About two dozen people marched the 19 miles from Calwa to Biola Aug. 12 in support of farmworkers and AB 2183, which advocates say would expand voting rights for union members. Photo by Edward Smith.

published on August 26, 2022 - 1:21 PM
Written by Edward Smith

As it stands now, Gov. Gavin Newsom won’t sign a farmworker bill that would allow mail-in ballots for union votes. While some employers praise the decision, saying the bill does much more than allow mail-in ballots, labor organizers say they will continue to march.

There are five days until the deadline for legislators to approve a rewritten form of AB 2183 that Newsom would agree to sign. The final text of the bill must be in writing for three days before a vote, putting even more pressure to find a compromise.

Farmworkers finished the last leg of their 355-mile march from Delano to Sacramento Friday. The march sought to bring attention to AB 2183, which would make votes for members of United Farm Workers (UFW) easier by allowing mail-in ballots.

Newsom could not support the bill’s current language as it pertains to election security.

“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,” said Erin Mellon, a member of the governor’s press team.

Newsom did say that he would be open to signing a revised bill.

“Governor Newsom is eager to sign legislation that expands opportunity for agricultural workers to come together and be represented, and he supports changes to state law to make it easier for these workers to organize,” Mellon added.

Organizers call the claim that there is a lack of election security “bogus,” according to Marc Grossman, UFW spokesperson.

“The governor has announced that he cannot sign this bill,” Grossman said in a statement. “Yes, he can. Sí, se puede. We will keep marching until he does.”

Farmworkers say they are marching to be treated more humanely.

Luz Rodriguez of Bakersfield has been working in the fields for 22 years.

Rodriguez said, through an interpreter, she marched for more benefits. Workers don’t have any choice about being out in the fields, whether it’s hot or if the air is bad.

Additionally, with overtime pay approved for work weeks exceeding 40 hours at the beginning of the year, Rodriguez said employers expect 60 hours’ worth of work in 40 hours’ time.

Even though it meant giving up on pay, she said marching was more important.

The bill’s summary states it would give farmworkers help in voting. Much like national union voting procedure, it allows an assistant to help fill out a ballot. The summary also states that the Agricultural Labor Relations Board would have the same power to invalidate a vote or an election as it does currently.

Opponents, however, say the bill does more than allow mail-in ballots.

“That has been our industry’s frustration this whole time, not fully vetting and understanding the process — the actual legislation — and calling it a vote-by-mail ballot,” said Ian LeMay, president of the California Fresh Fruit Association. “If that were the case and that was the intent to create a vote-by-mail system, that system already exists under the National Labor Relations Act.”

LeMay said this is the sixth iteration of a card check ballot in recent years. Similar bills go all the way back to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The current form of the bill gives growers two options, says LeMay. The first option is a labor neutrality agreement. The agreement forbids employers from interacting with employees during union votes, said LeMay. It also requires them to forfeit compensation for when a union comes onto their property to recruit, undoing the 2021 Supreme Court Decision Cedar Creek Nursery v. Hassid. The decision forbade union members from coming onto private property without consent from the property owner.

The second choice for employers is to allow union representatives to request a “voting kit request form.” The form would include the addresses and telephone numbers of employees to allow organizers to contact them.

LeMay said there is no provision in the law that would require a union to reach out to every employee, meaning those who don’t want to organize may be left out.

If employers sign the neutrality agreement, the Agricultural Labor Relations Board would send ballots to all employees in a field.

While employers are happy with the decision by Newsom, LeMay said there are still five days left and his hope is that the bill be left unsigned.

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