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Governor upholds secret ballot with ‘card check’ veto

Issue Date: July 6, 2011
By Christine Souza

Gov. Jerry Brown, who more than 35 years ago signed into law the nation's first agricultural labor relations act giving agricultural workers the right to consider unionization by secret ballot, upheld that position last week and vetoed Senate Bill 104. The bill would have replaced the current method of unionization with a "majority signup" or "card check" system.

SB 104, by Sen. Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, would have revised the California Agricultural Labor Relations Act that Brown signed as governor in 1975, and would have required a farm employer to recognize a union simply on the strength of a majority of the employees signing cards signifying interest in unionization. Its passage by the Legislature marked the fifth consecutive year that it had passed a law to strip farm employees of their right to a secret ballot in union elections. Similar bills were vetoed by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

In a veto statement addressed to members of the California State Senate, Brown noted that SB 104 strayed from the intent of the ALRA.

"SB 104 is indeed a drastic change … but 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," Brown said. "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."

Brown said he is committed to the success of the ALRA and is prepared to take part in discussions that accomplish appropriate changes.

"As at the beginning, all parties must be heard and, before any product emerges, a wide array of opinions and experiences should be fairly considered," Brown added. "Besides being personally involved, I will direct my Labor and Agricultural secretaries to reach out to all those who can help us achieve a fair and just result."

The veto came just about one hour before midnight June 28, when the legislation would have become law had the governor not taken action.

The California Farm Bureau Federation and close to 30 other agricultural and business groups opposed SB 104 throughout the legislative process.

"We commend Gov. Brown for vetoing Senate Bill 104. His action assures that fair votes can be conducted in union elections, and protects employee privacy rights," California Farm Bureau Federation President Paul Wenger said. "The veto safeguards employee privacy rights because SB 104 would have allowed union leaders to gain access to the names and addresses of farm employees."

Wenger added that farmers and agricultural organizations "will continue to support effective enforcement of laws that protect all workers and to ensure that farms and ranches remain safe work environments."

Farm Employers Labor Service Chief Operating Officer Bryan Little, who also serves as CFBF director of labor affairs, said that there was intense advocacy on both sides of the issue once the bill reached the governor's desk, but ultimately he acted to protect the rights of those who work in agriculture.

"The governor took a statesmanlike approach to the issue," Little said. "By vetoing SB 104, he preserved the current law that contains many protections for employees' rights, including their right to a union election."

Farmer Stan Lester of Winters recalled the tumultuous period prior to 1975 when Brown signed the California Agricultural Labor Relations Act.

"It (ALRA) passed and as farmers we were concerned, but one of the cornerstones of the act was to ensure that the employee can use a secret ballot in privacy to make the important decision of whether to unionize," said Lester, a member of the CFBF Labor Policy Recommendation Committee.

"I really think—and I mean this sincerely—this (veto) is the right thing for farmers and the right thing for farmworkers," he said. "We live in the United States and the secret ballot is one of the cornerstones of our democracy. So why should we abandon that, no matter if you are voting for a union or for a politician?"

(Christine Souza is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. She may be contacted at csouza@cfbf.com.)

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.




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