California labor case could kill union organizing on farms

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments today in Cedar Point Nursery v. Hassid, a big case involving California farmworkers and whether labor organizers can use an employer’s property for union activities before or after work hours. Two fruit producers say they cannot — because the Fifth Amendment protects against having private property taken for public use without compensation. 

“Their argument … is that this is the equivalent of the government basically saying you have to give a strip of land for people to walk through, for instance, to get to the beach. That by saying union organizers have to be able to have access to this employer’s property, that it’s the same as saying a cable company gets access to your house, for instance, to lay wires,” explains Jessica Levinson, law professor at Loyola Law School. 

She says this will come down to a regulatory taking. “At that point, the Supreme Court would be weighing, in this case, what are the purposes for allowing the union organizers to be on the property without consent, just by giving notice? And how much of a harm does it create to the employers?”

The other side, the California Agricultural Labor Relations Board, says this is a narrow obligation on employers and a balancing act, according to Levinson. “Why is the regulation there? Does it still make sense? How much of a burden does it cost?” 

The high court’s decision could have far-reaching consequences. Levinson says there’s been a lot of discussion, particularly in the amicus briefs, about what happens if you rule in favor of employers. What would then happen to union organizing in general, or when the government has to check on conditions at a nursing home, restaurant, or meat packing center? 

“What they’re trying to say is you can’t rule for the employers because what would happen to the ability of the government to, again, check on our health and safety?”