AGUAYO v. WEST FOODS INC

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Court of Appeal, Second District, Division 6, California.

Aurelio G. AGUAYO, et al., Petitioners and Appellants, v. CALIFORNIA UNEMPLOYMENT INSURANCE APPEALS BOARD, Respondent. WEST FOODS, INC., et al., Real Parties in Interest.

Civ. B016210.

Decided: September 16, 1986

Channel Counties Legal Services Ass'n Migrant Component and Robert K. Miller, M. Ilda Pruneda and M. Carmen Ramirez, Santa Barbara, for petitioners and appellants. Lyons, Eggers, Gottlieb & Beer and Ira L. Gottlieb, as amici curiae on behalf of petitioners and appellants. John K. Van de Kamp, Atty. Gen., Charlton G. Holland, Asst. Atty. Gen., Anne S. Pressman, Supervising Deputy Atty. Gen., Los Angeles, for respondent. Littler, Mendelson, Fastiff & Tichy and Robert K. Carrol, San Francisco, for real parties in interest.

Aurelio G. Aguayo and fellow employees ask this court to hold that the California Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board (hereinafter CUIAB) defer to a sister state agency, the Agricultural Labor Relations Board (hereinafter ALRB) and its general counsel's charging determination that real party (hereinafter grower) committed unfair labor practices automatically rendering them eligible for unemployment benefits.   As we shall explain, this claim is contrary to the present declared purposes of these two administrative schemes which, absent legislative direction, must remain separate and autonomous.

PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Grower operates a mushroom farm in Ventura, California, and employs between 300 and 350 people.   Against a background of previous labor disputes, the employees, whose collective bargaining unit was the United Farm Workers (hereinafter UFW), were led to a strike on November 19, 1981.   Thereafter they filed for unemployment insurance benefits, and a contested hearing was held before an administrative law judge in July and November of 1982.   On January 8, 1983, unemployment benefits were denied.   On February 28, 1984, the CUIAB modified but essentially affirmed the order of the administrative law judge.   Appellants sought review which was denied by the superior court on August 19, 1985.   The appeal is from this judgment.

Meanwhile, on October 16, 1981, general counsel for the ALRB issued a complaint charging grower with unfair labor practices dealing with its activities before the November 19, 1981 strike was called.   Based thereon, appellants sought injunctive relief to obtain unemployment benefits in the Superior Court, County of San Francisco, the Court of Appeal, First Appellate District, and the California Supreme Court.   These requests were summarily denied.   Thereafter, an administrative law officer for the ALRB held extensive and contested hearings on the complaint and by opinion filed June 17, 1983, determined, inter alia, that the grower had failed to bargain collectively in good faith.  (Lab.Code, § 1153, subd. (e).)  The ALRB went further and on July 15, 1985, filed its opinion affirming the opinion of the administrative law officer but also indicating that employer had been guilty of a “lockout.”   Grower petitioned for relief therefrom which was summarily denied by this court on July 10, 1986.1

STATEMENT OF FACTS 2

As indicated, grower operates a mushroom farm and, remembering the strike which occurred in 1976 where over one million pounds of mushrooms were lost as a result thereof, and knowing that a similar strike could produce similar losses as well as subjecting employees to a health hazard by reason of the release of billions of spores into the air,3 it attempted to secure a labor agreement with the UFW in a timely fashion.   A collective bargaining agreement had been reached after the 1976 strike, but the agreement was due to expire on September 5, 1981.

Between May 1, 1981, and September 6, 1981, grower and UFW met on numerous occasions and held many negotiating sessions, each of which were unfruitful.   Grower unsuccessfully asked for both a 30–day extension of the previous collective bargaining agreement and a 90–day strike notification from UFW.   Grower became cautious and decided to implement a “crop protection program,” which was simply a reduction in the 90–day production cycle, which commenced on July 15, 1981.   This caused the layoff of employees who received unemployment benefits as a result thereof.   At the end of August 1981, UFW advised grower that it did not intend to strike, the “crop protection program” was curtailed, and the full regular growing process was reinstituted.   Since it had curtailed optimum production pursuant to the “crop protection program,” grower had to purchase mushrooms from an eastern company to fulfill its contractual obligations.   Still with no contract, UFW voted for a work stoppage on November 19, 1981, which led to a strike on November 19, 1981.4  Grower advised the individual workers that replacement workers would be employed if they did not return to work by November 23, 1981.   They did not respond and again rebuffed grower's December 21, 1981 appeal to return to work.

