A United Farm Workers-backed card-check proposal for agriculture that has been vetoed by three successive California governors may return to the Assembly floor as soon as the week of May 23.
More than 50 farm and business groups have registered their opposition to Assembly Bill 2183 by Assemblyman Mark Stone, D-Santa Cruz, which would impose union representation on farms and other businesses where at least half the employees send petition cards to the state Agricultural Labor Relations Board.
Similar legislation was vetoed last year by Gov. Gavin Newsom after having been nixed by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2009 and then-Gov. Jerry Brown in 2011. But proponents note that card-check was enacted for California public eployees and that COVID-19 showed the importance of unions in the private sector.
The state "has updated how Californians vote for their local, state, and federal elected officials by making it easier to register to vote, increasing the amount of time to vote, adding more ways and access to vote, allowing someone else to turn in their ballot," the UFW said, according to an Assembly bill analysis.
The UFW contends card check would enable farmworkers to cast ballots by mail as voters do in political elections.
But critics including Western Growers, the California Farm Bureau and the California Fresh Fruit Association say the legislation would undermine secret-ballot elections for union representation and could potentially leave some employees out of the decision-making process.
'Free and uncoerced choice'
"The secret ballot serves as one of the core elements for the protection of a farmworker’s right to a free and uncoerced choice in deciding to vote either for or against union representation," Matthew Allen of Western Growers told the Assembly Labor Committee in April. "AB 2183 eliminates a farmworker’s right to a secret ballot election that is free from coercion from any party that has a financial interest in the outcome of the election.
"It is critical to note that when the Agricultural Labor Relations Act was created, UFW founder Cesar Chavez insisted that the Act ensure that secret ballot elections are to be the exclusive means for recognizing a union," Allen said. "This ensures that farmworkers may express a true preference on union representation without coercion from either their employer or from the union seeking to be their representative."
Card-check laws allow unions to bypass polling-place elections by having a majority of workers send sealed ballot cards directly to the National Labor Relations Board or a similar state authority. Opponents have argued that such a system could lead to coercion to sign up, as unions must be given access to employee lists and may contact the workers directly. They also have argued that unions could cherry-pick employees to target, leaving others out of the process.
AB 2183 passed the Labor Committee by a 5-2 vote on April 20. It is now in the Assembly Appropriations Committee and is expected to move to the Assembly floor soon, according to Western Growers.
Other farm groups opposing the bill include California Citrus Mutual, the California Association of Winegrape Growers, the California Cotton Ginners and Growers Association, the California Farm Labor Contractor Association, the California Strawberry Commission, the Nisei Farmers League, the Western Agricultural Processors Association, and Wine Institute.
The UFW is joined by other unions in supporting the bill. They include the California Nurses Association, the California School Employees Association and United Auto Workers, according to the bill analysis.