In the Courts

Supreme Court Rules Against Union Organizers’ Ability To Canvass On Private Property

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The Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that California organizers cannot enter private property belonging to farms when they attempt to unionize farm workers.

The high court struck down a provision in California labor law that granted organizers the right to “enter the employer’s property” for no more than an hour. The court ruled in a 6-3 vote along ideological lines that the statute, introduced in the California Agricultural Labor Relations Act of 1975, violated employers’ constitutional rights, according to the majority opinion issued by Justice John Roberts.

“California’s access regulation appropriates a right to invade the growers’ property and therefore constitutes a per se physical taking,” Roberts wrote. “Rather than restraining the growers’ use of their own property, the regulation appropriates for the enjoyment of third parties (here union organizers) the owners’ right to exclude.”

Roberts noted that a private property owners’ right to exclude has been determined a “fundamental element of the property right” in a previous Supreme Court ruling. The government must compensate private property owners for “government-authorized physical invasions,” he added.

Labor leader Cesar Chavez and his farmworkers union had been strong proponents of the 1975 law, saying it was important for organizing efforts, according to The Wall Street Journal. The California Supreme Court denied immediate challenges to the law and the Supreme Court decided not to hear the case at the time.

But in 2016, California agriculture companies Fowler Packing Company and Cedar Point Nursery sued the state, arguing that the law was a government invasion of property without compensation, The New York Times reported. The lawsuit stemmed from a union’s effort to organize the workers at facilities of the two companies in 2015.

Justice Stephen Breyer issued a dissenting opinion Wednesday, arguing that California labor law merely regulates employers’ property rights. Breyer noted that the law restricts where and how long organizers may enter employers’ property to speak to workers.

“It gives union organizers the right temporarily to invade a portion of the property owners’ land,” Breyer wrote. “It thereby limits the landowners’ right to exclude certain others.”

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