Supreme Court Strikes Down California Rule Mandating Access to Unions

Author: Robert S. Teachout, XpertHR Legal Editor

June 23, 2021

A California regulation requiring agricultural employers to allow unions to have limited access onto their property to organize farm laborers violates the Fifth Amendment's Takings Clause, the Supreme Court ruled today.

In Cedar Point Nursery v. Hassid, two fruit growers asked the Court to stop enforcement of a state regulation requiring them to permit union organizers onto their property for up to three hours per day, 120 days per year. The growers claimed the rule denied them their right to exclude unwanted persons from their property and appropriated an easement without compensation. The Fifth Amendment prohibits the government from taking private property without just compensation.

The California Agricultural Labor Relations Board had issued the regulation to grant labor organizations a "right to take access" to an agricultural employer's property in order to solicit support for unionization.

Chief Justice John Roberts, writing for the 6-3 Court, said the access regulation granting labor organizations a right to "invade" the growers' property "amounts to simple appropriation of private property" and automatically constitutes a physical taking. In addressing the argument that the regulation only required temporary access at limited times, Roberts stated that the Court has "held that a physical appropriation is a taking whether it is permanent or temporary." The ruling will make it more difficult for unions to organize agricultural employees in the state.

In his dissent, Justice Stephen Breyer argued that the rule did not appropriate the owner's rights, but instead temporarily regulated them.  He noted that the Court has previously drawn a distinction between regulations that provide permanent rights of access to private property, which are automatically considered a taking, and regulations that provide nonpermanent rights of access, which only are held to be a taking if they go "too far."

The state had argued that the California access regulation was needed because farm laborers often work in remote areas and may not be aware of their rights to organize or join a union.