California farmworkers push bill to allow vote-by-mail unionization, worker info disclosure

The governor vetoed a similar measure last year after it passed through the Legislature.
California State Flag
California State Flag
(Photo by George Rose/Getty Images)

Legislation that would allow California farmworkers to vote by mail to unionize will be heard in an Assembly committee later this month. Farmworkers are calling on Gov. Gavin Newsom to sign the bill if it reaches his desk.

The Agricultural Labor Relations Voting Choice Act, AB 2183, would give farmworkers the choice of voting for unionization at a physical location, voting by mail or by dropping off a representation ballot card at the Agricultural Labor Relations Board office.

Supporters of the bill say that the law would provide additional voting options to workers who often face intimidation from supervisors and forepersons to vote against unionizing.

Under the existing Agricultural Labor Relations Act, union elections must take place onsite and typically occur at a grower's property – a requirement supporters say leads to outside influence when it comes time to vote.

"Creating an environment that reduces intimidation is very appealing for farm workers who'd like to unionize," Roman Pinal, organizing director with the United Farm Workers, told The Center Square.

The bill would allow union organizers to know via mailed in ballots which workers want to unionize in lieu of a secret ballot election that would happen on site, a measure that opponents say would be advantageous for the union. The legislation would also require the company to provide organizers with "a specified list of current employees" or face fines of up to $10,000.

Maria Garcia, a union farmworker from Tulare County who volunteers much of her time, labors seasonally at a rose farm and spends the rest of her time at other non-union farms. She told The Center Square that supervisors had told her and other workers who work seasonally at non-union farms that they would be fired for attempting to organize a union at the farm.

Garcia said that with the option to vote by mail under AB 2183, she has "90 to 100 percent assurance that [farmworkers] would organize because we would be able to make the decision to vote for a union at our home without the supervisor, without the labor contractor, without the foreman watching us closely and intimidating us."

Garcia said she and other workers are ready to march to urge the governor to sign this bill.

"We are going to continue without stop to win the support of the governor for this bill," Garcia told The Center Square via translator.

On Cesar Chavez Day, farmworkers gathered in 13 cities to urge Newsom to sign AB 2183.

The governor vetoed a similar measure, AB 616, last year after it passed through the State Legislature. In his veto message, Newsom said the bill contained "various inconsistencies and procedural issues related to the collection and review of ballot cards" that would have run afoul with a 2021 U.S. Supreme Court decision over agricultural unionizing.

Assemblymember Mark Stone, the author of AB 2183, told The Center Square that he is working closely with the governor's office on the legislation, adding that he feels "confident that we'll be able to put something on the governor's desk that he'll sign."

In the meantime, farmworkers are preparing to recreate Cesar Chavez's 1966 march from Delano to Sacramento to "earn the governor's signature," Pinal said.

AB 2183 has faced pushback from several organizations, including the California Chamber of Commerce. Last week, CalChamber sent a letter to Stone informing him that they have labeled AB 2183 a "job killer," saying it "eliminates workers' voting rights and unfairly tips the balance in the unions favor."

CalChamber wrote that the bill goes farther than its predecessor, AB 616, by "enabling union representatives to coerce workers" by requiring employers to hand over an employees' contact information, which they said would make it "naturally more difficult to take a position contrary to the person standing before you."

"A secret ballot provides the employee the ability to cast their vote without that same pressure and gives them the ability to keep their vote secretive if they so wish," CalChamber wrote.

The former version of the bill, AB 616, was also opposed by the Western Growers Association.

The bill's sponsor, the UFW, says the bill would offer the same voting options to farmworkers as all California voters had during the September 2021 gubernatorial recall election.

The bill has been referred to the Assembly Committee on Labor and Employment and is expected to be heard on April 20, according to Stone's office.