The march for farm workers’ rights ends without support

Gov. Gavin Newsom announces he will not stand behind bill that would give farmworkers more union voting options in its current form but is open to negotiation

SACRAMENTO – Today marks the end of the United Farm Workers’ 335 mile march to support Assembly Bill 2183, which Newsom recently announced he would not support in its current form.

After 24 days of marching in the Central Valley’s greuling three-digit temperatures, the United Farm Workers’ (UFW) march to convince Gov. Gavin Newsom to sign Assembly Bill (AB) 2183 ended on Aug. 26. What was meant to be a march to victory was met with a call to revision, as Newsom announced a day before marchers reached Sacramento that he would not support the bill in its current form. Newsom is open to negotiation, however this is the second time a bill supported by UFW for voting rights will have to be changed.

“I’m extremely disappointed, as I’m sure many here in the Central Valley and the thousands of people that are gathered at the Capitol right now,” said College of the Sequoias political science professor Randy Villegas, an advocate of the UFW-backed bill. “I think Newsom has made a lot of promises, and I hope that people remember this.”

AB 2183 is also known as the Agricultural Labor Relations Voting Choice Act. It would allow farm workers to receive union ballots by mail or drop off ballots to the Agricultural Labor Relations Board (ALRB) office without the intimidation from employers. Currently, farm laborers are required to vote on the farm owners’ grounds. AB 2183 was created to mirror Assembly Bill 616 that Newsom vetoed last year, which postponed UFW’s March in 2021.

“Farm workers deserve the right to vote in their union elections free from intimidation or deportation,” Former assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez tweeted.

The reason Newsom cannot support the bill in its current form is due to the possible lack of integrity that the mail-in voting system could present, according to Erin Mellon, Governor Press Office representative. 

“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,” Mellon stated.

Mail-in ballots have been used in previous years by the state of California, especially during the height of the pandemic. However, the ability for farm workers to have the same voting option for union ballots is being limited, as have most opportunities that farm laborers have been excluded from since the 1930s, according to Villegas.

“I think this sort of just points to the governor’s hypocrisy as somebody who has attempted to champion mailing voting throughout the pandemic,” Villegas said. “There are other unions who vote by mail. This is something that is established, then this isn’t a question of whether it can be done. It’s really the fact that farmworkers were excluded hundreds of years ago.”

Mellon stated the governor’s office seeks to ensure fair elections by requiring employers to follow rules that “guarantee union access” and enforce protection to employees. The rules stated by the ALRB state actions restraining or coercing employees who are exercising their rights are unfair labor practices. 

“If employers fail to abide by those rules, they would be subject to organizing under a card-check process,” Mellon said.

Though employers haves rules they must follow, 75% of California’s farm workers are undocumented, according to the Center for Farmworker Families. Many undocumented farm workers are afraid of retaliation or deportation, according to Villegas. The rules set for employers can be easily overlooked due to the intimidation that surrounds workers, which is the very reason this bill came to be.

Villegas said that workers both young and old are affected by the continuation of injustices done to farmworkers. For one of his students, farm labor was one of the few jobs attainable for her because she could not obtain a workers permit, nor did she qualify for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, DACA.

“You look at individuals who are both young and old and who continue to work in the fields and are not offered the same opportunities as individuals and other industries and other sectors and not offered the opportunity to unionize,” Villegas said.

The UFW march to support the bill had roughly 5,000 people who joined the trek from Delano to Sacramento, trailing the same route Cesar Chavez walked 56 years ago. The bill was authored by assembly members Mark Stone from Santa Cruz, Ash Kalra from the San Jose area, and Eloise Gómez Reyes of San Bernardino and has garnered support from thousands, including The California Labor Federation, Sacramento city councilmember Eric Guerra and former assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher.

Some marchers endured the entire 335 miles, away from family, work and comfort, which the UFW website stated has “sorely taxed them physically and emotionally.” 

UFW reported that every town the march made it to had supporters providing food, water, shoes and shelter to marchers. Even nurses came out to check on those that were marching. UFW has yet to announce where they will go from here.

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