Agriculture

Newsom caves to Biden, signs UFW-led election bill – with some adjustments

A bill that will drastically overhaul the method of voting to unionize farmworkers is now law in California.

A year after the United Farm Workers suffered a devastating U.S. Supreme Court ruling invalidating its ability to trespass on farm property to organize workers, the union – with a major assist from President Joe Biden, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and the California Labor Federation – struck a deal with Gov. Gavin Newsom to see card check elections enacted for unionization efforts.

Wednesday, Newsom signed Assembly Bill 2183, which shifts union elections from being ALRB-supervised on farm premises to mail balloting and authorization forms. The shift has led farm advocates to liken the change to card check organizing, wherein a majority of workers can sign a petition and unionize.

However, the late-inning signing by Newsom (who has until Friday to complete signing or vetoing bills), follows weeks of intense negotiations to create limits to the union’s ambitions through new voting rules.

While Newsom signed the bill, he along with UFW officials and the California Labor Federation committed to additional language, to be introduced in the Legislature in 2023, that would scale back some of the rules and adjust procedures.

A key part of the agreement between Newsom and union officials, is that the UFW is limited to 75 card-check elections through Jan. 1, 2028.

After that date, it can conduct an unlimited amount of card-check processes on California farms.

The bill, which both Newsom and his predecessor, Gov. Jerry Brown, have previously vetoed, took on heightened importance when Pelosi and later Biden weighed in and called for its enactment.

Biden’s move was seen as a check on Newsom’s ever-growing national profile in anticipation of a still-denied but long-rumored eventual presidential bid.

Farm groups, however, were dismayed at Newsom’s shift over the bill. They’ve held that the measure increases the likelihood for worker intimidation without adequate protections from the ALRB.

“The California Farm Bureau is deeply disappointed in Gov. Newsom’s decision to sign the misguided union organizing legislation,” California Farm Bureau President Jamie Johansson said in a statement. “Farm Bureau stands with California’s agricultural employees and will continue to defend their right to make uncoerced choices about union representation.”

Ian LeMay of the California Fresh Fruit Association, expressed irritation with Newsom over a lack of consultation with farmers.

“Since the veto of AB 616, a similar card check bill last year, there has been zero engagement with the agricultural industry from Governor Newsom and his administration to find a solution that best serves California farm employees,” LeMay said. “AB 2183 will not only eviscerate an employee’s previously sacred right to a secret ballot in a unionization election. It will also erode the property ownership and First Amendment rights of agricultural businesses across California. CFFA is also concerned with the idea of a legislative ‘fix’ to the issues in AB 2183 being drafted behind closed doors with no opportunity for input by all stakeholders.”

Alex Tavlian is the Executive Editor of The San Joaquin Valley Sun and Executive Director of Valley Future Foundation. You can reach Alex at alex.tavlian@sjvsun.com.