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California law expands farmworker union rights

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Bill creates new ways for farmworkers to vote in a union election.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom recently signed legislation expanding union rights for farmworkers. This follows the governor, United Farm Workers (UFW), and the California Labor Federation having agreed in a letter on clarifying language to be passed during next year’s legislative session to address Gov. Newsom’s concerns around implementation and voting integrity.

“California’s farmworkers are the lifeblood of our state, and they have the fundamental right to unionize and advocate for themselves in the workplace,” said Gov. Newsom. “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.” 

The bill, 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.

California has taken action to support farmworkers during Gov. Newsom’s first term, with critical investments in the development and preservation of farmworker housing, creating farmworker resource centers, investing in new protections from extreme heat and protecting farmworkers and their families during the COVID-19 pandemic. California has also made investments to address barriers related to immigration status that also impact many farmworkers, including access to health care, food assistance for immigrants over the age of 55, free immigration services and anti-poverty programs.

This legislation also builds on the state’s action to support workers and advance workplace safety. Earlier this year, Gov. Newsom signed landmark legislation to empower fast-food workers with a new mechanism for enacting wage and workplace protections to support their health, safety and welfare. Last year, he signed legislation to protect warehouse workers from unsafe production quotas and nation-leading legislation to end exploitative piece-rate compensation for garment industry workers. He also signed a measure directing Cal/OSHA to create an advisory committee to recommend state policies to protect domestic workers and a bill to ensure that workers with disabilities are paid a fair wage. In 2019, the governor signed legislation giving childcare workers the right to join a union and collectively bargain with the state.

Western Growers President and CEO Dave Puglia expressed disappointment in the passage, saying it is “shameful” that Governor Newsom invoked the name of Cesar Chavez in signing it.

“Instead of advancing the labor icon’s movement, as the governor claimed, California has officially unraveled Chavez’s legacy, striking at the heart of his greatest political objective and accomplishment: the right of farmworkers to a state-supervised secret ballot election.”

He continued: “Chavez fought for passage of the Agricultural Labor Relations Act in 1975, making California the first state in the country to give farmworkers the right to unionize. For Chavez, the key to that law – like American democracy – was the guarantee of free and fair elections shielded from intimidation and coercion by any interested party.”

Rather than seeking “a collaborative approach among all relevant stakeholders” to address the “various inconsistencies and procedural issues related to the collection and review of ballot cards,” as outlined in the Newsom's veto message of AB 616 (the UFW’s 2021 card check bill), Puglia said the UFW and California Legislature pushed forward “an even more flawed form of card check, which is effectively forced union submission for farmworkers disguised as mail-in voting.”


TAGS: Policy
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