California governor approves farmworker unionization law

California governor approves farmworker unionization law

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — A broadly smiling California Gov. Gavin Newsom joined two dozen cheering, excited farmworkers who gathered outside the state Capitol Wednesday to sign a controversial bill to help farmworkers unionize. This was after President Joe Biden supported it and Vice President Kamala Harris. Newsom was pinned in a difficult political situation by the White House support. Newsom’s office had told Democratic lawmakers that he would not be signing the bill.

Newsom approved the bill after he, the United Farm Workers, and the California Labor Federation reached an agreement on clarifying language that would be considered in the next legislative session to address his concerns about implementation and voting integrity.

The new law gives California farmworkers, who harvest much of the nation’s fruit and vegetables, new ways to vote in union elections beyond physical polling places on farm property. While the owners claim that this would protect workers from intimidation and union busting, proponents argue that it will help.

The agreement will limit the number of unionization petitions in the next five years. It will also allow state regulators better protect worker safety and confidentiality, Newsom’s office stated. It would eliminate the possibility for workers to unionize via mail-in voting, which is included in the current language. However, it maintains a “card check election process.”

“Si puede” was the slogan that farmworkers chanted to Newsom as he signed the bill. This is similar to the UFW’s long-standing slogan, which roughly translates into Spanish as “Yes, We Can”. The union led a long summer march up the state to Sacramento. There, farmworkers and supporters rallied outside Sacramento’s Capitol. Some even stayed outside until September to try to win Newsom’s support.

” The vigil and march were all worthwhile, because he came to us and signed for us,” Teresa Maldonado, a farmworker, said through a translator.

The march cost Xochilt Nunez, her job as a fruit-picker, many toenails, and left her with blistered feet. After Newsom signed the legislation, Nunez was left with an extra copy. She was close to tears.

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

Newsom, like his two previous predecessors, vetoed similar legislation in 2013. One of his concerns was about security concerns regarding mail-in elections. This option would be eliminated in the clean-up language that the union agreed to.

The revised law would retain the card check option. This would allow farmworkers to vote from home or wherever they feel most comfortable, and reduce employer intimidation, stated Giev Kashkooli (legislative and political director of the United Farm Workers). A union can only be formed if at least half of the workers sign the authorization card.

The California Farm Bureau stated that it was “deeply disappointed” by Newsom’s decision not to sign the bill. However, the group’s statement mainly focused on the mail-in voting system. The union did not respond to an email asking for comment on the language to eliminate that option.

Democratic Assemblyman Mark Stone added provisions to this year’s version that would let the law expire after five years unless it is renewed by lawmakers, and requiring the Agricultural Labor Relations Board to handle the ballots.

Newsom has been positioning his self for months as a leading national Democratic voice calling attention to red state governors. This has fueled speculation that he may be pursuing presidential ambitions despite his repeated denials.

Mike Madrid is a Republican strategist in California who studies Latino voting trends. He read Biden’s Labor Day Statement strongly supporting the legislation as an attempt to take Newsom down one notch.

” Madrid stated that it is impossible to ignore the fact that there is tension between these two politicians due to Gavin’s position in leaning into the presidential rumor-mill. “It’s basically just a reminder of who the sheriff is.”

Biden has long supported the union. Biden keeps a bust in the Oval Office of Cesar Chavez, co-founder of the union. Chavez’ granddaughter Julie Chavez Rodriguez is Biden’s director for intergovernmental affairs.

“In the most populous state of farmworkers, we owe them the least by making it easier for them to organize a union. Biden made this statement.

Jack Pitney is a Claremont McKenna College political science professor who said that Biden seemed to be expressing his longstanding support of unions, while Newsom was faced with the delicate task of balancing labor relations with an agricultural industry that is also in trouble.

The UFW, which is in financial trouble, recently joined the California Labor Federation. After the U.S. Supreme Court ruled union organizers could not access farms’ properties to speak to their workers, the issue of farmworker unionization became even more important to labor in 2020.

Newsom signed another union-backed bill on Labor Day. It created a Fast Food Council that can set minimum standards for California’s wages, hours, and working conditions. It was blocked by the restaurant industry a day later.


Associated Press Writer Kathleen Ronayne contributed to this story.

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