SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) — Following a veto threat this past week, California lawmakers on Monday moved closer to passing a bill to protect farm workers who vote in union elections.
Farmworkers spent the last several weeks marching across more than 300 miles up the Central Valley in grueling summer heat, calling for the Legislature to pass Assembly Bill 2183. This bill proposes protections for agricultural workers who wish to vote in union elections, including giving them options for mail-in ballot voting. It returned to lawmakers Monday after Governor Gavin Newsom said this past Friday he couldn't support the bill.
The governor’s office said Newsom wants to expand representation of agricultural workers and supports changes to state law to make it easier for these workers by requiring employers to abide by rules that guarantee union access with enforceable protections to ensure fair elections.
“If employers fail to abide by those rules, they would be subject to organizing under a card-check process,” Newsom's office said in a statement. “However, we cannot support an untested mail-in election process that lacks critical provisions to protect the integrity of the election, and is predicated on an assumption that government cannot effectively enforce laws.”
The card-check process replaces secret ballot elections with a process that requires only signature cards, allowing unions to save time and money.
As amended, this bill would authorize a labor organization to act as the exclusive representative for unions in either a labor peace election or a non-labor peace election, without using existing polling place processes. A labor peace election — using a compact to prevent employers from taking action to discourage employees from voting in favor of union representation — would be a mail ballot election. A non-labor peace election would take place if an employer does not agree to a labor peace compact, allowing agricultural employees to go through a card-check union process. Employers could then respond to petitions with a list of employees, with a timeline set to indicate whether they agree to a labor peace compact.
The bill also allows labor organizations to see whether a specific agricultural employer has agreed to a labor peace election campaign. Any agricultural employer who commits an unfair labor practice would face civil penalties, and if they appeal for a writ of review involving backpay or other monetary awards to employees, they would be required to post an appeal bond.
State Senator Maria Durazo — a Democrat from Los Angeles who carried the bill — told the state Senate on Monday the revisions satisfy Newsom's issues with the original. "This bill in this form gives farmworkers a chance to fix a system that has not worked for a very long time," she said.
Durazo explained that in 1975, when the original Agricultural Labor Relations Act became law, 14% of California’s farmworkers were in the United States illegally.
“Eighty-six percent back then were like me and my family,” she said. “We were not vulnerable to the fear of deportation. Today, 70% of farmworkers are undocumented and completely vulnerable to deportation and fears of deportation.”
State Senator Shannon Grove, a Republican from Bakersfield, opposed because she said the bill is actually designed to force farmworkers to vote for unionization, and would hurt farmers who employ them.
“This bill takes away the ability of farmworkers to vote privately,” Grove claimed. “This bill stacks the deck against farmers to post unreasonable bond if they want to challenge the cards. This bill desperately tries to revive a failed union that has failed to unionize workers in the Central Valley.”
Durazo pushed against Grove’s statements, saying she knows the needs of the farmworker community well because “I am connected to that community all over California.”
“I worked in those fields, I organized workers,” she said. “I know exactly what they feel, what they go through. All they want is the freedom to vote, the freedom to not face intimidation, the freedom from deportation.”
State Senator Andreas Borgeas, a Republican from Fresno, called it “a political paradox” to pass a bill that has special protections for union election voting.
“We have made sure we have gone after suppressive measures that discourage people from voting,” he said. “I don't understand how we can, as a body, put forward policies that go against suppressive practices that still allow for card-check (processes). How do you reconcile your positions on this?”
The bill passed through the Senate despite 10 no votes. If the Assembly signs off on the revisions, the bill will head to Newsom.
This week, the group of farmworkers began a vigil outside the state Capitol in Sacramento and continue to demand that the governor sign the bill into law. United Farm Workers posted on Twitter “We won’t rest until AB 2183 becomes law. Sí, se puede.”Follow @@nhanson_reports
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