UFW, Unions & Organized Labor

Analysis: Brown Hedges his Political Bets with Veto of Farmworker ‘Card Check’ Bill

From MercuryNews.com, Josh Richman, Oakland Tribune, 2 Jul 2011.

Some Democrats say Gov. Jerry Brown checkmated their hopes Tuesday with his last-minute veto of the “card check” bill for farm workers, but analysts say he’s playing a bigger game of chess.

The United Farm Workers, whom Brown courted last year by reminding them of his ties to founder Cesar Chavez, saw him as their best hope for passage of their longtime top legislative priority: letting unions bargain for employees without an election, by just gathering signatures from a majority of workers affirming they wanted to be represented.

Brown this week sounded as sympathetic as one can in a veto message.

“SB 104 is indeed a drastic change and I appreciate the frustrations that have given rise to it. But, I am not yet convinced that the far-reaching proposals of this bill — which alter in a significant way the guiding assumptions of the ALRA — are justified,” he wrote, referring to the Agricultural Labor Relations Act he signed into law in 1975. “I am deeply committed to the success of the ALRA and stand ready to engage in whatever discussions — public and private — that will accomplish the appropriate changes.”

State Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, SB 104’s author, said Brown had “missed a historic opportunity to help the hardest working people in California improve their standard of living and working conditions. I will continue to fight for their cause.”

So might Brown, experts say — just not right now.

“It’s sort of like Obama on same-sex marriage: ‘Hang in there, I’m coming closer,’ ” said Dan Schnur, a longtime Republican political strategist who now directs the University of Southern California’s Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics.

“Every political leader has two competing simultaneous imperatives, persuading the undecided and motivating your supporters,” he said. “Labor is not going to switch sides and go Republican in the next election, although (Brown) needs to make sure they’re sufficiently motivated to turn out on behalf of the things that are important to him.”

With three years to go until Brown seeks re-election, assuming he even wants a second term, he has three more chances to sign a bill like this, Schnur said.

But among this bill’s biggest foes was the California Chamber of Commerce, whose president in March broke from the Republicans with whom he’s often allied by agreeing with Brown that the state budget should include tax extensions as well as spending cuts. Brown’s “card check” veto pleased the chamber enormously.

“The governor certainly recognized that we must all work to create certainty for employers and protect our economy, particularly in light of a state budget that relies on revenue materializing, in his veto of this job killer bill,” Chamber President Allan Zaremberg said.

Brown had no reason to alienate the business community before he needs its support — or at least its neutrality — as he tries to convince voters next year to restore higher tax rates, Schnur said. “Having the business community on his side for that special election is going to be critical if he wants to succeed next year.”

“The only reason to sign it now is because he thinks it’s a good idea,” agreed Corey Cook, director of the University of San Francisco’s Leo T. McCarthy Center for Public Service and the Common Good. “It’s hard to imagine an explanation for this other than his concern with medium-term political interests and how he can move the states on some of these other things — he absolutely needs business support.”

So what does Brown lose? The respect of some of who supported his election, surely.

In a post to the Calitics blog entitled “Shame,” liberal activist Robert Cruickshank of Monterey wrote, “Brown pulled (stuff) like this all the time when he was governor in the 1970s and 1980s, vetoing or opposing legislation that his allies strongly backed. It infuriated Democrats and helped give an opening to the right. More of that is the price we paid for beating Meg Whitman.

“If all-cuts budgets and vetoing labor legislation is what we’re going to get from Governor Brown, let’s hope he decides on only one term, and lets California move on to better leadership in 2014,” he wrote.

But if he doesn’t? It’s not as if the UFW and other unions, or Latinos — who sided overwhelmingly with him in 2010 over Republican Meg Whitman, who had Latino issues of her own — are likely to abandon him and flock to the GOP on this or other issues.

Meanwhile, he gains newly burnished credentials as a governor who’s willing to buck his party and his party’s prime patrons when he sees the need. “(T)hank you for saving valley ag by vetoing card check! I know it took courage to buck your party,” Assemblywoman Linda Halderman, R-Fresno, posted Wednesday on Twitter.

“Brown is touting himself as somebody who travels the middle road and who as a result of that has the best potential for bringing together the polarized elements,” said San Jose State University Political Science Professor Larry Gerston, who noted the budget process this year has been acrimonious and “this was an opportunity for him to build his relationship with Republicans an opportunity for them to begin the healing process.”

In fact, Gerston opined, Brown probably has talked more with Republicans in his first six months than former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger did in seven years. “He’s wise enough to know that relationships are built on much more than a single vote or a single issue. You just don’t want to slam the door when there are so many more opportunities for people to walk through it.”

Brown could better have finessed his labor and Latino allies, said Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, senior scholar in the University of Southern California’s School of Policy, Planning and Development. “I can’t believe he didn’t talk this over with the labor guys before the veto came down — he’s too smart to blindside his allies.”

But “this is a way for Jerry and the business community to come to some sort of an agreement on where this goes next,” she said. “And where are the unions going to go? He’s not really risking a whole lot.”

Source: MercuryNews.com, “Analysis: Brown hedges his political bets with veto of farmworker ‘card check’ bill” by Josh Richman, Oakland Tribune, 2 Jul 2011.

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