Agriculture and Farm Labor since 1975. Chair: Bert Mason, CSUF

Bert Mason is a Professor Emeritus at California State University, Fresno, and former board member of the Agricultural Labor Relations Board.


Mason: My name's Bert Mason and I'm a Professor Emeritus of agricultural economics at Fresno State, and former board member at the ALRB. As Phil mentioned the purpose of the panel today is to examine forty years after the enactment of the Agricultural Labor Relations Act, what has changed in agriculture, and what has changed in farm labor markets. Since it was originally enacted. I note that the act was actually signed into law on June 5, 1975. So we're a little bit early on the fortieth anniversary, and as far as I can tell that's the first time in forty years that the ALRB has been early on something.

We have en excellent group of speakers and respondents today. I'll introduce each of them as their turn comes up and provide brief biographical information. I have to remind the speakers we have fifteen minutes for each speaker. When there is about three minutes to go I'll jump up and down and scream at you.

I'd like to challenge the speakers a bit. As I look at the Agricultural Labor Relations Act, it seemed to me the two overriding purposes. The first was to ensure peace in the fields, and that's actually quoted in the preamble. I think most of us who've been involved in it would agree that that objective has by and large been achieved, with the implementation of the act. But the other overriding objective was to improve the economic position of farmworkers by protecting, and even encouraging, their right to organize, to select their own representatives, and to bargain collectively with their employers over the terms and conditions of employment. And I think that the results, that over the last forty years I think we probably have to say it's a mixed bag in terms of whether or not that objective has been met.

Just a couple random pieces of information. In 1973, two years before the act was enacted it was estimated that, or reported that United Farm Workers Organizing Committee had about one hundred eighty collective bargaining employees, covering some forty thousand jobs at five hundred different locations. During the first six month after the ALRA became effective, three hundred and sixty one certification elections were held. In over ninety percent of those elections the workers voted to be represented by a union, primarily United Farm Workers and Teamsters. Today, data on  number of collective bargaining agreements in place and union membership are somewhat contentious and hard to find. But I think it is safe to say that there's probably around fifty collective bargaining agreements in agriculture that are actually functioning, and cover maybe five thousand farm workers. So, out of five hundred thousand farm workers that's not a big number. And I am excluding those employers where a collective bargaining agreement has been decided upon through the mandatory mediation process but has not yet been implemented because of court challenges.

So what I would like to hope that the panel could do today, is how these changes in agriculture and farm labor markets you're going to discuss. How have they affected the situation we see today in terms of organizing and representation of farm workers.