Federal laws/regulations; Other States laws/regulations;

OLR Research Report

September 13, 2000





By: Laura Jordan, Associate Attorney

You asked which states have laws that give agricultural workers collective bargaining rights.


Ten states statutorily allow agricultural employees to collectively bargain for employment conditions (Arizona, California, Idaho, Kansas, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Nebraska, Maine, Oregon, and Wisconsin). In addition, New Jersey's Supreme Court has interpreted a state constitutional provision that grants private sector employees the right to enter collective bargaining agreements as covering agricultural workers.

States vary in their regulatory approach. Arizona, California, Kansas, and Maine comprehensively define employer, employee, and labor organization rights and responsibilities, establish election processes, and create state agencies to administer their laws. Other states regulate only certain aspects of collective bargaining rights.


The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) is the main body of federal law that governs collective bargaining. It allows employees the right to collectively bargain and join unions, but specifically excludes agricultural employees from its coverage (29 U.S.C. 152(3)).

States may supplement the NLRA by, in part, granting agricultural employees the right to enter collective bargaining agreements.

In general, the NLRA establishes a labor organization selection process and bars employers from interfering with the process. It requires employers to bargain with an employee-selected representative and requires the parties to bargain in good faith, although it does not require the parties to agree. It also regulates tactics (e.g., strikes, lock-outs, and picketing) parties may engage in.



Arizona law has granted agricultural employees the right to collectively bargain since 1972 (Arizona General Laws 23-1381 to 1395). It comprehensively regulates the election process; employer, employee, and labor organization rights and responsibilities; and establishes the Agricultural Employment Relations Board to administer the law.

The law restricts the circumstances under which unions may call strikes, picket employers, or boycott products. In addition, it prohibits secondary boycotts (i.e., where a labor organization encourages those who process, transport, or otherwise handle an agricultural commodity after it has left the farm of origin to stop doing so) and organizational pickets or boycotts (i.e., pickets or boycotts to force (1) an employer to recognize or bargain with a specific labor organization or (2) an employer's employees to accept a particular labor organization).


California's Agricultural Labor Relations Act, enacted in 1975, establishes that it is the state's policy to encourage and protect the right of farm workers to act collectively to bargain with employers over employment terms and conditions. It extensively regulates the election process and unfair labor practices. It also establishes the Agricultural Labor Relations Board (ALRB) to administer the Act.

The ALRB's primary responsibilities are (1) to determine through elections whether and by which labor organization agricultural employees wish to be represented and (2) to prevent and remedy unfair labor practices.

As you requested, we have enclosed a copy of California's law (California Code 1152 through 1155). We have also enclosed a handbook that provides a detailed, plain-English explanation of the law.


The Idaho Agricultural Labor Act of 1972 grants collective bargaining rights to agricultural workers (Idaho Code 22-4101 to 22-4113). It excludes workers engaged in sharecrop activities, confidential or clerical employees, and guards.

The Act regulates the labor organization selection process; establishes employer, employee, and labor organization rights and responsibilities; and establishes a state entity to administer the Act. It bars secondary boycotts, but specifically allows employees to picket business establishments where consumers purchase their employer's agricultural products. It limits the type of speech employees may use when picketing.


Kansas extensively regulates agricultural labor relations (Kansas General Statutes 44-818 to 44-831). State law regulates the labor organization selection process; establishes employer, employee, and labor organization rights and responsibilities; and establishes a state entity to administer the law. It defines an agricultural employee in general terms as “any individual employed to perform agricultural work,” but excludes certain workers such as supervisors, crew bosses, guards, and confidential and clerical employees. An agricultural employer is broadly defined by reference to type of production and employment size.

The law bars lockouts, organizational pickets, and strikes during livestock marketing periods or critical production or crop harvesting periods. It creates a private cause of action for damages resulting from unfair labor practices. It does not require parties to enter into labor agreements, but allows them to enter into memoranda of understanding. The labor board is also empowered to resolve an impasse arising out of a dispute involving such agreements.


Louisiana law has allowed agricultural workers to collectively bargain since 1954 (Louisiana Code 23:881 to 23:889). The law applies to three classifications of workers: (1) those employed in cotton ginning, seed, and compressing; (2) those who sow, tend, reap, or harvest crops, livestock, or other agricultural products on farms and plantations; and (3) those who process raw sugar cane into brown sugar if they are not connected with any operation to further process sugar cane.

The law's primary purpose appears to be to bar union shops (a workplace where all employees are required to join a particular union within a certain mount of time after they are hired and remain members during the term of the union shop agreement). It allows a worker to seek civil damages if he has been denied a job or discriminated in because he is not a union member.


Maine enacted the Agriculture Employees Labor Relations Act in 1997 (Maine General Statutes 1321 to 1334). The law regulates the labor organization selection process; establishes employer, employee, and labor organization rights and responsibilities; and establishes a state entity to administer the Act. It bars strikes and lockouts, requires the parties to submit to binding arbitration under certain circumstances, and allows the administering agency to bar membership fees it finds excessive or discriminatory.


Massachusetts law applies only a portion of its private-sector labor relations law to agricultural workers who work for an employer with at least five permanent, agricultural workers who are not family relatives (Mass. General Laws, Chapter 150A 5A). It allows agricultural employees to organize and requires the Labor Commission, when designating an appropriate unit, to designate an employer unit.


Nebraska has granted collective bargaining rights to agricultural workers since 1959 (Nebraska revised Statutes 48-901 to 48-911). It bars secondary boycotts, but allows sympathetic strikes.

New Jersey

A 1947 amendment to the New Jersey Constitution (article 1, paragraph 19) states “persons in private employment shall have the right to organize and bargain collectively.” In a 1989 decision the state supreme court held that this provision applies to agricultural workers (Comite Organizador de Trabajadores Agricolas v. Molinelli, 552 A.2d 1003.)

New Jersey's labor code bars agricultural recruiters from retaliating against employees who exercise any state-protected rights (N.J. General Laws 34:8A-10.1).


Oregon law ( 662.805 to 662.825, enacted in 1963) prohibits picketing of agricultural production areas (662.810(1)), but creates an exception for “regular employees.” The law defines this term broadly as someone the employer has employed for at least six calendar workdays. Oregon grants collective bargaining rights to agricultural workers by stating that nothing in its provisions “shall be construed to prohibit any right of employees to organize and bargain collectively with their employers.”


Wisconsin allows agricultural workers in general to engage in collective bargaining and specifically regulates the right of dairy and other farm workers to strike (Wisconsin Code 111.01(2)(6)(c) and 111.115(3)). It requires employees to give the Employment Relation Commission 10 days notice of their intention to strike if they are involved in the production, harvesting, or initial off-farm processing of any farm or dairy product if the strike would tend to cause the destruction or serious deterioration of farm products.

The Commission then takes immediate steps to mediate and if mediation fails, it must encourage the parties to seek arbitration.