SCOTUS Rules Against Unions On California Farm Access

Ballard Spahr LLP

Ballard Spahr LLP

The United States Supreme Court (“Supreme Court”) has dealt a blow to organized labor, striking down as unconstitutional a California law that permitted union organizers access to agricultural company land to speak with workers.

Two California growers, Cedar Point Nursery and Fowler Packing Company, filed suit in federal district court, seeking to enjoin enforcement of a state regulation that required agricultural employers to allow union organizers on to their property for up to three hours per day, 120 days per year.  The growers argued that the law constituted an easement for the union organizers, without affording landowners compensation, and was therefore an unconstitutional per se taking under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments.  Union organizers countered that the access regulation was not a taking because it did not permit access to the property in a permanent and continuous manner.  Further, the law was a critical tool for informing vulnerable farm laborers of their rights under the National Labor Relations Act.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upheld the access rule in May 2019.  However, in a 6-3 vote that was split along ideological lines, the Supreme Court agreed with the growers.

Chief Justice Roberts penned the majority opinion, explaining that the regulation provided a formal entitlement to physically invade the growers’ land, amounting to a simple appropriation of private property.  And, “unlike standard health and safety inspections, the access regulation is not germane to any benefit provided to agricultural employers or any risk posed to the public.”  Justice Kavanaugh wrote in concurrence, emphasizing his view that the National Labor Relations Act should permit union organizers access to company property only when “needed,” such as when employees live on company property and union organizers have no other reasonable means of communication.

The opinion represents a significant victory for employers and an affirmance of the conservative Court’s emphasis on employers’ property rights.

The case is Cedar Point Nursery et al. v. Hassid et al., case number 20-107.

Employers should review their policies on access, solicitation, and distribution with labor counsel to ensure they are providing the desired protections of their property rights.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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