By MADISON HIRNEISEN
THE CENTER SQUARE STAFF REPORTER
(The Center Square) — California could soon allow farmworkers to vote by mail in union elections under a bill that was advanced by Assembly lawmakers.
Under the legislation, farmworkers would be given the option to choose whether they want to vote for unionization by mail, at a physical location or by dropping off their representation ballot card at the Agricultural Labor Relations Board office.
The bill passed the Assembly in a 49-22 vote last week and now moves on to the Senate.
Supporters of the bill say a mail-in ballot option is necessary for farmworkers who often face intimidation from supervisors and forepersons to vote against unionizing. Under the existing Agricultural Labor Relations Act, union elections are required to take place onsite and typically occur at a grower’s property, which supporters of AB 2183 say leads to outside influence when it comes time to vote.
Roman Pinal, organizing director with the United Farm Workers, told The Center Square in April that “creating an environment that reduces intimidation is very appealing for farm workers who’d like to unionize.”
In addition to allowing mail-in voting, the bill would also allow a labor organization to obtain an employee list with names and contact information after providing written notice of an intention to organize workers. Employers would be required to respond with an employee list or written arguments against providing a list within five days. If an employer fails to respond, they could be fined up to $10,000.
Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoed a similar measure last year after it passed the Assembly and Senate. In his veto message, Gov. Newsom said the bill contained “various inconsistencies and procedural issues related to the collection and review of ballot cards” that would have run afoul with a 2021 U.S. Supreme Court decision over agricultural unionizing.
The bill’s author, Assemblymember Mark Stone, D-Monterey Bay, told lawmakers last week that he has agreed to accept amendments and had “really productive discussions with the governor and with the other stakeholders who are interested in this bill.” He noted, however, that the bill is not one that “governor completely agrees yet,” though he is working with Gov. Newsom’s office to resolve issues.
“What (the bill) represents right now is a very viable solution to allow farmworkers to be able to vote on union elections, organizing elections utilizing a mail ballot like we all do in our other elections in California,” Assemblymember Stone said last week.
The bill faced opposition from multiple organizations, including the California Chamber of Commerce and the Western Growers Association. In a statement, the Western Growers Association said “the bill implicitly condones the coercion and intimidation of farm employees,” adding that “a union seeking recognition under the AB 2183 ‘ballot card’ process may choose which workers receive a ballot and when (or even whether or not) the election occurs.”
“Should a union satisfy the conditions set forth in AB 2183 to win representation rights, some farmworkers included in the bargaining unit will never have a chance to express a preference for or against representation,” the association wrote.
The bill will now move to the Senate Rules Committee, where it will be assigned to other Senate committees.
Madison Hirneisen covers California for The Center Square.