SACRAMENTO, Calif. (KTXL) — Gov. Gavin Newsom has signed AB 2183, a law that would give agricultural workers the right to vote on unionization by mail or to gain representation by unions through a “card check” or similar process.
“California’s farmworkers are the lifeblood of our state, and they have the fundamental right to unionize and advocate for themselves in the workplace,” said Newsom. “Our state has been defined by the heroic activism of farmworkers, championed by American icons like Cesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta, and Larry Itliong. California is proud to stand with the next generation of leaders carrying on this movement.”
The governor’s office had previously criticized the bill, taking issue with the proposed mail-in process that would allow individual workers to opt to have ballots to be sent to the union organizers, but reversed course after coming to an agreement with United Farm Workers and the California Labor Federation to have the bill amended during the next legislative session.
In late August, Newsom’s communication director Erin Mellon had said, “…(We) cannot support an untested mail-in election process that lacks critical provisions to protect the integrity of the election, and is predicated on an assumption that government cannot effectively enforce laws.”
Less than two weeks later, President Joe Biden took the unusual step of voicing support for a state bill.
“In the state with the largest population of farmworkers, the least we owe them is an easier path to make a free and fair choice to organize a union,” Biden said. “I am grateful to California’s elected officials and union leaders for leading the way.”
In a recent interview with FOX40 News, Newsom seemed to dismiss the pressure from the president.
“President Biden weighs in on a lot of issues,” the governor said. “We’ve had a chance to dialogue on a lot of issues. That bill is on my desk with a few hundred others. Gov. Brown took a look at it and made a decision as I did last year. We offered many amendments to UFW. I hope they’ll take a look at those amendments.”
Agricultural workers have historically been left out of labor legislation empowering workers. For example, the Fair Labors Standards Act passed by Congress in 1938 still exempts “employees who are employed in agriculture…from the overtime pay provisions” according to the U.S. Department of Labor website.
The National Labor Relations Act, which gave most privately employed U.S. workers the right to unionize, exempted select types of employees including agricultural workers though California farmworkers eventually gained the right in 1975 through state legislation.