After pressure from President Biden, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed new legislation Wednesday that makes it easier for farmworkers to join labor unions.
Assembly Bill 2183 allows agricultural workers to cast unionization ballots by mail or by dropping off a ballot at the Agricultural Labor Board, instead of at secret in-person election sites, often on farm owners’ property. The United Farm Workers and the California Labor Federation argue that onsite voting allows voter suppression and union-busting efforts.
In his statement announcing his signature, Newsom said that “California’s farmworkers are the lifeblood of our state, and they have the fundamental right to unionize and advocate for themselves in the workplace.”
Maureen McGuire, the CEO of the Ventura County Farm Bureau, commented on this Californian pride saying, “I think this is a great concern and that we should all be really proud to be Californians.”
Despite the benefit to workers, legal experts are expecting challenges to the bill if it passes.
“This legislation will be a game changer if it is allowed to stand as written and enacted. It won’t surprise me to see agricultural employers [or] business groups try to challenge it in court,” Thomas Lenz, a USC labor law professor, said.
Previously, Newsom was hesitant to accept the bill because of security concerns with the use of mailing ballots. He feared that procedural issues could compromise the integrity of unionization votes.
McGuire also said that the bill “has more to do with changing the way that the elections are run and changing the types of penalties to reduce the ability for employers to participate in the conversation.”
In September, dozens of United Farm Workers supporters trekked over 335 miles from Delano, California to Sacramento and camped out of the Capitol building for several weeks to garner attention for their cause and obtain Newsom’s support.
Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi all publicly shared their support for the AB 2183 bill after the United Farm Workers’ 24-day long march received national attention.
The fact that Harris and Pelosi, both from California, were supportive was not surprising to Lenz.
“It would make sense to me that they would take interest in something happening in their home state,” said Lenz.
In an official statement, Biden backed the workers’ movement, saying that “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,” he said. “I am grateful to California’s elected officials and union leaders for leading the way.”
Michael Schilf, a graduate of the USC School of Cinematic Arts, is working on a forthcoming documentary, titled “The Road to Sacramento,” about the lives of migrant workers, the injustices they face and the 335-mile march. Schilf said that most migrant farmers don’t vote due to intimidation and deportation as fear tactics.
“Sometimes an entire family works in the field, so [growers] may threaten to fire the entire family,” he said.
This bill promises to protect and prevent workers from this mistreatment, discrimination, and intimidation.
Maisy White contributed to this reporting.