Newsom signs UFW-backed bill to ease farmworker unionization

The UFW, whose membership has dwindled in recent years, has sought legislative wins in Sacramento to build back its depleted roster of members.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed legislation on Monday that vastly lowers the threshold for farmworkers to unionize.

The legislation, AB 113, is part of an unusual compromise reached last year between Newsom and the United Farm Workers.


The Big Picture: Under the compromise, Newsom agreed to sign a high-profile bill expanding unionization rights for agricultural workers but only on the condition that the United Farm Workers and the California Labor Federation supported follow-up legislation in 2023 rescinding some of its provisions.

  • AB 113 allows farmworkers to unionize by signing cards under a process known as “card-check,” which essentially gives workers an opportunity to organize without the employer knowing. However, it removes their ability to unionize through mail-in ballots as the original bill would have allowed.
  • Newsom’s signature on AB 113 concludes a politically challenging episode for the governor, who rose to power with the backing of the state’s most influential labor unions. After vetoing similar legislation in 2021, Newsom indicated that he was prepared to reject the proposal again last year that allowed “card-check” elections and mail-in ballots.
  • Unions lobbied the bill through the state Legislature to his desk anyway, creating a political face-off with Newsom that drew national headlines. Farmworkers marched across the state and camped out in Sacramento in support of the legislation last year. President Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi ramped up the pressure and publicly urged their fellow Democrat to sign the bill.

The other side: Instead of vetoing the bill and facing criticism from Democrats nationally and in California a month before his reelection, Newsom struck an agreement with unions.

  • The governor agreed to sign the bill only if the United Farm Workers and the California Labor Federation supported and pushed follow-up language this year that eliminated the mail-in ballot option, limited “card-check” certification to 75 workplaces, and allowed the “card-check” option to expire in 2028.
  • The signing of AB 113 is seen as a significant victory for farmworkers, who have long been seeking greater protections and rights. Newsom referred to farmworkers as “our state’s backbone” in a statement and said, “We’ve removed barriers for farmworkers in union elections, in order to advocate for themselves and fight for a better workplace.”
  • Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher, executive-secretary treasurer of the California Labor Federation, said, “Allowing farmworkers to organize without the fear of intimidation and deportation has been our dream in California for decades. Nothing good comes easy, but we’re excited we finally have this tool.”
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