Capitol rally calls for veto on ‘card verification’
By Kevin Hecteman
With her colleagues behind her, Duarte Nursery director of labor Patricia Lopez, holding a microphone, speaks at a rally last week at the Capitol in Sacramento. At left, California Farm Bureau President Jamie Johansson listens. The pair called for a veto on a bill that would make it easier for unions to organize farm workers and said special attention should be paid to water and other crises facing farms and farmers. Californian ranches.
Photo / Kevin Hecteman
Amid a punitive drought, a bill that would make it easier for unions to organize California farms and ranches has landed on the governor’s desk.
A contingent of farmers and farm workers traveled to Sacramento last week to suggest some priorities needed to be rearranged.
“The focus should be on keeping California jobs and agriculture running,” California Farm Bureau chairman Jamie Johansson said in a speech on the South Steps of the Capitol.
Johansson suggested that attention is being undermined by legislation now on Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office. He joined the rally participants in calling for a veto.
House Bill 616, by Democrat MP Mark Stone of Scotts Valley, would reverse a long tradition of secret ballot elections for unionization. This would allow for a system of organization known as “card control”. Critics say it would leave workers vulnerable to undue coercion or potential retaliation if they didn’t sign the documents to unionize.
Patricia Lopez, director of labor at the Duarte nursery in Hughson, delivered a fiery speech of protest. Flanked on Capitol Hill by about 20 of her colleagues, she said the change in organizational rules could in fact diminish the voice of farm workers.
“We are a very large workforce here in California,” she said in her speech, delivered in Spanish. “We are essential workers who maintain the food supply for the people of our country. Today we agricultural workers are here to tell the governor… that we don’t need AB 616. We don’t. we need no unions to come to our workplaces. to work to decide what is good and what is not for us. It’s up to us, the workers. We know what we need and what we don’t have need.
Lopez explained after the rally, “We need our jobs,” she said. “We need water for agriculture, for our communities.
AB 616 reached the governor’s office on September 8 after clearing the Assembly and Senate.
Legislative counsel’s analysis of the bill indicates that “existing law requires the Agriculture Labor Relations Board to certify the results of a secret ballot election of employees in a collective bargaining unit to appoint a representative of collective bargaining ”- or a union.
AB 616 would instead designate a secret ballot election as an “election at a polling station” and allow alternative methods of voting.
According to the legislative counsel, the new rules would allow agricultural workers “to select their union representatives through a ballot election by submitting a petition to the board of directors.” The vote would consist of “cards signed by a majority of bargaining unit employees”.
Once the petition and the ballots were sent to the Agriculture Labor Relations Board, the board would have five days to determine whether the documents are legitimate. If so, the workplace is unionized.
“It’s a bill that allows for simple card control,” Johansson said after the rally. “This legislature likes to call it a mail-in ballot and refer to it in the same way” as a general election ballot. The AB 616, however, is “completely different from that,” Johansson said.
“It robs the collective voice of employees of the opportunity to come together and decide who they want to represent them,” Johansson said.
He argued that the bill “does not take into account all of the voices of agricultural workers, who should have a voice when it comes to determining who represents them, how they want to be represented and what they want. their workplace looks like “.
The bill “takes away the secret ballot,” Johansson said, and “opens (farm workers) to intimidation and coercion.”
Lopez said lawmakers and the governor should focus on providing water for agriculture rather than the organizing bill.
“If the farmers don’t have water, we won’t have food,” Lopez said. “We’re not going to have a job. We’re not going to be able to feed our families, pay our rent, pay whatever we need. That’s our biggest concern.”
Ron Peterson, who runs a dairy farm and grows silage crops in Stanislaus County, echoed those concerns.
“We’re really concerned about water and what the state is doing with our water, and the fact that they’re going to take water rights that have been long precedent, and put them aside, that definitely worth protecting, ”said Peterson. . “Without water there will be no food. California agriculture will not exist if we do not have the water to continue to grow.”
Peterson said AB 616 took the vote away from farm workers.
“For workers to suddenly show up one day and be part of a union, and never have a chance to voice their opinion and vote on it, we just don’t think that’s the right way.” , said Peterson. “It’s not the American way of a person, a voice.”
Katerina Kronauge, who works in agricultural education and is a member of the Yolo County Farm Bureau, said she and her colleagues came to the rally to support the California Farm Bureau’s efforts.
“We thought it was a really important thing to stand up for, and we really appreciate what the California Farm Bureau has done for workers and for agriculture in California,” Kronauge said.
Water was also a priority for her.
“At the start of the year, people were trying to decide whether or not to plant,” Kronauge said. “There was no guarantee that they would be able to irrigate throughout the season until harvest. There are a lot of people who have set aside land this year and are going to suffer because of they won’t get any income from it. “
It has implications for farm employment, something Johansson said in his rallying speech that he would stand to protect.
“The one thing we’re not going to check out at the California Farm Bureau: we’re not going to check out whether our members, employees, and communities are being silenced about representation and how we run employment. in California, ”Johansson said in his speech. . “We are proud of the jobs we create. We are proud to make California truly essential. Think about it, we are making California essential, and now is the time for the governor to recognize that we are not essential if he doesn’t. there is no one left to work the land. “
Lopez said she was encouraged by farm workers who came to the rally.
“We need more people to come and voice our concerns,” she said, “to tell everyone to come here, to the government house, to tell them we don’t need this. .
“We need more jobs, affordable rents, more education for our children,” Lopez said. “More important things to take care of than worrying about 616.”
(Kevin Hecteman is associate editor of Ag Alert. He can be contacted at [email protected])
Permission for use is granted, however, credit should be given to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this article.