DISCUSSION

Preliminarily, we point out that the record and the briefing herein is voluminous.   That is to say, the administrative record consists of 22 volumes under separate covers encompassing thousands of pages.   The clerk's transcript on appeal is over 1,000 pages.   In addition to appellants' opening brief, CUIAB's and grower's briefs, and appellants' reply brief, permission was granted for UFW to file an amicus brief.   This spawned three additional briefs from appellant, CUIAB and grower.   In all, there are approximately 250 pages of briefing which this court has read and considered.

“Decisions of the Supreme Court and courts of appeal that determine causes shall be in writing with reasons stated.”  (Cal. Const., art. VI, § 14.)   “ ‘The function of an appellate opinion is to state the reasons which led the court to decide the case the way it did ․’ ”  (9 Witkin, Cal. Procedure (3d ed. 1985) Appeal, § 556, p. 542, emphasis added), not the way it did not.   Thus we unapologetically state that we do not discuss every case or theory presented by appellants and amici.   We only decide the case and give written reasons why we have done so.5

It was and is appellants' position that the CUIAB should have deferred to the ALRB and the general counsel's October 16, 1981 determination to charge grower with unfair labor practices.   Cognizant of the prolonged delays attendant to administrative determinations and the immediacy of the situation, appellants claim that general counsel's naked charging decision automatically required CUIAB to grant unemployment benefits and if subsequent ALRB action was in favor of grower, the unemployment benefit payments could be recouped.

 We cannot agree.   As indicated by our Supreme Court in a related context, “ ․ preclusion of adjudication at the outset would be inappropriate because the issues presented ․ will not often be identical and because the statutory schemes under which they operate serve different public policies.”   (State Personnel Bd. v. Fair Employment & Housing Com. (1985) 39 Cal.3d 422, 443, 217 Cal.Rptr. 16, 703 P.2d 354.)   We do not view the ALRB and the CUIAB as being “ ‘ ․ in competition with each other ․’ ”  (Id., at p. 439, 217 Cal.Rptr. 16, 703 P.2d 354) and do not believe that there is any need to resolve the conflict perceived by appellants and amici.   Their reliance on cases which hold that the ALRB has primary jurisdiction over disputes which are arguably protected or prohibited by the ALRB (see e.g., Rivcom Corp. v. Agricultural Labor Relations Bd. (1983) 34 Cal.3d 743, 771–772, fn. 25, 195 Cal.Rptr. 651, 670 P.2d 305) is misplaced.   The Legislature has simply determined that one facet of the dispute, whether the claimants should receive interim unemployment benefits, is to be decided by CUIAB.   To that extent, CUIAB's duties are “special” and thus controlling over the “general” duties of the ALRB.  (Code Civ.Proc., § 1859;  see also Agricultural Labor Relations Bd. v. Superior Court (1976) 16 Cal.3d 392, 420, 128 Cal.Rptr. 183, 546 P.2d 687.)

Unemployment Insurance Code section 100, in pertinent part, provides:  “The Legislature ․ declares that in its considered judgment the public good and the general welfare of the citizens of the State require the enactment of this measure under the police power of the State, for the compulsory setting aside of funds to be used for a system of unemployment insurance providing benefits for persons unemployed through no fault of their own, and to reduce involuntary unemployment and the suffering caused thereby to a minimum.”  (Emphasis added.)  (See Hildebrand v. Unemployment Ins. Appeals Bd. (1977) 19 Cal.3d 765, 770, 140 Cal.Rptr. 151, 566 P.2d 1297.)   It is well settled that CUIAB is to “ ․ maintain its neutrality in trade disputes.”  (Ruberoid Co. v. California Unemployment Ins. Appeals Board (1963) 59 Cal.2d 73, 77, 27 Cal.Rptr. 878, 378 P.2d 102.)

 Consistent with the “through no fault of their own” declared legislative purpose and Unemployment Insurance Code section 1262 which, in pertinent part, provides:  “An individual is not eligible for unemployment compensation benefits, and no such benefit shall be payable to him, if he left his work because of a trade dispute․” the CUIAB, in essence, adopted the rationale and decision of the administrative law judge who, in our view, correctly applied the apposite rules to the facts as he found them.   He ruled that CUIAB “ ․ would be required to defer to the ALRB on two possible grounds only.   One would be from legislative or judicial mandate that the ALRB pre-empted all proceedings where it had some involvement.   The second would be the existence of some final decision of the ALRB which would have a collateral estoppel effect on the CUIAB.”

