On June 23, 2021, the U.S. Supreme Court helped to protect employers’ property rights by striking down a California regulation that required agricultural employers to grant union organizers access to their property for one hour before work, one hour at mealtimes, and one hour after work for up to 120 days per year. Agricultural workers and employers aren’t covered by the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), so California enacted the Agricultural Labor Relations Act (ALRA) of 1975, which gives agricultural employees similar rights granted to most non-supervisory employees under the NLRA. As a part of its regulatory authority under the ALRA, California’s state Agricultural Labor Relations Board issued a rule requiring agricultural employers to allow union organizations access to their property to meet with employees and solicit union support for up to three hours per day, during four 30-day periods (120 days total) per year after filing written notice with the Board and employer. Union organizers couldn’t engage in disruptive conduct during the time they were on the employer’s property, but they were free to meet with and talk to employees.
The current case centered around two employers in California that had representatives from United Farm Workers access their private property to engage with employees, although in one of the situations the union violated the rule itself because it failed to provide notice to the Board or employer and disturbed operations. Unlike some agricultural operations, none of the workers involved lived on company property; they only went there for work. The employers believed the union would attempt to access their property again, so they filed a lawsuit arguing that the regulation violated the Constitution by appropriating their property for use by the union without compensation.
Siding with the employers, the Supreme Court found the regulation did in fact violate the Constitution because it required them to provide access to their property, resulting in an actual physical taking of the property. The Court distinguished the Board’s rule from a whole host of other laws and regulations that involve the government’s ability to regulate the use of property. The court was very clear that access to private employer property by government regulators to ensure compliance with usage restrictions (e.g., to confirm environmental conditions are consistent with a permit) or health and safety regulations (e.g., to ensure hazardous energy controls meet the applicable code requirements) aren’t violations of the Constitution. Similarly, if union organizers have no other reasonable way to communicate with employees than by entering company property (e.g., because the employees reside there), then being required to grant access to the union organizers doesn’t violate the Constitution (Cedar Point Nursery v. Hassid, US, June 2021).
Tips: In many circumstances, ordinary entry to your company’s private property by the government or third parties won’t violate the Constitution. Nevertheless, this Supreme Court decision certainly opens the door for employers who are willing to take on the cost and risk of litigation to challenge other laws that require them to allow the government or third parties to access their property. If you have questions about a specific rule or situation, please contact your Vigilant Law Group employment attorney.