Legislation, UFW, Unions & Organized Labor

Assembly Passes Bill Sympathetic to Farmworkers

From SFGate.com, Sheila V. Kumar, Associated Press, 8 Sept 2011.

Sacramento CA — Farmworker unions in California would be certified automatically if an employer is found to be guilty of election misconduct under a bill that passed the state Assembly Thursday.

SB126 by Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, a Democrat from Sacramento, would punish election misconduct by growers by allowing the state Agricultural Labor Relations Board to grant the farmworkers’ union automatic certification. It passed the Assembly on a 46-24 vote and heads to the Senate.

Democratic Assemblyman Luis Alejo of Watsonville, who carried the bill in the Assembly, said the legislation addresses employer misconduct while protecting the rights of agricultural workers. Assemblyman Bill Monning, D-Whittier, said the bill was framed as a compromise worked out with the governor to address the employers who knowingly violate workers’ rights.

“It is a remedy to bring balance in an arena to affect the worst actors — not the people who played by the rules, not the people who follow the election laws, but for the people who consciously violate the law,” he said.

Republican Assemblyman and ranch owner Bill Berryhill of Ceres said the bill enacts a dangerous policy that gives too much power to bureaucrats who haven’t been officially appointed.

“This is simply stacking the deck against agriculture,” he said. “And I might add agriculture is one of the bright spots in the Golden State’s economy right now, and we’re going out to destroy it.”

Berryhill said the growers would have been willing to negotiate a bill that worked with both parties, but the final language instead pits farmers against their employees.

The bill comes after Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed another farmworker unionization bill by Steinberg earlier this summer. That legislation, SB104, would have made it easier for unions to organize farmworkers by allowing them to sign petitions away from the fields instead of through the secret ballot elections they hold now.

Brown signed the California Agricultural Labor Relations Act during his first stint as governor in 1975, but he said he was concerned Steinberg’s first bill would change the framework of the original law. Brown also has said he thinks farmworkers are deprived of some of their rights.

Opponents of that measure, known as the card-check bill, argue that it was written only to boost membership of the United Farm Workers union. California UFW membership has declined more than 70,000 since the 1970s. There are currently 27,000 workers in the UFW, a small fraction of the state’s 460,000 agricultural workers.

Steinberg said after the first bill was vetoed that he would continue to fight for the farmworkers’ cause.

Source: SFGate.com, “Assembly passes bill sympathetic to farmworkers” by Sheila V. Kumar, Associated Press, 8 Sept 2011.

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