 As indicated by the administrative law judge, there was no final decision of the ALRB at the time of the CUIAB hearings or the CUIAB decision.   In addition, there was no legislative or judicial mandate that the mere charging by ALRB general counsel “pre-empted” the CUIAB of the power/right to determine benefits vel non.

By way of contrast, the preamble to the Agricultural Labor Relations Act, in pertinent part, provides:  “ ‘In enacting this legislation the people of the State of California seek to ensure peace in the agricultural fields by guaranteeing justice for all agricultural workers and stability in labor relations.  [¶]  This enactment is intended to bring certainty and a sense of fair play to a presently unstable and potentially volatile condition in the state.’ ”  (Agricultural Labor Relations Bd. v. Superior Court, supra, 16 Cal.3d at p. 398, 128 Cal.Rptr. 183, 546 P.2d 687.)   Nowhere in the Agricultural Labor Relations Act is there any mention of the ALRB or its general counsel's charging decisions preempting the CUIAB, nor is there mention of unemployment insurance benefits in the Agricultural Labor Relations Act.   (Lab.Code, § 1140 et seq.)

 Only general counsel of the ALRB has the power to issue complaints concerning unfair labor practices.   The ALRB, itself, cannot do so.  (Lab.Code, §§ 1149, 1160.2;  Belridge Farms v. Agricultural Labor Relations Bd. (1978) 21 Cal.3d 551, 557–558, 147 Cal.Rptr. 165, 580 P.2d 665.)   His charging decision cannot have a collateral estoppel effect requiring CUIAB to defer thereto.  “Collateral estoppel may be applied to decisions made by administrative agencies ‘[w]hen an administrative agency is acting in a judicial capacity and resolves disputed issues of fact properly before it which the parties have had an adequate opportunity to litigate․’  [Citation.]  [Fn. omitted.]”  (People v. Sims (1982) 32 Cal.3d 468, 479, 186 Cal.Rptr. 77, 651 P.2d 321;  see also Producers Dairy Delivery Co. v. Sentry Ins. Co. (1986) 41 Cal.3d 903, 910, 226 Cal.Rptr. 558, 718 P.2d 920.)   ALRB general counsel's decision to file an unfair labor practice complaint, and the complaint itself, is not tantamount or even remotely similar to an administrative agency (the ALRB itself) acting in a judicial capacity resolving disputed issues of fact before it which the parties have had an adequate opportunity to litigate.6  It is akin to a criminal prosecutor's decision to file a complaint which quite obviously is not a final determination of the guilt of the accused.

Adoption of appellants' and amici's theory would create uncertainty and havoc.   First, it would have the effect of stripping CUIAB of its duties required to be performed by the Unemployment Insurance Code.   Second, it would give ALRB general counsel, in essence, the power to grant unemployment insurance benefits, at least on an interim basis.   We are certainly aware of the immediate problems which confront the unemployed.   Benefits should not be granted or denied while waiting for ALRB general counsel to exercise his charging discretion.   Claimants should be able, unencumbered by other considerations, to seek unemployment insurance benefits if “through no fault of their own” they are unemployed.

As indicated, CUIAB denied unemployment insurance benefits citing Unemployment Insurance Code section 1262, which generally precludes benefits if the employee “․ left his work because of a trade dispute.”   In doing so, it expressly relied upon Ruberoid Co. v. California Unemployment Ins. Appeals Board, supra, 59 Cal.2d 73, 27 Cal.Rptr. 878, 378 P.2d 102, in determining that unemployment benefits should be denied because 1) the employees voluntarily left employment because of the trade dispute (the volitional test), and 2) the employees remained away from work because of the trade dispute (the causational test).  (See also Pacific Maritime Assn. v. Unemployment Ins. Appeals Bd. (1985) 169 Cal.App.3d 568, 575, 215 Cal.Rptr. 408.)   Perhaps more importantly, and contrary to appellants' claim that “employer conduct” was not considered, CUIAB expressly indicated that grower's institution of the “crop protection program,” change of crew leaders and minimum show-up time did not have the effect of a “substantial reduction of wages [with] the practical effect of a lockout ․” and did not “․ reach the level of activity of the employer in the Bunny's Waffle Shop case.   [Bunny's Waffle Shop v. Cal. Emp. Com. (1944) 24 Cal.2d 735, 151 P.2d 224.]”  It must again be emphasized that the crop reduction plan terminated in late August of 1981.   We cannot say, as a matter of law, that grower's actions were not bona fide proposals for the continued operation of business and “․ were imposed for the sole purpose of coercing the unions into bargaining collectively ․ [or] an economic weapon designed to compel compliance with the employers' demands․”  (Bunny's Waffle Shop, supra, at pp. 740–741, 151 P.2d 224.)

