UFW-backed bill to ease farm union organizing approved by Calif. legislature

The bill strips the ability to conduct union elections by mail and replaces it with a simple sign-up process that opponents claim is rife for abuse.

The California legislature has come through on its end of the bargain with Gov. Gavin Newsom over last year’s farm worker unionization bill. 

Late last week, both houses of the California legislature passed the modifications that Newsom requested last year when he signed the bill, overhauling farm worker unionization votes. 


The backstory: Two years ago, the United Farm Workers suffered a major blow in the U.S. Supreme Court, losing the ability to trespass on farms to organize workers. 

  • The union responded by backing a bill the past two legislative sessions aiming to change union elections to vote-by-mail and authorization forms, known as card check elections. 
  • After vetoing the bill in 2021, Newsom hesitated over its reiteration in 2022.
  • After initially signaling he would veto it again, Newsom faced intense public pressure from President Joe Biden, former Speaker Nancy Pelosi and others led to negotiations with the UFW and the California Labor Federation for modifications to be introduced in 2023. 

The big picture: California lawmakers codified the changes that Newsom requested by passing Assembly Bill 113 last week. 

  • AB 113, a budget trailer bill that appeared in the last couple of weeks, gutted the vote-by-mail option from last year’s legislation. 
  • Yet it codified the card check method of union formation, officially calling it the “Majority Support Petition” system.
  • AB 113 also limits the number of card check elections that result in certification to 75 through 2027. 

The other side: While California Democrats quickly pushed through the changes to codify the deal that Newsom agreed to, Republicans cried foul, arguing that such a bill should have gone through the same committee process as a normal piece of legislation would. 

  • “AB 113 is a clear example of poor public policy jammed in a budget process that lacks transparency,” Asm. Vince Fong (R–Bakersfield) said. “Election integrity is paramount to public trust. Assembly Bill 113 undoes protections that are guaranteed under current law. It eliminates the protection of private ballots, which exposes this specific electoral process to abuse, intimidation, and coercion for workers.”
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