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Gov. Newsom signs off on legislation to that will benefit farm workers.
Gov. Newsom signs off on legislation to that will benefit farm workers. Photo: Office of Governor Gavin Newsom

California Governor Newsom reverses and signs off on unionization law for farm workers

The Biden-backed legislation was approved after persistence from UFW and the California Labor Federation.

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On Wednesday, Sept. 28, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed off on a bill that has been sitting on his desk for most of the Summer. He was joined outside of the state capital by over 20 farmworkers who have camped outside of the capital for most of September in hopes of pressuring the governor to sign off on the legislation. 

“California’s farmworkers are the lifeblood of our state, and they have the fundamental right to unionize and advocate for themselves in the workplace. 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,” Newsom said outside of the capital. 

The legislation, Assembly Bill 2183, expands union and voting rights for the hundreds of thousands of farm workers in the state. First introduced by Democrat Mark Stone, the bill will allow farm workers to vote in union elections in new ways. 

In addition to the already instituted in-person voting method, the bill would also include other methods, such as mail-in ballots, and authorization cards submitted to the California Agricultural Labor Relations Board. 

The approval comes nearly a month after hundreds of members of the historic organization, The United Farm Workers of America (UFW), founded nearly half a century ago by Cesar Chaves and Dolores Huerta, led a 24-day and 335 mile march from their headquarters in Fresno County to the state capital in Sacramento. 

Even Huerta joined in on the march for one of their stops. However, for some of the farm workers, they lost their jobs over the decision to join.

In what has been a rather contentious year for the governor, the bill was backed early by President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, which amped up the pressure on Newsom. This came after his office announced that they would not be signing it.

After some negotiations between the governor, the UFW and the state labor federation on the clarification of some of the language of the bill, it was decided that some of Newsom’s concerns will be discussed in next year’s legislative session. His focus was over voter integrity and its implementation. 

Regardless, Newsom still signed off on the bill. 

California’s farm workers are responsible for most of the country’s harvest of fruits and vegetables and with the new legislation, are now being given more freedoms in relation to voting and unionization. It also offers some protection from intimidation and union busting, as now farm workers will not have to vote on the farm property itself. 

According to Newsom’s office, the new bill will also allow state regulators to protect worker confidentiality and safety by instituting a cap on the number of unionization petitions over the course of the next five years. The original version of the bill had a clause that would allow unionization through mail-in voting, but Newsom threw it out and kept a “card check” 

election process. 

Jamie Johansson, president of the California Farm Bureau, issued a statement on the legislation expressing his disapproval for the mail-in clause. 

"Farm Bureau stands with California's agricultural employees and will continue to defend their right to make uncoerced choices about union representation. However, the governor's unfortunate decision to sign this bill will create a mail-in balloting system that threatens the integrity of secret ballot elections and leaves farm employees vulnerable to intimidation by union organizers with an obvious interest in the outcome,” he said. 

“It also forces California's farmers and ranchers to choose to give up free speech and private property rights in a dubious trade to allow their employees a real voice in a union election,” Johansson continued. 

Regarding Newsom’s concerns of implementation, the UFW issued a release saying it looks forward to working with the governor and legislature to make sure it goes smoothly.

“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,” UFW said.

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