 In denying administrative mandamus relief in the superior court, the court, exercising its independent judgment, adopted CUIAB's views as his own.   Our determination begins and ends with the conclusion that substantial evidence supports the trial court's determination.   As recently stated by our California Supreme Court, “[i]n reviewing a trial court's ruling on a writ of mandate, an appellate court asks only whether the findings and judgment of the lower court are supported by ‘substantial, credible and competent evidence.’   [Citations.]”  (Amador v. Unemployment Ins. Appeals Bd. (1984) 35 Cal.3d 671, 679, 200 Cal.Rptr. 298, 677 P.2d 224.)   As one might presume by reason of the protracted record herein, it is replete with factual disputes concerning grower's, appellants' and the UFW's conduct.   In such circumstances, we simply should not and do not reweigh the evidence impliedly credited by the superior court.   Appellants and amici have not demonstrated that the superior court's decision and articulated rationale are erroneous.7  In sum, we agree therewith.8

 Appellants' factual contentions and claims along with legal theories predicated upon ALRB findings of unfair labor practices, illegal or outrageous conduct, and “lockout” are not here determinative.   Even though grower's writ petition seeking review of these factual and legal contentions was summarily denied, such does not necessarily mean that the claimants were “ ․ unemployedthrough no fault of their own․”  (Unemp.Ins.Code, § 100, emphasis added.) 9

“The cases ․ consistently require for the purpose of denying benefits, a showing that a claimant was personally responsible for his unemployment by virtue of some voluntary, affirmative act which resulted in his failure to work.  [Citations.]”  (Pacific Maritime Assn. v. Unemployment Ins. Appeals Bd., supra, 169 Cal.App.3d at p. 578, 215 Cal.Rptr. 408.)   Here, the conclusion is compelled that appellants, at least to some extent, were personally responsible for their own unemployment by virtue of their affirmative participation in the strike.   Phrased otherwise, to some extent, they were at fault, contrary to the provisions of Unemployment Insurance Code section 100.   Our California Supreme Court has plainly indicated that “[i]t is not the policy of this state to encourage employees to quit their work and obtain unemployment insurance simply because they are unhappy over something the employer has said or done․”  (Sanchez v. Unemployment Ins. Appeals Bd. (1984) 36 Cal.3d 575, 587, 205 Cal.Rptr. 501, 685 P.2d 61.)   It is not the function of an intermediate appellate court to thwart the legislative policy decisions of the Legislature as declared by our Supreme Court.

The judgment is affirmed in its entirety.

FOOTNOTES

FOOTNOTE.  

1.   The present analysis is pristine and independent of the summary denial of grower's writ petition in 2d Civil B015744.  (See discussion, infra.)

2.   We view the evidence in the light most favorable to the order denying the petition for writ of administrative mandamus (Code Civ.Proc., § 1094.5) in accordance with the familiar rule governing civil appellate review.  (E.g., Kulko v. Superior Court (1977) 19 Cal.3d 514, 519, fn. 1, 138 Cal.Rptr. 586, 564 P.2d 353.)   Appellants' factual recitation is in derogation of this rule.

3.   See West Foods, Inc. v. Unemployment Ins. Appeals Bd. (1979) 96 Cal.App.3d 653, 655, 158 Cal.Rptr. 406.

4.   The UFW negotiator led the employees from their places of work with the aid of a bull horn;  and, in the ensuing rally, the employees cheered “strike” and “long live the cause” while waiving UFW flags.   One hundred twenty-nine employees thereafter applied for unemployment insurance benefits.   From these events, the inference seems compelling that the UFW and the subject employees made a “business decision” to strike, perhaps foregoing short term benefits for long ones.   Given the previous history (see West Foods, Inc. v. Unemployment Ins. Appeals Bd., supra, 96 Cal.App.3d 653, 158 Cal.Rptr. 406), we observe that they or their legal advisers must have known that they probably would not reap unemployment benefit payments to salve their immediate economic plight.

