From TheCalifornian.com, “Editorial: Card check no friend of farmworkers” 18 May 2011.
[CA] — On Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk is a bill that will change the way farm workers in California decide whether they want union representation.
Given Brown’s pro-union history and fierce support for the rights of farmworkers, he is likely to sign into law Senate Bill 104 — the so-called Fair Treatment for Farm Workers Act.
But before he does, the governor should reflect mightily on his strong ties and passionate work on behalf of “los campesinos.” Brown was governor in 1975 when he signed the state’s groundbreaking Agriculture Labor Relations Law. Back then, he was not averse to showing his support by marching alongside farm labor and Chicano civil rights leader Cesar Chavez. Led by Chavez, the United Farm Workers and their supporters in Sacramento and around the state, the ALRA was passed, creating the right of farm laborers to determine their representation. It was a proud moment for farm labor — even the National Labor Relations Act still has no provisions for the rights of farmworkers.
Now, by signing SB 104, Brown essentially will dismantle nearly all he, Chavez and the farmworkers fought for.
SB 104 would create a “card check” system in which employers must recognize a union if a simple majority of workers sign an authorization card. It would allow workers to establish a collective bargaining unit if a majority of workers sign on petitions submitted to the Agricultural Labor Relations Board.
The current process of holding an election at a polling place for union representation also remains an option, but it’s clear that the UFW wants to change the rules of the game with SB 104.
The card check system skips the secret ballot election created by the ALRA. The card check amounts to a short cut for unions, leaving farmworkers, once again, vulnerable to pressure from both sides.
The UFW claims that card check will protect workers against intimidation. That will be a neat trick to prove. According to the bill, the name and address of every worker signing a card will be on file with the state as a matter of public record. Both union and non-union advocates will have access to them. So where’s the worker protection in the card check system? SB 104 also would tighten penalties for employers who interfere with farm-labor organizing efforts. Yet it provides no penalties for unions that might coerce or intimidate workers into signing the cards.
As they are doing today with SB 104, growers and shippers in years past growled that allowing farmworkers to unionize would send their costs soaring. However, the political and economic pressure placed on them to raise the pay for farm work and sign union contracts guaranteeing employee benefits and improvements of working conditions in the fields didn’t deter the growth of agriculture in regions such as the Salinas Valley where their business evolved into a multibillion-dollar industry.
Times change. Though farmworkers remain among the lowest paid of American wage earners, some of them are paid higher in this state. And some employers now provide health and pension benefits.
Meanwhile, the UFW admittedly has had problems building its membership. A Wall Street Journal editorial cites U.S. Department of Labor figures which show UFW rolls down to 5,219 in 2010 from 5,638 in 2004. No doubt that outsourcing of U.S. farm jobs and importing farm products, fueled by the North American Free Trade Agreement launched during the Clinton Administration, have played a role in frustrating union membership drives.
In fact, national figures show that in the private sector, union membership in general is down significantly.
In response, the UFW and its Democratic friends in Sacramento introduce card check. It smacks of a desperate move on the side of labor to make it easier to increase membership when secret ballot elections don’t seem to be doing the job.
Maybe it’s not the state’s farm-labor relations system that’s broken but the union’s approach to organizing workers or acting in their best interests.
From presidential elections to voting for school board members to deciding whether to join a union, Americans have relied on the secret ballot to vote their conscience without fear or repercussion.
By signing SB 104, the governor will end that protection for California farmworkers.