss the upcoming vote.
The board, like the hearing officer in April, found the list was flawed enough to overturn the vote. It noted that a shift of 22 votes would have changed the outcome of the election.
?An employer?s obligation to provide an accurate list of current addresses is a clear statutory and regulatory requirement,? the board found. ?The failure to provide such a list creates a serious risk that the election will be set aside.?
Because the union relied heavily on contacting workers at their homes, the board found ?the importance of the timely, accurate and complete provision of this list cannot be overemphasized.?
UFW organizer Casimiro Alvarez said Tuesday he was pleased with the ruling, which he said proves yet again that Gallo has tried to undermine the union.
?This is part of the campaign the company is running,? Alvarez said.
Gallo spokeswoman Susan Hensley declined to comment.
A nonprofit legal group helping Gallo employees and UFW critic Roberto Parra vowed to appeal the board decision to the state Court of Appeal.
?We think that the result of the decertification election demonstrates widespread dissatisfaction with the union, and that courts should respect the employees? desire to get rid of the union,? said Will Collins, spokesman for the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation.
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