Last minute maneuvers fail in UFW bill on map control

The legislature approved a measure to boost United Farm Worker membership by revising the electoral process. Yet Gov. Gavin Newsom preempted any victory celebrations by breaking the administration’s silence on Assembly Bill 2183 and announcing that he will not sign the measure, even after it takes days of sweeping amendments before the end of session deadline.

Labor advocates have touted AB 2183 as a way to vote by mail for union elections, providing the same option that is presented to all Californians in the general election. Critics, on the other hand, argued that the bill would grant unions unfettered access to ballots.

“We cannot support an untested mail-in election process that lacks essential provisions to protect the integrity of the election,” said Erin Mellon, a spokeswoman for the governor who issued a statement last week, adding that the bill assumed that the government could not effectively enforce the laws. .

Debates on the UFW bill erupted again ahead of final votes on the measure on Monday, though they were likely toned down after the announcement. Although a coalition of farm organizations issued an alert to lawmakers about the bill, moderate Democrats mostly abstained rather than voting against it. Senate Republicans were the only lawmakers to question the measure, while several progressive Democrats in the House argued for the state to better protect farm workers from employer abuse.

Asm. Mark Stone, D-Monterey Bay

“This bill in this form gives farm workers a chance to fix a system that hasn’t worked for a very long time,” said Sen. Maria Elena Durazo of Los Angeles, a former labor leader who grew up in a family of agricultural workers and defended the measure in the Senate. “It is too convenient to ignore their reality when we sit down to eat the food they bring us. Their fears are rooted in the thousands of times farmworkers who have spoken out have been kicked out. »

Durazo and several other lawmakers hailed UFW’s 335-mile march from Delano to Sacramento that ended at the Capitol on Friday after a month on the road. The UFW joined the California Federation of Labor this year, after pulling out of the union alliance in 2006 amid declining membership in the farmworker organization. Former Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher took over as head of the federation this summer and marched with the UFW last week, showing how the state’s much larger unions have coalesced behind the UFW. Unions representing truckers, nurses, longshoremen and several other trades held UFW banners and donned red shirts in solidarity.

“If the governor refuses to sign our bill, we will come back and march harder,” Gonzalez Fletcher pledged, echoing the sentiment of UFW President Teresa Romero.

During his years in office, Gonzalez Fletcher undermined agricultural interests through initiatives such as AB 1066 in 2016, creating the nation’s first agricultural overtime law, and AB 5 in 2019, which reclassified independent contractors in a wide range of industries as regular employees requiring standard benefits.

Last year, Newsom vetoed AB 616 days before the UFW could complete its march to the Capitol. Frustrated by the decision, the group instead rallied around the governor in his recall election by marching to the French Laundry, the site of Newsom’s social distancing controversy at the start of the pandemic that has become a central criticism of his Republican critics. Walkers pushed further, with demonstrations at Plumpjack Winery in Napa Valley, the flagship of a suite of hotel and wine businesses owned by Newsom but separated by a blind trust.

The marches and related media attention also allowed the UFW to increase its income, as the group had requested. donations to cover expenses.

This year, UFW planned to arrive in Sacramento before Newsom had a chance to veto the bill. But the governor took action first, releasing the announcement the day before the rally.

Asm. Mark Stone of Monterey Bay, the author of the bill, had been negotiating with the governor’s office over his AB 2183 since January. Until the final days before a deadline for amendments, however, the bill remained almost identical to AB 616. Durazo argued that it addressed issues identified by Newsom in his veto message, but reflected agreement on only 90% of the details, which is why UFW asked Stone to terminate the remaining 10% that conflicted with the Governor’s priorities.

“We know the governor is not entirely on board with how we implemented it,” Stone acknowledged during Monday’s House debate, as he felt he was still aligning himself. on a framework that the administration had provided him with a month earlier. “But if we don’t enforce it the way it was written, then farm workers really won’t be able to vote the way they feel they should vote.”

To further assuage the governor’s concerns, Stone added a clause to end the provisions after five years, a buffer allowing time to resolve any outstanding issues.

But the amendments raised even more red flags for the farm coalition. Matthew Allen, vice president of state government affairs at the Western Growers Association, said Agri Pulse the revised bill looked like “card control on steroids”.

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New changes would allow two alternatives to the standard in-person secret ballot elections. An employer could voluntarily choose mail-in voting or the union could petition the Agriculture Labor Relations Board with proof of majority support – the concept of card verification long lambasted by employers. The coalition argued that the bill would require employers to give up their right to free speech by agreeing not to share any views on unionization and that it circumvents a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling. limiting unions’ access to properties – a landmark decision last year that crippled California’s central law governing farm unions. They also described the mail-in option as equally corrupt, as union officials could intimidate workers at their homes into signing pre-filled ballots.

Republican Senator Shannon Grove of Bakersfield issued the harshest criticism of AB 2183 on the Senate floor, arguing it would erode proponents of democracy by removing the secret ballot process that keeps votes private.

Toni Atkins rally UFWSenate Pro Tempore Toni Atkins, D-San Diego

“The truth is that the UFW has failed to organize farmworkers in the Central Valley for a variety of reasons, including that farmers and farmworkers work together in the interests of mutual benefit from the success of this farm,” she said. praising agricultural giants The Wonderful Company and Grimmway Farms for “excellent salaries and benefits” and investing in local schools. “This bill is a desperate attempt to revive a union that has failed to organize agricultural workers in the Central Valley.”

Senator Andreas Borgeas of Fresno added that it would be hypocritical for lawmakers to lead the national charge by proposing various other measures to discourage voter suppression but allow card verification, “the antithesis of the democratic process.”

The Assembly, however, struck a different tone on Monday, as no lawmakers stood up to challenge the measure. Several Democrats greeted UFW members in the audience, sometimes addressing them in Spanish, and described how farmworkers were still helping put food on Californians’ tables while non-essential businesses closed for a while. the pandemic and continued to do so as smoke from the wildfires swept across the state. in 2020. Asm. Ash Kalra of San Jose feared that the rights of agricultural workers were being eroded in recent years.

“If you look at the court cases, it made it even more difficult [for unions] communicate [with those farmworkers] who want to empower them,” Kalra said. “We currently have the opportunity to help a group of workers who are often isolated under the control of employers, who control where they work, how they are transported and where they live. »

Asm. Sabrina Cervantes of Corona, who spoke at the rally last week, added that 97% of farm workers are Latino while many are undocumented and union membership is “often the only chance they have.” have to unite to make their voices heard and protect their rights.”

Asm. Ventura’s Steve Bennett, who is already at odds with agriculture over his proposal to limit groundwater pumping, argued that farm workers can’t take care of themselves in the marketplace without union representation.

“I don’t think there’s any doubt — and US history shows us this time and time again — that union membership is essential,” Bennett said. “This unique challenge that agricultural workers have to organize needs this additional legislation.”

After the Assembly passed the final votes on AB 2183, Senate Republicans wrote Newsom asking for a veto, describing the proposed process as “full of opportunity for trickery”. UFW, meanwhile, is hold a 24-hour vigil in Sacramento and three other cities asking for Newsom’s signature.

Although the governor’s press office indicated that he would not sign the legislation, he did refer to his proposed policy framework for the bill and offered that he would welcome an agreement with the UFW on legislation. to expand the ability of workers to be represented and potential changes to state laws. this would facilitate the organization of workers.

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