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Farm interests have sued to block California’s new law requiring mediation for farm labor disputes, contending it would illegally end private party contracting within the agricultural industry. The law “unfairly singles out the agriculture industry for a labor relations process found nowhere else in the United States,” said Tom Nassif, president of the Western Growers Association. The association and the 90,000-member California Farm Bureau Federation are leading a coalition that brought the suit. Western Growers said its 3,500 members account for about half the nation’s fresh produce. Advocates who led farm workers on a 10-day march through the Central Valley to the state capitol in support of the law last summer say it would lead to larger paychecks, better health care and other benefits typically given to workers in other industries. The suit, filed in Sacramento County by the Pacific Legal Foundation against the state Agricultural Labor Relations Board, however, argues the law essentially empowers a state mediator to write farm labor contracts. The law requires farmworkers and growers who can’t agree to a contract within 90 days of a successful union election to meet with a mediator for 30 days. If that didn’t bring agreement, the mediator would have three weeks to draft a labor contract, and the board would have 10 days to decide whether to adopt the contract. Either the union or growers could appeal the board’s final decision to the California Court of Appeal or the state supreme court. Copyright 2003 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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