In a major blow to farmworkers and labor rights, the Supreme Court on Wednesday ruled against the ability of union organizers in California to access agricultural worksites to speak to laborers, The New York Times reports. The high court ruled along political lines, with all six right-wing justices ruling against unions and farmworkers. Growers had lost in the lower courts.
“Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., writing for the majority, said that ‘the access regulation grants labor organizations a right to invade the growers’ property,’” The Times reported. Dude, seriously? Invade? “That meant, he wrote, that it was a taking of private property without just compensation,” the report continued. Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern in a must-read piece warned of the decision’s repercussions, which could reach far beyond the agricultural fields.
“On Wednesday, the court’s conservative supermajority held that California’s law violates the Fifth Amendment, which bars the taking of private property for public use ‘without just compensation,” he wrote. “Remarkably, the majority held that the law constitutes a ‘per se taking’—not a mere regulation, but an ‘appropriation” of property that flouts the owners’ ‘right to exclude.’”
“The court’s 6–3 decision in Cedar Point Nursery v. Hassid is thus a crushing blow to organized labor, which often relies on workplace access to safeguard workers’ rights,” he continued. “It also undermines the broader legal framework that permits the government to impose all manner of regulations on private property, including workplace safety laws and nondiscrimination requirements. With Cedar Point, the Supreme Court has handed business owners a loaded gun to aim at every regulation they oppose.”
Per The Times, the 1975 regulation allows unions “to meet with agricultural workers at work sites in the hour before and after work and during lunch breaks for as many as 120 days a year.” The Washington Post reports the regulation had been upheld by the California Supreme Court in 1976, with the U.S. Supreme Court that same year dismissing a continued challenge to the law, Stern said. According to The Post, “provisions have gone unchallenged until now,” when California-based Cedar Point Nursery, and Fowler Packing Co. challenged.
“In my view, the majority’s conclusion threatens to make many ordinary forms of regulation unusually complex or impractical,” Justice Stephen Breyer wrote in his dissent, joined by justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.
“The Supreme Court’s ruling in Cedar Point v. ALRB makes a racist and broken farm labor system even more unequal,” United Farm Workers (UFW) said in a statement. “Farm workers are the hardest working people in America. This decision denies them the right to use their lunch breaks to freely discuss whether they want to have a union. The Supreme Court has failed to balance a farmer’s property rights with a farm worker’s human rights.”
In a tweet, Illinois Rep. Chuy García wrote that “[f]armworkers in California and across the country fought and died for their right to organize. It’s an embarrassment to our democracy that this extremist court is chipping away at that right.”
What’s next is unclear. Sterns writes California could compensate growers. “But how much would that cost? At oral arguments, Justice Amy Coney Barrett floated $50 per ‘taking’—a charge that would quickly balloon as every California agribusiness demanded payment each time a union organizer stepped on their property,” he wrote. Victoria Hassid, chair of California’s Agricultural Labor Relations Board, told The Post it will keep looking into “alternative avenues” to make sure farmworkers are not deprived of their rights.
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