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What Gov. Brown didn't do for California's agricultural workers

June 30, 2011 |  5:13 pm

  Photo: Maria Ramirez, of Half Moon Bay, joined other farm workers in a demonstration calling for Gov. Jerry Brown to sign SB 104, held at the Capitol in Sacramento Tuesday. Credit: Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a bill Tuesday that would have given agricultural workers the option to change the way they unionize. SB 104 would have permitted the system known as "card check," and was the United Farm Workers' solution to the bullying and intimidation they say workers face from employers in the current system. Under the Agricultural Labor Relations Act, which Brown signed in 1975 when he was first governor, workers vote on whether they want to organize in a secret-ballot election at their workplace. With card check, organizers can choose to eliminate this election and make it easier for workers to organize by simply having them sign union cards. If more than 50% sign cards, employers would be required to negotiate a contract with the union. Opponents of the legislation said the change could result in unions committing the same intimidation that they're accusing employers of, allowing them to target workers off the job and bullying them into signing up.

In his veto message, Brown said, "[I] am not yet convinced that the far reaching proposals of this bill -- which alter in a significant way the guiding assumptions of the ALRA -- are justified. Before restructuring California's carefully crafted agricultural labor law, it is only right that the legislature consider legal provisions that more faithfully track its original framework.”

The Times' editorial board called for Brown to veto the legislation in the interest of workers. The measure would empower unions and, more specifically, the now-dominant UFW, the board said, and is not the right solution to the problem. The changes proposed by the National Labor Relations Board would be a better fix.

Rather than empowering workers by leaving to them the decision of whether to organize -- and with what union -- it would empower the labor organization itself before the workers had even chosen it. With all due respect to the United Farm Workers, which is the bill's chief backer and the union most likely to benefit, the rights that need protecting are not the union's but the workers'.

The editorial boards of the Orange County Register and the Oakland Tribune also agreed that the bill was unbalanced and could provoke worker intimidation by unions.

Brown chavez The card-check legislation was vetoed several times by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, but labor leaders believed it would fare better under Brown because of his ties to unions. United Farm Workers President Arturo S. Rodriguez said: "What never changes in politics is power.  Governor Brown accepted the arguments made by the powerful agribusiness lobby and rejected the cause of powerless farm workers.”

Senate leader Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) said: "The governor missed a historic opportunity to help the hardest working people in California improve their standard of living and working conditions." Steinberg, the author of the bill, said he would continue to advocate for agricultural workers.

The changes the NLRB has proposed include decreasing the time between the filing of an election petition and the election itself by delaying employer challenges to workers' voter eligibility. This could, as The Times editorial board said, prevent employers from misusing the system and delaying the election process.

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--Samantha Schaefer

Photo: Maria Ramirez, of Half Moon Bay, joined other farm workers in a demonstration calling for Gov. Jerry Brown to sign SB 104, held at the Capitol in Sacramento Tuesday. Credit: Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press

Brown sits with United Farm Workers founder Cesar Chavez in Salinas in 1979 at at rally designed to aid the cause of UFW's 7-month-old strike against Salinas Valley lettuce growers. Credit: Associated Press

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