Biden backs California farmworkers union bill as pressure on Newsom grows

President Biden on Sunday endorsed a California bill that would expand union organizing rights for agricultural workers, a measure long pushed by labor organizers who are now pressuring Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) to sign the legislation.

The bill, which state lawmakers sent to Newsom’s desk last week, would allow farmworkers to choose whether they want to vote in a union election in person, by mail or by submitting a card to a California Agricultural Labor Relations Board office.

“Farmworkers worked tirelessly and at great personal risk to keep food on America’s tables during the pandemic,” Biden said in the statement. “In the state with the largest population of farmworkers, the least we owe them is an easier path to make a free and fair choice to organize a union. I am grateful to California’s elected officials and union leaders for leading the way.”

Advocates say the bill, titled the Agricultural Labor Relations Voting Choice Act, would help prevent intimidation during in-person elections from management, including fears of workers’ deportation if they attempt to unionize. The legislation faces opposition from the agricultural industry.

Biden in his statement did not name Newsom, who vetoed a similar bill last year, but Biden’s support comes as many advocates stage protests and vigils in Sacramento calling on the California Democrat to sign the bill.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro have both urged Newsom to sign the bill.

“CA farmworkers provide for our families — but far too many can’t provide for theirs because they are exploited and don’t have a voice on the job,” Pelosi tweeted. “We can mend this injustice by expanding workers’ rights. I urge the governor to sign #AB2183 for the farmworkers and For The Children.”

A spokesperson for the governor told the Fresno Bee days prior to the bill’s passage that Newsom couldn’t support the legislation in its current form, but was open to negotiation.

The Hill has reached out to Newsom’s office for comment.

Biden has pledged to be the most pro-union president in history, hosting union leaders organizing at major companies and speaking at the AFL-CIO’s convention in June. He reiterated his support for organized labor in his statement on Sunday, characterizing it as “democracy in action.”

“Government should work to remove – not erect – barriers to workers organizing,” Biden said. “But ultimately workers must make the choice whether to organize a union.”

Currently, farm workers’ union elections are held via secret ballot at a polling place designated by a state labor board, typically the place of employment. The bill would expand voting options to include voting by mail or dropping off a ballot card directly to the labor board office, according to a summary of the legislation.

The bill would also enable workers to receive assistance in filling out and returning their ballot card.

United Farm Workers, a prominent agricultural labor union, sponsored the bill’s passage and last month organized supporters for a 335-mile march to Sacramento, the state’s capital, to raise awareness.

“Today, President Biden communicated to the country his support for #AB2183 – the Agricultural Labor Relations Voting Choice Act,” tweeted United Farm Workers president Teresa Romero. “Farmworkers are grateful. ¡Sí se puede!”

The union has been holding 24-hour vigils as pressure grows for Newsom to sign the legislation. Newsom has requested the bill require an advance notice to employers about the specific union election date, the Sacramento Bee reported.

Newsom vetoed a similar bill last year, saying it contained “various inconsistencies and procedural issues.”

“Significant changes to California’s well-defined agricultural labor laws must be carefully crafted to ensure that both agricultural workers’ intent to be represented and the right to collectively bargain is protected, and the state can faithfully enforce those fundamental rights,” he wrote to lawmakers at the time.

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