SACRAMENTO, Calif. (KTXL) — After his office initially said it couldn’t support it, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed Assembly Bill 2183 Wednesday, introducing a process for California farm workers to unionize that most Americans do not have access to.
California agricultural workers are not the first or only individuals with that option but the process is currently mostly restricted to state government employees.
Agricultural workers have historically been left out of labor legislation empowering workers. The National Labor Relations Act, which gave most privately employed U.S. workers the right to unionize, exempted select types of employees, including agricultural workers, though California farmworkers eventually gained the right in 1975 through state legislation.
How majority support works
The process, referred to as a majority support process, majority sign-up or “card check”, allows workers to join a union without a formal unionization election using by showing that a majority of employees support joining.
Majority support would be proven by having more than 50% of employees show support for joining a union through processes like signing authorization cards or a petition in support of joining a union.
After enough signatures are collected, they must be sent to the government board that oversees the unionization process, which then determines if the petition is valid and certifies the results.
Unions like the majority support process because the formal election process can be a drawn-out process that gives employers time to discourage unionization, sometimes through illegal means, such as threats.
“We’ve had majority sign-up in California public sector unionizing for decades,” California Labor Federation Executive Secretary-Treasurer Lorena Gonzalez said to FOX40 News. “It’s worked. We have and will continue to push for this at the national level for all private sector employees. It is the gold standard.”
Employers dislike the process saying it leaves employees vulnerable to intimidation from unions.
“The California Farm Bureau is deeply disappointed in Gov. Newsom’s decision to sign the misguided union organizing legislation, Assembly Bill 2183,” said Jamie Johansson, president of the California Farm Bureau, which represents many farmers that employ agricultural workers. “Farm Bureau stands with California’s agricultural employees and will continue to defend their right to make uncoerced choices about union representation.”
“However, the governor’s unfortunate decision to sign this bill will create a mail-in balloting system that threatens the integrity of secret ballot elections and leaves farm employees vulnerable to intimidation by union organizers with an obvious interest in the outcome,” Johansson continued. “It also forces California’s farmers and ranchers to choose to give up free speech and private property rights in a dubious trade to allow their employees a real voice in a union election.”
Changes to new law already in progress
The governor’s office’s initial criticism of the bill was actually in line with part of the California Farm Bureau’s complaints. In order to get Newsom to sign the bill, the California Labor Federation and the United Farm Workers union, two major proponents of the bill, agreed to work on changing the bill during the next legislative session.
In the proposed changes to the bill, the section allowing employees to vote via mail-in ballots would be removed.
Also removed would be an employer’s option to sign a “labor peace compact,” an agreement under which employers would promise not to discourage unionization and in exchange, they would not be subject to a majority support petition effort.
Instead, agriculture workers will just have a choice whether to go through a regular union election or through the majority support process to decide if they will join a union.
The revival of a process
A similar process to majority sign-up established by AB 2183 was available to almost all workers in the country covered in the National Labor Relations Act for two decades in the 20th century.
From 1949 until 1969, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) generally required employers to bargain with unions won through a card check.
President Joe Biden’s administration has been seeking a revival of the process. In April of 2022, the NLRB’s General Counsel’s office, led by Biden appointee Jennifer Abruzzo, asked the five members that make up the organization’s board to reinstate the process as binding, as opposed to a process that currently only means an employer could voluntarily recognize a union.