Editor’s note: This web exclusive is a supplement to a two-part series on unionization and the dairy industry. Read part one: Be concerned about a union vote in the August issue of Dairy Herd Management. Part two: Avoid labor unionization appears in the September issue of Dairy Herd Management.

The union follows a series of steps when it decides to organize a dairy. It is important to become familiar with these steps and the laws governing union organization in your state.

Here are the steps the union follows in California:

  1. Union access. The dairy is served with a notice of intent to take access. The notice is valid for 30 days. The union can file four notices of intent to take access within in a year against a particular employer. The notices do not have to be filed back to back of each other.

    During these 30-day periods, the union is allowed to be on the dairy. It can be present at the beginning of shifts, lunch breaks and at the ends of shifts. The union uses these 30-day periods to gain support for the campaign.

  2. Intent to organize. Next, a notice of intent to organize is filed by the union. Included with the filing must be signatures of 10 percent of the employees showing they have an interest in the union. (If you employ 10 people, only 1 has to say he or she wants the union.)
  3. Intent served. Then, the dairy is served with notice of intent to organize. At this point, the employer must give the union a list of all employees’ names, addresses, phone numbers and shifts. 

    If the union is successful in getting a majority of the employees to sign authorization cards in favor of the union, it can file a petition for certification and a vote is held. The vote is held seven days after filing the petition. If there is a strike, the vote can be held within 24 hours.

    Herdsman and managers are not allowed to vote in the election. The voting is anonymous. Both sides can select observers from the group that is voting to oversee the voter’s box.  It requires a simple majority of those who cast ballots to vote in the union. The owner has no knowledge of who voted for or against the union.

  4. The vote. If you win, you will likely be subjected to unfair labor practice charges. It is not uncommon to see 30 or 40 unfair labor practice charges brought against a dairy, before, during or following a union election, says Anthony Raimondo, an agriculture labor law attorney with McCormick Barstow in Fresno, Calif.  These charges are used by unions for strategic purposes and to gain leverage in negotiations. And, even if you lose, Raimondo say it is likely that unfair labor practice charges will be brought against the dairy.

    If the union wins, contract negotiations begin. You are negotiating with the union, not the employees. If you have more than 25 employees on any given day during the year, and cannot agree to the terms of a contract within six months, you could be forced into arbitration. If you are forced into arbitration, a mediator appointed by the state decides the contract.

    Contract terms dictate what your employees can and cannot do for the length of the contract, including wages and benefits. At the end of one year, or in the final year of the contract if the contract is longer than one year, the employees can call for a vote to vote out the union. “Employees are usually not very happy once they are in a union contract,” says Raimondo. “But, they are usually stuck with it for at least one year.”

    For example: On July 13, a group of workers at Steve’s Dairy near Visalia, Calif., filed a decertification petition with the California Agriculture Labor Relations Board. This dairy had been under contract for several years.

    During this entire process, you (as the owner) cannot do anything for your employees. Anything you might do is considered manipulation and you can be accused of buying votes. One California dairy producer, who wishes to remain anonymous, was slapped with an unfair labor practice charge for replacing a stove that broke in an employee’s house.