By MADISON HIRNEISEN
THE CENTER SQUARE STAFF REPORTER
(The Center Square) — Facing pressure from President Joe Biden, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and labor leaders, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill that will make it easier for California farmworkers to unionize while growers say the law stifles worker independence.
The governor’s signature on Assembly Bill 2183 on Wednesday represents a change from a few weeks ago when Mr. Newsom indicated he might veto the bill. Lawmakers advanced the bill to the governor’s desk in the final days of the legislative session despite his concerns. Gov. Newsom vetoed a previous version of this bill last year.
Gov. Newsom’s office announced Wednesday that the governor signed the bill after reaching an agreement with the United Farm Workers and the California Labor Federation to add “clarifying language” through another bill next year.
“California’s farmworkers are the lifeblood of our state, and they have the fundamental right to unionize and advocate for themselves in the workplace,” Gov. Newsom said in a statement. “Our state has been defined by the heroic activism of farmworkers, championed by American icons like Cesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta, and Larry Itliong. California is proud to stand with the next generation of leaders carrying on this movement.”
AB 2183 expands options for how farmworkers can vote for union representation. The new law would give farmworkers the option to decide whether they want to vote at a physical location or vote by mailing a union representative ballot card to the Agricultural Labor Relations Board.
The bill received strong support from the United Farm Workers and other labor groups who argued that the bill is needed to provide a mail-in option to workers who tend to face intimidation from supervisors to vote against unionizing.
It was opposed by the California Farm Bureau Federation, which said the measure would “strip agricultural employees of their rights to express their sentiments about unionization in secret-ballot elections conducted by the Agricultural Labor Relations Board, free from fear, intimidation, coercion, or trickery exerted by anyone interested in the outcome.” Republican lawmakers said the bill suppresses opposition to unions by workers afraid of retaliation.
According to Gov. Newsom’s office, the “supplemental agreement” reached on the clarifying language includes a cap on the amount of card-check petitions over the next five years and allows the ALRB to “adequately protect worker confidentiality.”
Gov. Newsom had previously indicated he was going to veto AB 2183, but he faced pressure in recent weeks from Democrats at the national level to sign it. President Biden issued a statement in support of the measure on Labor Day, and Speaker Pelosi also joined the chorus in support.
“Farmworkers worked tirelessly and at great personal risk to keep food on America’s tables during the pandemic,” President Biden wrote. “In the state with the largest population of farmworkers, the least we owe them is an easier path to make a free and fair choice to organize a union.”
The bill’s signing represents a hard-fought win for California farmworkers, some of whom marched for 24 days and 335 miles to urge Gov. Newsom to sign the bill.
“Farm workers across the state organized and sacrificed to make their voices heard and to pass AB 2183,” the UFW wrote in a statement Wednesday. “California and many parts of the country heard their voices, and farm workers felt the deep and historic solidarity from all parts of California and all across the nation.
“We look forward to working with Gov. Newsom and the legislature to make agreed-upon changes that will ease implementation of AB 2183 so that farm workers can participate in elections free from intimidation and deportation beginning next year.”
Madison Hirneisen covers California for The Center Square.