On August 3rd a group of 25 farm workers began their 335-mile “March for the Governor’s Signature” which will conclude this Friday in Sacramento as they urge Newsom to sign Assembly Bill 2183. This bill, the Agricultural Labor Relations Voting Choice Act, would allow farmworkers to vote by mail in union elections without threat or intimidation.
Why does this matter? Under current law, these elections must take place in person on growers’ property. Though Newsom has championed vote by mail policies and access to voting, he vetoed a similar bill last year (Ab 616). Governor Newsom, it is time to right that wrong.
Farmworkers have long faced exclusion at the hands of policy makers. Under the historic New Deal Policies many Americans gained a new security net which would also provide labor protections, a federal minimum wage, child labor laws and a guarantee for overtime. Unfortunately however, under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) farmworkers (and domestic workers) were systematically excluded from these provisions. In the 1930s when farmworkers in the Central Valley organized large-scale cotton strikes they were descended upon with guns and batons, resulting in the murders of farmworkers in both Pixley and Arvin. Throughout the 60s and 70s at least 5 more farmworker martyrs lost their lives in the struggle for just wages, working conditions and dignity.
Praised as essential workers during the pandemic, and working through wildfire conditions even prior to COVID 19, farmworkers have continued to feed the world. Despite this however, farmworkers are among the most vulnerable to poverty, health conditions, and undocumented workers are constantly in fear retaliation and threat of deportation. Throughout the pandemic, I volunteered alongside community members handing out hundreds of food boxes, cash cards for farmworkers and vital health information. I heard stories from the fields, the conditions some of my own students have endured, and have seen children at the Linnell labor camp whose parents work tirelessly to provide for their families. They too should have the opportunity to earn just wages, conditions, dignity, and quality of life. They deserve the opportunity to have their voice and vote heard free from any intimidation.
Enduring 100+ Degree weather and 10+ miles on a daily basis, these marchers carry on a legacy of organizing and history in the Valley. Joining them along the way are the descendants of both Cesar Chavez and MLK, with Andres Chavez and Martin Luther King III marching alongside hundreds of others who have joined. Dolores Huerta, co-founder of the United Farmworkers and still fighting for justice at 92 years old has also joined farmworkers, reminding them that they too, are making history.
While you typically won’t find a farmworker family dining at the French Laundry, you will find them continuing to work to feed the rest of the world, perhaps picking those same fruits and vegetables that are served at this restaurant. While calluses and blisters develop as their hands dig deeper into the earth, Governor Newsom has the opportunity to stand on the right side of history, and I ask him to make the right decision.
To quote Cesar Chavez:
“Like the other immigrant groups, the day will come when we win the economic and political rewards which are in keeping with our numbers in society. The day will come when the politicians do the right thing by our people out of political necessity and not out of charity or idealism.”
Cesar concluded, “That day may not come this year. That day may not come during this decade. But it will come, someday!”
Si Se Puede.
Associate Professor of Political Science
College of the Sequoias
This letter to the editor is not a news article but the opinion of the writer and does not reflect the views of The Sun-Gazette newspaper.