White House backs farmworkers union bill awaiting Newsom signature – Orange County Register

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Over Labor Day weekend, President Joe Biden weighed in on a California bill meant to make it easier for farmworkers to organize and vote in union elections.

“Farmworkers worked tirelessly and at great personal risk to keep food on America’s tables during the pandemic,” Biden said. “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.”

From Assemblyman Mark Stone, D-Monterey Bay, AB 2183 would allow farmworkers to choose whether they want to vote in unionization elections in person, by mail or by dropping off a ballot card to the Agriculture Labor Relations Board. Now, employees vote by a secret ballot at a physical polling place, usually the place of employment, designed by the ALRB.

Supporters of the bill, including the United Farm Workers, have said it will make it easier for farmworkers to vote in union elections free from intimidation.

But Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office recently said he would not approve the bill. The governor — who signed a landmark fast food workers bill into law on Labor Day — vetoed a similar measure last year, citing “various inconsistencies and procedural issues related to the collection and review of ballot cards.”

“Government should work to remove — not erect — barriers to workers organizing,” Biden said in his statement which did not specifically mention Newsom. “But ultimately workers must make the choice whether to organize a union.”

On Labor Day, Vice President Kamala Harris shared Biden’s statement on social media, adding: “California farm workers have gone above and beyond to provide food for people across our nation. It’s long past due that we create an easier path for these workers to organize a union.”

And last month, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi weighed in, specifically imploring Newsom to sign the bill.

California “farmworkers provide for our families — but far too many can’t provide for theirs because they’re exploited and don’t have a voice on the job,” Pelosi said. “We can mend this injustice by expanding workers’ rights.”

But the Western Growers, an association representing local and regional family produce farmers in California, said the bill would “undermine the secret ballot election process as established by the Agricultural Labor Relations Act.”

“The secret ballot serves as one of the core elements for the protection of a farmworker’s right to a free and uncoerced choice in deciding to vote either for or against union representation,” Matthew Allen, Western Growers’ vice president of state government affairs, testified before lawmakers earlier this year.

More than 407,000 Californians were employed in the agriculture sector in 2021, according to the state Employment Development Department. In Orange County, between 1,501 to 5,000 people worked in agriculture last year.

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