A broadly smiling governor, Gavin Newsom, joined about two dozen jubilant and enthusiastic farmworkers camped outside the state Capitol on Wednesday to sign one of the most controversial bills before him this year, reversing the course of a measure to help farm workers unionize after President Joe Biden and the Vice President. Kamala Harris supported him.
The White House backing put Newsom in a difficult political position after his office announced before Democratic lawmakers sent him the bill that he would not sign it.
But Newsom only approved the bill after he, the United Farm Workers and the California Labor Federation agreed on clarification of language to consider when next year’s legislative session to address their concerns about the implementation and integrity of the vote.
The new law gives California farmworkers, who harvest much of the country’s fruits and vegetables, new ways to vote in union elections beyond physical polling places on farm properties. Proponents say it would help protect workers from union busting and other intimidation, while owners say such a system lacks the necessary safeguards to prevent fraud.
The agreement includes a cap on the number of unionization petitions over the next five years and will allow state regulators to better protect worker privacy and safety, Newsom’s office said. This would remove the ability for workers to unionize through mail-in voting which is contained in the current language, but retains a “card check” election process.
“Sí, se puede,” chanted the farmworkers as Newsom signed the bill, echoing UFW’s longstanding slogan — basically, “Yes, we can” in Spanish.
The union led a week-long summer march across the state to Sacramento, where farmworkers and their supporters rallied outside the Capitol, some camping outside until September in a bid to win the support from Newsom.
“The vigil and the march was worth it because he came and signed for us,” farmworker Teresa Maldonado said through an interpreter.
The walk cost Xochilt Nunez his job as a fruit picker, several toenails and left him with blisters on his feet. But she was on the verge of tears after Newsom signed the legislation, plus an extra copy for Nunez to keep.
“California farmworkers are the cornerstone of our state, and they have a fundamental right to organize and defend themselves in the workplace,” Newsom said in a statement after the bill was signed.
Newsom vetoed similar legislation last year, as did his two most recent predecessors. One of his expressed concerns was about security issues around mail-in elections, an option that would be eliminated in the union-agreed cleanup language.
The revised law would retain the card verification option, which would still give farm workers the ability to “vote from home or anywhere else they feel comfortable” and limit the risk of employer intimidation,” said Giev Kashkooli, United Farm Workers legislative and policy director. In such a system, a union is formed if more than half of the workers sign the authorization card.
The California Farm Bureau said it was “deeply disappointed” with Newsom’s decision to sign the bill, although the group’s statement focused primarily on the mail-in ballot system. The union did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment on the language to remove this option.
Democratic Assemblyman Mark Stone added provisions to this year’s version that would let the law expire after five years unless renewed by lawmakers, and requiring the Labor Relations Commission in the agriculture to manage the ballots.
Newsom has positioned himself for months as one of the leading national Democratic voices calling out state governors red, fueling speculation that he has presidential ambitions despite his repeated denials.
Mike Madrid, a Republican strategist from California who specializes in Latin American voting trends, read Biden’s Labor Day statement strongly backing the legislation in an effort to take Newsom down a notch.
“I think it’s impossible to avoid the reality that there’s a bit of tension between these two politicians because of Gavin’s posture in leaning into this presidential rumor mill,” Madrid said. “It’s basically just a reminder of who the sheriff is.”
Biden has long supported the union. He keeps a bust of union co-founder Cesar Chavez in the Oval Office and Chavez’s granddaughter, Julie Chavez Rodriguez, is Biden’s director of intergovernmental affairs.
“In the state with the largest population of agricultural workers, the less we owe them is an easier path to making a free and fair choice to organize a union,” Biden said in his statement.
Jack Pitney, political science professor at Claremont McKenna College, said Biden seemed to reflect his longstanding support for unions, while Newsom had the more delicate task of balancing labor relations with an agricultural industry that is also struggling. .
Adding to the pressure, the struggling UFW recently joined the California Federation of Labor. The issue of unionizing farm workers has become more critical for labor in 2020 after the US Supreme Court ruled that union organizers were barred from accessing farmers’ properties to speak to their workers. .
newsom signed another union-backed bill on Labor Day, establishment of a Fast Food Council empowered to set minimum standards for wages, hours, and working conditions in California. The restaurant industry decided to block it a day later.