Newsom surprises many, signs farm worker union bill into law

Gov. Newsom signs Ag Labor Relations Voting Choice Act, into law after a month of negotiations determining the final changes in language before it goes before a new legislative session in January

SACRAMENTO – Over a month ago, hundreds marched 335 miles to the capital, only to be met with what they thought was defeat. What they didn’t know was Gov. Gavin Newsom did not veto AB 2183, he only voiced his concerns. 

On Sept. 28, Gov. Newsom surprised many by signing the Ag Labor Relations Voting Choice Act – AB 2183 – into law. His signature did not come easily as he had a few concerns about the bill. When the marchers arrived at the capital on Aug. 26, AB 2183 had not yet made it to Newsom’s desk. At that time, without reading the bill, the governor’s office expressed their concerns about its passage. Many accepted the concerns as an intent to veto, leaving several feeling defeated, but others felt even more  inspired.

“The farmworkers never stopped,”  Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher, leader of California Labor Federation said. “They continued to just garner so much support and community support, legislative support, political support, media support, that I think it helped create a situation by which [the governor’s office, United Farm Workers and the California Labor Federation] had to come to an agreement.”

After marchers arrived at the capital, the confusion came from a statement from the governor’s office, the press office representative Erin Melon said, “We cannot support an untested mail-in election process that lacks critical provisions to protect the integrity of the election.” 

However, what many did not realize is that the governor’s office left the door wide open for compromise. 

“We welcome an agreement with UFW on the ground-breaking legislation the administration has proposed,” Melon said. 

After the bill did come across the governor’s desk, his office worked together with United Farm Workers (UFW) and the California Labor Federation to reach an agreement on how to pass the bill with the necessary changes. After many negotiations, all parties involved agreed to a letter that would clarify language in the bill in the next legislative session.

There is usually no changing a bill once it has reached the governor’s desk; there are two options, sign or veto. However, the governor does have the option to add clarifying language according to Gonzalez Fletcher. That means the governor can pass a bill with the intent that certain changes will be implemented.

AB 2183 was a bit different from simply adding clarifying language. The governor’s concerns he wanted to address were around implantation and voting integrity. As a former legislator, Gonzalez Fletcher said the communications between the governor and the other parties is something that is rare. 

“I think what [is seldom] seen is where both sides come together and say, ‘okay, this is what we’re going to work on passing to clean it up,’ ” Gonzalez Fletcher said. “ I think that’s because [AB 2183] is so complex, and there’s so many different moving parts.”  

According to the governor’s office, the supplemental agreement between the Newsom Administration, UFW and the California Labor Federation includes a cap on the number of card-check petitions over the next five years, and will allow the ALRB to adequately protect worker confidentiality and safety. This additional agreement would be codified into law with a bill next year that would be supported by both the administration and the union. 

“California’s farmworkers are the lifeblood of our state, and they have the fundamental right to unionize and advocate for themselves in the workplace,” Gov. Newsom said. “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.”

Farm workers and supporters of the bill celebrate this as a huge win for equalized rights for farm workers. The mayor of Delano, Bryan Osorio, was one of the supporters who began the march with farm workers as they departed for their journey from Delano.

“This was a very important bill for the United Farm Workers, and many allied organizations across the Central Valley and across California, who want farmworkers to have a better or safer way of voting in union elections,” Osorio said. 

Gonzalez Fletcher said the farmworkers were to thank for a lot of the work in coming to the supplemental agreement because they gained support from several in different entities. Cities sent letters of support, hoping to change Newsom’s mind as it seemed he intended to veto the bill.

Delano was one of the towns that sent a letter in support for the bill a week or two ago, alongside several other democratic lawmakers. “We’re all trying to do our part in changing his mind, I am glad whatever it amounted to, he did,” Osorio said.

Introduced by Assemblyman Mark Stone (D-Santa Cruz), AB 2183 allows farm workers to receive union ballots by mail, and thus vote by mail rather than risk intimidation at their place of work. It also authorizes cards submitted to the California Agricultural Labor Relations Board (ALRB), in addition to the existing in person voting process.

In August, hundreds of farm workers and supporters of AB 2183, marched 335 miles from Delano to the Capital. They began on Aug. 3 and ended their journey on Aug. 26 on farmworker appreciation day. They marched along the same route Cesar Chavez took decades before. There were 25 permanent marchers who hiked all 335 miles from start to finish. Volunteers joined along the way, for a few miles or a few days to show their support. 

Marchers stopped each night in a different location where each city fed individuals and provided them with lodging. They marched for 24 days, anywhere from 9 to 20 miles each day, only to reach the capital and hear words of what sounded like defeat on Aug. 26. 

In 2021, Gov. Newsom vetoed a similar bill, AB 616, also by Stone, for similar reasons including inconsistencies. Now that AB 2183 is law, it is impossible to say how agriculture will be impacted as it is too early. Osorio said he is hopeful this bill will pay off for those who have been working in the 100 plus degree weather, and have fought so hard for this bill. 

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