CA Gov Gavin Newsom Signs Bill Making It Harder For Farms To Scare Workers Out Of Unionizing
On Wednesday, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed Assembly Bill 2183, a bill that will make it easier for the 400,000 farmworkers in the state to unionize without fear of intimidation or deportation from their employers. Newsom had vetoed a similar bill last year and had initially indicated he would veto this one as well, but is now signing it after reaching “supplemental agreement” with United Farm Workers and the California Labor Federation that will amend the legislation in a number of ways by next year.
“California’s farmworkers are the lifeblood of our state, and they have the fundamental right to unionize and advocate for themselves in the workplace,” Mr. Newsom said in a statement. “Our state has been defined by the heroic activism of farmworkers championed by American icons like Cesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta, and Larry Itliong. California is proud to stand with the next generation of leaders carrying on this movement.”
AB 2183 by Assemblymember Mark Stone (D-Monterey Bay) creates new ways for farmworkers to vote in a union election, including options for mail-in ballots, and authorization cards submitted to the California Agricultural Labor Relations Board, in addition to the existing in-person voting process.
The supplemental agreement between the Newsom Administration, UFW, and the California Labor Federation includes a cap on the number of card-check petitions over the next five years, and will allow the ALRB to adequately protect worker confidentiality and safety. This additional agreement would be codified into law with a bill next year that would be supported by both the administration and the union. The agreement will be codified with additional legislation next year backed by the union and the administration.
Gov. Newsom faced significant pressure from the Biden administration and Democrats across the country to sign the bill, as well as from United Farm Workers and other labor advocates who have held a monthslong vigil in support of the legislation. In August, dozens of farmworkers marched over 330 miles from Delano to Sacramento, recreating a famous march led by Cesar Chavez, in hopes of garnering support for the bill. Clearly, all of this worked out pretty well!
The bill will require employers to sign a document saying they will agree to a "labor peace compact" in which they will not interfere with a union election and allow for mail-in ballots, and if they refuse to agree to this, workers may hold an election in which they can vote in favor of a union simply by signing a union representation card.
Naturally, organizations representing agribusiness employers are very upset about Newsom's decision to sign the legislation and are pretending that this is because they just really care about the workers.
"Farm Bureau stands with California’s agricultural employees and will continue to defend their right to make uncoerced choices about union representation,” California Farm Bureau President Jamie Johansson said in a statement, adding "the governor’s unfortunate decision to sign this bill will create a mail-in balloting system that threatens the integrity of secret ballot elections and leaves farm employees vulnerable to intimidation by union organizers with an obvious interest in the outcome."
Johansson was also saddened by the way the bill would force "California’s farmers and ranchers to choose to give up free speech and private property rights in a dubious trade to allow their employees a real voice in a union election.”
Oh, the poor dears.
United Farm Workers, however, is thrilled that the legislation has finally been enacted into law.
"Farm workers across the state organized and sacrificed to make their voices heard and to pass #AB2183. California — and many parts of the country — heard their voices. Farm workers felt the deep and historic solidarity from all parts of CA and all across the nation" the agricultural workers' rights organization wrote on Twitter. "We look forward to working with Governor Newsom and the legislature to make agreed upon changes that will ease implementation of #AB2183 so farm workers can participate in elections free from intimidation and deportation beginning next year."
Agricultural workers have long been excluded from the labor laws protecting other workers in the United States — they don't get overtime pay, smaller farms are not even legally required to pay their workers minimum wage, and it's long been made particularly difficult for them to unionize, which is why fewer than one percent of the nation's approximately three million farmworkers belong to a union, one of the lowest rates of any industry in the United States. In California, that percentage is statistically zero.
One of the reasons it's been so difficult to unionize farmworkers in California is because union elections were required to be held in person, frequently on the grower's property, rather than allowing workers to mail in their ballots from home. In other industries, this is a big no-no — in fact, one of the main reasons workers at Amazon's Bessemer, Alabama, plant were granted a union vote do-over was specifically because Amazon successfully petitioned the US Postal Service to put a mailbox on the plant's grounds. According to NLRB’s Atlanta region director, Lisa Y. Henderson, this act “essentially highjacked the process and gave a strong impression that it controlled the process.”
Having these elections held exclusively in-person allowed employers to intimidate the workers, making them less likely to unionize. Farmworkers are particularly vulnerable to such threats, given that a large percentage of them could very well be deported. Hopefully this bill will change that and allow these workers the same ability to fight for their rights as workers have in other industries.
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Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse