Disappointing Supreme Court decision makes it harder for farmworkers to unionize

Today, the U.S. Supreme Court published its decision in Cedar Point Nursery v. Hassid, a case involving an employer challenge to a California regulation that allows union representatives to visit the property of agricultural employers—in narrowly tailored and time-limited circumstances—to carry out efforts to organize the hundreds of thousands of California farmworkers who work in hazardous and low-paying jobs and who suffer disproportionately high rates of wage and hour violations.

In a disappointing 6–3 decision, the Court’s conservative justices ruled that the California regulation constitutes a per se physical taking of the employer’s property, which in practical terms means union organizers will no longer have the right to access the farms where farmworkers are employed.

The vast majority of farmworkers across the country are not protected by the National Labor Relations Act—the federal law that enshrines the right of workers to join and form unions. In an attempt to fill that gap for farmworkers in California, over four decades ago the state’s legislature passed the Agricultural Labor Relations Act (ALRA), which established collective bargaining rights for farmworkers, and then-governor Jerry Brown signed it into law in 1975. The ALRA’s access regulation enables organizers to visit the properties where farmworkers are employed, allowing the law to be implemented and have real meaning for workers.

Farmworkers are often difficult to reach because they work in remote locations and in many cases reside in housing that is owned and controlled by employers, so access to their workplaces is critical to organizing efforts. In addition, most farmworkers are immigrants, and a majority of them either lack an immigration status or have a precarious and temporary immigration status that their employers control, making it nearly impossible in practice for them to assert their workplace rights or to seek out unions and worker rights organizations.

The Supreme Court’s decision means that the already difficult task of organizing farmworkers will be even harder now for unions, and there could be impacts far beyond labor organizing. For a more extensive EPI analysis of what was at stake in the Cedar Point case and the possible impact of the decision, click here