Supreme Court Rules Against Unions on California Farm Access

The U.S. Supreme Court said California was violating the Constitution with a decades-old regulation that gives union organizers access to agricultural company land for part of the year to talk to workers.

Voting 6-3 along ideological lines, the justices said the 1975 provision, which grew out of the efforts of Cesar Chavez to give farm workers collective bargaining rights, infringed the rights of agricultural employers by taking their property without compensation.

Worker advocates said the California access regulation was a critical tool for informing vulnerable farm laborers of their rights.

The case surrounds the Cedar Point Nursery, a strawberry farm near California’s Oregon border, and Fowler Packing Co., which grows grapes and citrus in Fresno County.

The growers challenged the California Agricultural Labor Relations Board rule, asserting that allowing union organizers to approach workers on site to recruit, organize, and hold protests disrupted their business operations and violated their rights under the Constitution’s Fifth Amendment’s so-called Takings Clause.

That provision prohibits governments from taking private property without just compensation.

Chief Justice John Roberts, who penned the decision, agreed, concluding the California regulation unconstitutionally interferes with the growers’ property rights.

“The upshot of this line of precedent is that government authorized invasions of property—whether by plane, boat, cable, or beachcomber—are physical takings requiring just compensation,” Roberts wrote. Joining him in the ruling were justices Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch. Amy Coney Barrett and Brett Kavanaugh, who also wrote a separate concurrence.

Justice Stephen Breyer, along with fellow liberal Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, and dissented, and said the majority’s conclusion “threatens to make many ordinary forms of regulation unusually complex or impractical.”

Breyer argued that the union access rule doesn’t automatically invade the property rights of the growers.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit had upheld the California board’s union access rule in May 2019, despite cries from the growers that the state’s decade-old regulation strips them of their property rights. The rule allowed unions to access the property 120 days a year for three hours a day. It was created because many farm workers are migrants who live in temporary housing that makes it difficult to make personal contact.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

BQ Install

Bloomberg Quint

Add BloombergQuint App to Home screen.