Governor Gavin Newsom signed the farmworkers union bill, Assembly Bill 2183, which will allow farmworkers to vote for or against unionization.
On August 24, 2022 a 24-day march in effort to persuade Governor Newsom to sign this bill started in Delano and ended in Sacramento. This new law will go into effect in January 2023.
Antonio De Loera-Brust, communications director for the United Farm Workers said both the 24-day march and the month-long 24/7 vigil outside the Capitol that followed were absolutely major factors in getting this bill passed and signed by the Governor.
“Thousands of farm workers and their allies rallying outside the State Capitol is hard to ignore. We were incredibly heartened by the enormous outpouring of support from the public for farm workers that occurred during the march and the vigil, and it just goes to show that while farm workers too often toil silently in the margins of our society, when farm workers speak up, their voices can be heard loud and clear in the halls of power,” said De Loera-Brust .
De Loera-Brust said they look forward to working together with the government to implement AB2183 as soon as possible in 2023.
“Getting AB2183 signed into law is an enormous victory for farm workers, which will significantly lower barriers to farm workers’ ability to organize themselves and demand better pay and conditions for the essential work that they do putting food on America’s table,” said De Loera-Brust. “The farm workers who feed America work long hours, often in difficult or even dangerous conditions of heat, smoke, or spreading disease and too often they have too little to show for it. At the end of the day, what this is all about is empowering farm workers to shape their own lives.”
He also said farm workers experience many problems from food insecurity to struggling to afford decent housing, they clearly need to be able to demand higher wages and stronger protections from their employers when necessary and only a union can provide that guarantee.
“Agriculture has always been one of the most difficult industries to organize. California’s agricultural labor force is disproportionately immigrant, Spanish-speaking, and living below the poverty line,” said De Loera-Brust . “For many farmworkers, trying to organize a union doesn’t just mean risking getting fired. It means risking deportation. AB2183 makes it possible for farm workers to organize in a safe, democratic, and accessible way free from intimidation, employer retaliation, or the threat of deportation. That in turn, will allow farm workers to gain union representation and thus improve their working conditions and the economic situation of their families.”
The UFW proposed to expand options for farm workers to unionize by a voting through the mail or a process where ballot cards are dropped off like card checks. Newsom striked the voting by mail, but said he would leave the card check process to state law.
“While the exact implementation details are still pending, under AB2183, farm workers will be able to use a simple card check process for a union election. The card check process means farm workers need only to sign an authorization card or petition whereby they request union representation,” said De Loera-Brust. “A third party or state agency will then review the signatures against employer records and confirm if the union has demonstrated a majority. If so, the Union is certified to represent the employees. This process is significantly more accessible and allows workers to vote for a union without exposing themselves to as high a risk of retaliation or intimidation as under current law.”
Priscilla Luna attended the march and said the march and the power of organizing absolutely helped put pressure on Newsom to sign the bill because his original position was not in support.
“The bill will allow farmworkers to vote by mail in union elections without the intimidation of owners and union busting. This was a big win for farm workers. Newsom didn’t want to sign and he waited until the very last day to sign the bill,” said Luna. “I thought that was cruel and unnecessary. Personally I would give newsom zero credit for this win because it was clear to me that he had zero intentions of supporting the demands of our farm workers.”
Although Newsom signed the bill, the bill will still need to go through the legislative process again. Lawmakers will get together again in January 2023 to start this process, but it is unknown if they will approve the changes to the bill.
“Farm workers deserve dignity and respect. They keep food on our tables and they are essential and it saddened me to see them have to beg for Newsom’s support. It shouldn’t have to be this way,” said Luna. “We need politicians that work for the people, not the other way around. Farm workers are the most hard working people I know and the community came out to show their love and appreciation. We shouldn’t have to fight this hard for basic human rights.”
De Loera-Brust said going back to the 1930s, agriculture has been excluded from many of the labor laws and protections that apply to other industries. He said the realities of the broken immigration system also make the agricultural labor force particularly vulnerable to retaliation, as both undocumented workers and workers on visas are denied access to American citizenship and the full labor rights and protections that it offers.
“As the labor movement enjoys a national resurgence, it is essential that this revitalization of labor activism also reaches California’s Central Valley. California’s overwhelmingly Latino agricultural workforce is both one of the most vulnerable and essential workforces in America,” said De Loera-Brust. “Farmworker organizing will not just empower them, it will empower the rural Latino communities across the Central Valley that farm workers call home. The future success of the farm worker movement is key to both the national strength of the broader American labor movement and to improving Latino Americans’ place in California’s society and economy.”