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Gavin Newsom’s signing of farmworker union bill spurs mixed emotions in the Central Valley

Esther Quintanilla
UFW President Teresa Romero (from left), civil rights activist Dolores Huerta and California Labor Federation leader Lorena Gonzalez lead thousands through the streets of downtown Sacramento in the final steps of the 335 mile "March for the Governor's Signature" on August 26.

Farmworkers, labor activists and supporters celebrated the passage of Assembly Bill 2183 earlier this week. The largest celebration was on the steps of the State Capitol, where Gov. Gavin Newsom signed the legislation alongside farmworkers who had been holding a month-long vigil in support of the measure.

“The reaction was just one of sheer joy,” says Marc Grossman, a spokesperson for the UFW. “Farmworkers had tears in their eyes. They were embracing each other.”

Previously, union members could only vote in person and on the property of their employer. The UFW says this format exposed workers to fear, intimidation - and in some cases - deportation. Starting next year, farmworkers will be able to vote via a process called “card check,” which allows workers to organize when a majority sign unionization cards.

Many agricultural organizations are disappointed this legislation was approved.

“As the governor stated multiple times over the last 30 days, his intent was not to sign this bill,” says Ian LeMay, the president of the California Fresh Fruit Association. “What I find concerning is how he ultimately came to the decision to sign this bill.”

LeMay says growers did not have an opportunity to negotiate the terms of the measure.

“This is a bill that is going to impact our industry,” LeMay says. “We deserved a seat at the table.”

The California Fresh Fruit Association, as well as multiple other grower organizations, are concerned the legislation lacks the required protections to ensure fair and secure elections.

Newsom signed the bill under the agreement that certain provisions be clarified in next year’s legislative session. Those provisions include a cap on the number of card-checks over the next 5 years. Additionally, the California Agricultural Labor Relations Board will be monitoring protections for worker confidentiality and safety.

Until then, the UFW says they are ready to continue fighting for farmworker rights.

“We look forward to working with Governor Newsom and the legislature to make agreed upon changes,” says Grossman.

The law goes into effect in 2023.

This story is part of the Central Valley News Collaborative, which is supported by the Central Valley Community Foundation with technology and training support by Microsoft Corp.

Esther Quintanilla reports on diverse communities for KVPR through the Central Valley News Collaborative, which includes The Fresno Bee, Vida en el Valle, KVPR and Radio Bilingüe.