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Katy Grimes

Shock and Awe! Gov. Brown Vetoes UFW-Backed Bill

Roll over Cesar Chavez — In a surprise move, Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a UFW labor union backed bill.

Backed by the United Farm Workers labor union and Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, Senate Bill 25 would have allowed the UFW to force a farm employer into mandatory mediation at any time.

This very bad bill would have put California farm workers under the state’s Mandatory Mediation and Conciliation law. Under that law, the California Agriculture Labor Relations Board could have imposed wages, terms and conditions of employment on the farm workers, and the company.

The terms of an agreement would have been decided by a single arbitrator/mediator. After meeting with the employer and the union separately, the mediator would draft the contract. Workers never would get to vote on the contract, as they do with collective-bargaining agreements.

The already difficult procedures in farm labor disputes would have been made much more difficult and contentious for farm employers. Thankfully, Brown vetoed SB 25.

This isn’t Brown’s first veto of a Steinberg/United Farm Workers bill. In 2011, Steinberg also authored SB 104, which sought to give the UFW the ability to organize farm workers by using a card-check system. Card-check allows a union to organize if a majority of employees simply sign a card. The card is then made public to the employer, the union organizers and co-workers. It’s easy to intimidate workers into signing because there’s no secret ballot.

Brown said he wasn’t convinced the Agricultural Labor Relations Act needed the drastic changes to the law, and vetoed SB 104.

ALRB meeting

Brown signed California’s 1975 Agricultural Labor Relations Act into law during his first stint as governor. The ALRA provides many of the worker protections that previously needed to be negotiated in union contracts.

Farm Workers Leading This Fight

It’s not over yet.

More than 2,600 Gerawan Farm workers have been fighting the United Farmworkers, and the state’s Agricultural Labor Relations Board, and even voted last November to decertify the farm labor union. However, the ALRB will not count the votes. The ALRB accused Gerawan Farming of coercing employees and interfering in the election. But the workers insist they are behind the decertification vote, and not Gerawan Farming.

Last week, the Gerawan workers made a compelling video asking Gov. Jerry Brown to reject the UFW and ALRB, and veto SB 25.

The UFW, Workers, and Cesar Chavez

The  United Farm Workers has come under hard times since legendary co-founder Cesar Chavez died in 1993. As the Nation magazine reported in 2012, mismanagement has caused the union’s membership to nosedive from a peak of 50,000 to about 6,000 today. Forcing Gerawan’s workers into the UFW would almost double the union’s size.

Farm owner Dan Gerawan called Steinberg’s bill a “surgical strike against the industry,” because with one stroke of Gov. Brown’s pen, the bill could have wiped out Gerawan’s family-owned farm, currently employing 5,000 workers.

The more than 5,000 workers at Gerawan Farming were abandoned by the UFW 22 years ago. Then, without warning, the UFW union reentered the scene in late 2012, claiming it represented Gerawan’s workers. The UFW tried to impose a new labor contract on the workers and take out 3 percent of each employee’s pay — or give the union the right to fire that employee.

It is no wonder the workers believe the UFW just wants their money.

Gerawan Workers On Assembly Floor

The farmworkers organized themselves, and began a fight to decertify the labor union. They gathered signatures three times. The ALRB denied the workers’ first two attempts, and claimed many of the workers’ signatures were forged. The workers denied this, but instead, gathered more signatures. Finally, by the time the third round of signatures were gathered, under pressure, the ALRB agreed to allow the workers to hold a decertification election of the UFW labor union.

Yet, the ballots from the Nov. 5, 2013 election have still not been counted by the ALRB. Leading the workers’ fight, Silvia Lopez, a long-time Gerawan worker, filed a federal lawsuit the ALRB for denying her and other farmworkers’ constitutional rights.

Brown said in his veto message that labor election disputes “should be dealt with so the process is balanced and fair.” he will call upon the ALRB to count the votes of the Gerawan workers to secure their Constitutionally protected freedoms of speech and assembly.

The workers are planning a press conference at an ALRB hearing on October 1 in Fresno, California.

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