WASHINGTON -- A disputed union election at Sacramento's Blue Diamond Growers should stand even though the company committed some unfair labor practices, a judge has concluded.
In the latest round of a long-running fight, union activists had charged the giant almond processing cooperative with suppressing organizing efforts prior to a November 2008 election. Now, a National Labor Relations Board judge says the union essentially lost the election fair and square.
"For the most part the campaign was active and open, with significant numbers of employees, both pro- and anti-union, publicly participating," Administrative Law Judge Gregory Z. Meyerson ruled. "In my view, the unfair labor practices and objectionable conduct committed by (Blue Diamond) were, under these circumstances, insufficient to warrant a new election."
The company's violations included impermissibly advising employees their complaints would be solved if they voted against the union and permitting union opponents but not union supporters to store signs on company property, Meyerson concluded.
If it's not appealed by Oct. 6, Meyerson's ruling, quietly issued Sept. 8, could lead to the National Labor Relations Board formally certifying Blue Diamond's election. Union organizers lost that election soundly, with 142 Blue Diamond workers endorsing the union and 353 employees opposing it.
The union's lopsided loss helped convince Meyerson that Blue Diamond's missteps didn't fundamentally change the November election outcome.
"The employees having spoken at the ballot box in such a clear and unambiguous way, my conclusion is that the misconduct ... did not affect the results of the election and should be considered de minimis."
Members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union have been attempting to organize Blue Diamond's production and maintenance workers for a number of years. The Sacramento-based cooperative represents about 3,000 California almond growers and is the world's largest tree nut processing and marketing company.
Blue Diamond spokeswoman Susan Brauner said Monday that "we're obviously pleased with the decision the employees made," and she underscored Meyerson's observations about the overwhelming vote. Union organizers are still considering their options.
"We felt there's good reason to appeal, but no decision has been made yet," International Longshore and Warehouse Union organizer Agustin Ramirrez said Monday.
Meyerson ruled following six days of hearings in March and April. In a related significant victory for Blue Diamond, he rejected a conclusion by the National Labor Relations Board's general counsel that Blue Diamond has a habit of violating labor laws during union elections.
The general counsel's conclusion could have led to stiffer sanctions being imposed on Blue Diamond. Instead, Meyerson says a simple posting of National Labor Relations Act rights in the workplace should suffice.
"All unfair labor practices are significant and need to be remedied," Meyerson concluded. "However, (Blue Diamond) has been found to have violated the Act under the allegations of two complaints, not so repetitious that I would consider it to be a recidivist violator of the Act."