Newsom Relents, Signs Farmworker Bill After Pressure – CalMatters

In summary

Two days before the deadline, after vetoing a similar bill last year and withstanding months of marches, vigils and posturing, including a memo from President Biden, Newsom has changed his mind. on a draft law on the work of agricultural workers.

Governor Gavin Newsom ended the suspense over a farmworker labor bill by agreeing to sign it two days before a deadline and after much prodding from national and state labor leaders and President Joe Biden .

California farm workers will have an easier process to form unions in the next five years under AB 2183, which Newsom signed on Wednesday. The bill allows farm workers to vote by mail in union elections, protecting them from potential intimidation by their bosses, says United Farm Workers, the bill’s sponsor.

Newsom has reached an agreement with the UFW and the California Federation of Labor to back new legislation next year that would give farm workers an even easier option to unionize, commonly known as card checking. It’s a victory for labor groups after the governor vetoed similar legislation last year.

Business groups such as the California Chamber of Commerce and the Western Growers Association have fiercely opposed this bill. Opponents denounced the measure as a move to swing farmworker union elections in favor of the UFW.

Newsom earlier this year also announced his opposition. In response, the UFW mounted weeks of advocacy efforts that turned the bill into a rallying point for political progressives as the governor sought to raise his national political profile.

Newsom said Wednesday that his concerns about the bill had been taken into account in the agreement on next year’s legislation.

“California farmworkers are the cornerstone of our state, and they have a fundamental right to organize and defend themselves in the workplace,” he said in a press release.

Supporters said AB 2183 is an effort to ease the path to collective bargaining and potentially higher wages, after decades of declining union membership for farmworkers.

Low unionization

Union representation among California farmworkers has fallen to such low numbers that UC Merced researchers told CalMatters this year they cannot confidently measure it, and few elections are even held. Labor supporters say it’s because it’s hard to organize when more than half of workers are undocumented immigrants who fear reprisals from their employers.

“It’s really where we wanted to go from the very beginning. It took a lot of patience on both sides.

Mark Stone, Democratic Assemblyman from Santa Cruz

A 2021 Supreme Court ruling effectively evicted union organizers from producer ownership, helping to spur pressure for the legislation.

After the signing, the California Federation of Labor called the bill “the most significant private sector organization bill in our state’s history.”

The farmworkers bill offers two options for farmworkers to unionize: an electoral process with mail-in ballots in which producers must agree to maintain neutrality, or a simpler process called “card checking.” , in which a majority of employees sign cards indicating they support union representation.

Earlier this year, Newsom opposed the mail-in election proposal, fearing it would allow workers to start demanding ballots without the knowledge of employers.

But the union said any stricter process exposed farm workers to potential retaliation; the majority of workers are undocumented migrants.

The deal Newsom made with UFW to change the process next year avoids that fight by simply eliminating the mail-in ballot option and leaving the simpler “card check” process. It’s the process by which public sector employees unionize in California, indicating their preference on a card, an option that many employers have strenuously opposed.

“This is really where we wanted to go from the very beginning,” said the bill’s author, Assemblyman Mark Stone, a Democrat from Santa Cruz. “It took a lot of patience on all sides… But I’m not surprised, because (Newsom) has always wanted to do good for farmworkers.”

Public pressure

Currently, agricultural workers can only vote in union elections that are held in person, usually held on their employer’s property, in the same way that other workers in the private sector unionize.

AB 2183 expires in five years. The agreement to change the law next year caps the number of check card unionizations on farms in those years at 75.

Supporters say the deal was the result of public pressure on Newsom.

The labor pressure campaign culminated in a 335-mile march by farmworkers from Delano to Sacramento in August to press for Newsom’s signature. A day before the end of the march, Newsom announced his continued opposition, despite compromise amendments lawmakers had already approved. The legislature passed the bill anyway.

Biden over Labor Day weekend issued a public statement urging Newsom to sign the legislation.

“Farmworkers have worked tirelessly and at great risk to their lives to keep food on American tables during the pandemic. In the state with the largest population of agricultural workers, the less we owe them is an easier path to making a free and fair choice to organize a union. Biden said.

It came a day before Newsom signed another union-backed bill for another low-wage sector. AB 257 will create a board to regulate wages and working conditions for fast food workers. The fast food industry, however, is trying to collect enough signatures for a referendum to overturn the law.

“The more he waves the flag of being an advocate for those in need, the more people can say, ‘What are you doing here in California about this issue affecting farmworkers? “”

Andrew Acosta, a Democratic strategist

On Monday, the Federation of Labor and a group of Latino state officials and lawmakers urged Newsom to sign the farmworker bill into law, writing in a public letter that the issue was “paramount for Latinos in California and in all the countries “.

Difficult position

With nationwide speculation over whether Newsom is considering a presidential run, some observers said pressure from Labor officials and Biden has put Newsom in a difficult position.

“It’s pretty rare for a sitting president from your own party to intervene” on legislation pending a governor’s signature, said Andrew Acosta, a Democratic strategist. “But the governor brought some of it on himself. The more he waves the flag of being an advocate for those in need, the more people can say, ‘What are you doing here in California about this issue affecting farmworkers?’ »

Thad Kousser, a political science professor at the University of California, San Diego, said if Newsom had vetoed the bill, it would have been a “political foul” for a governor in any national Democratic primary election.

“Getting Joe Biden to weigh in on this bill on Labor Day upped the ante,” he said. “It has made it a national issue and signals to Gavin Newsom that he will have to veto this bill every year until he runs for president, unless he signs it now. “

It’s unclear how many successful labor campaigns the bill will spur on farms. Some workers say they wish they had more say in their dealings with their bosses.

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State Assembly, District 29 (Santa Cruz)

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Cynthia Burgos, a 48-year-old farm worker from Bakersfield, picks carrots early in the morning and onions in the evening. She said this week that she was sexually assaulted while working in the fields and that harassment of female workers is common.

“Whenever we’ve tried to raise concerns about, for example, fields that aren’t in the best condition to work, they’re always, like, ‘Go do it somewhere else.’ Pretty much saying, “We’re going to fire you,” Burgos said through a translator.

This summer, she marched with the UFW in Sacramento and participated in a month-long vigil outside the Capitol, lobbying for Newsom’s signing. She said she wanted a union to advocate for protections.

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