5.   This principle was perhaps best stated over a century ago by the California Supreme Court in Holmes v. Rogers (1859) 13 Cal. 191, 202–203:  “An opinion is not a controversial tract, much less a brief in reply to the counsel against whose views we decide.   It is merely a statement of conclusions, and of the principal reasons which have led us to them.   If we were to undertake to follow the elaborate arguments on both sides, and then in addition, to give our own views, the extent of our labors may be estimated by the fact, that in this case, not fewer, probably, than one hundred pages of printed matter have been employed in the argument.”

6.   We agree with the superior court when it said:  “That's a bit of an hyperbole I think and overkill.   The fact that there is not a complaint doesn't mean that everything is kosher, and I think very palpably there is an area of murkiness engendered if we get into the kind of deference that is being suggested by counsel for the petitioner in that because these agencies admittedly had expertise, because these agencies have discrete areas of inquiry and responsibility, parameters, standards, burdens of proof, to overlap them and to have a complaint by one agency constituting good cause for some sort of action by another agency engenders—doesn't take any stretch of the imagination at all to see a great many problems arising because of the confused and disputed standard of proof and burdens and evidentiary and legal controls on the various agencies which by their very nature differ appreciably.”

7.   THE COURT:  “The issue in the Court's mind turns on two primary things, one is that the responsibilities of the Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board and that of the ALRB are distinct and discrete;  that the determination as to whether the activities which formed the subject of initially the complaint by ALRB and later the findings thereby or decision thereof, are not determinative of the issues raised by the Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board proceedings, which turned on a standard enunciated in the Bunny Waffle case, namely whether the actions of the employer there—they increased the workweek from five to six days, went to split shifts;  they dropped salary by 25 percent.   The court said just that alone would have been enough to justify the workers in effect walking out.   They weren't effectively, you might say, locked out.   And the question of whether the actions here rise to that level and justify that action by the Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board, and the Court's initial decision is that it does not.  [¶]  The determination by the administrative law judge dealing with the status of the various workers, those who were due to go back before the November 19th strike date, those who were due to go back after the November 19th strike date, and those who were on medical leave or some other kind of leave of absence which terminated in some point after the strike had begun, and then elected not to return, appears to the Court to be consistent with the case law cited by both sides, and rather straightforward governing the granting of benefits in these cases in the face of a trade dispute.  [¶]  In summary, it is the court's initial position that the findings and the determination by the administrative law officer, later modified to some extent, were supported by the evidence, and to deny the writ of mandate sought, and under the court's independent judgment, it has at least initially failed to find an abuse of discretion.”

8.   Appellant has launched additional contentions which were impliedly rejected by the superior court.   We have carefully analyzed these claims and have determined that they do not merit discussion.  (See People v. Rojas (1981) 118 Cal.App.3d 278, 288–290, 174 Cal.Rptr. 91.)

9.   At oral argument and based upon the explanatory comments accompanying our summary denial order, e.g., that there was substantial evidence to support the ALRB determination that the phasedown was a lockout, appellants contend that we are required to grant relief.   Not so.   Determination of this appeal is to be made as of the time the superior court made its order denying the petition for writ of mandate.   “Matters occurring after entry of judgment are ordinarily not reviewable:  The appeal reviews the correctness of the judgment or order as of the time of its rendition․”  (9 Witkin, Cal.Procedure (3d ed. 1985) Appeal, § 252, pp. 258–259.)Second, it is the nature of courts to differ and such is also true of administrative bodies.   Given their distinct areas of inquiry, it is not surprising that the ALRB and the CUIAB have reached seemingly inconsistent conclusions concerning the “crop protection program.”   Similarly, it is not surprising that this court has reached what at first blush might be perceived as inconsistent determinations.   We have simply indicated that substantial evidence supports the rulings of two separate and independent fact finding tribunals.   The timing and content of our summary denial order should be and is inapposite to the resolution of the instant appeal.   This court was fully cognizant of this appeal and the tentative result when the writ was summarily denied.

YEGAN, Associate Justice.* FN* Assigned by the Chairperson of the Judicial Council

STONE, P.J., and ABBE, J., concur.

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