Newsom vetoes agricultural worker union elections bill opposed by Wilk

Senator Scott Wilk speaks on the Elected Official Panel during the Regional Center Legislative Town Hall at Bella Vida SCV Senior Center on Thursday, February 27, 2020. Dan Watson/The Signal

Sen. Scott Wilk, R-Santa Clarita, welcomed news of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s veto of Assembly Bill 616 on Wednesday. 

The bill sought to give agricultural employees the option to vote on union representation by casting a secret ballot by mail, according to a California State Assembly Floor analysis of the bill from August.  

Current voting procedures for union representation require agricultural workers to cast a secret ballot at a physical location, which is generally on an employer’s property. 

“This measure would violate a farmworker’s sacred right to vote in secret, which is a fundamental tenet of democracy,” Wilk said in a Sept. 9 letter sent to Newsom requesting that the governor veto the bill. “Without the protection of a secret ballot, there are no effective means to ensure free choice in the voting process.” 

Wilk said allowing agricultural workers to cast ballots by mail would expose them to pressure to join a union. 

“Under this process, union organizers can approach farmworkers in person and ask them to sign a card representing their vote for the union. Because these representatives will know how the workers voted, the workers would be more susceptible to intimidation, coercion, and threats of retaliation,” he wrote to Newsom. 

Wilk added that there’s nothing wrong with the current voting procedure for the unionization of agricultural workers. 

“The process is very fair and convenient,” he said. “It also ensures the true will of a majority of the workers relative to their desire to belong to a union.” 

In his veto message, Newsom acknowledged that he understands the need to address the impacts of Cedar Point Nursery v. Hassid, a U.S. Supreme Court decision from this year that he said “has significantly impeded the ability of unions to access agricultural worksites.” 

“This bill contains various inconsistencies and procedural issues related to the collection and review of ballot cards,” Newsom wrote. “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.” 

Newsom directed the “Labor and Workforce Development Agency to work collaboratively with the Agricultural Labor Relations Board and all relevant stakeholders to develop new policies for legislative consideration to address this issue,” he wrote in his message. 

Assemblyman Mark Stone, D-Monterey Bay, who authored the bill, invoked the state Legislature’s changes to voting in statewide elections. 

“The Legislature has successfully enacted a series of changes that have made it easier for Californians to participate in statewide elections, including mail-in voting. These changes were made based on the simple premise that facilitating the exercise of an existing right is inherently a good thing to do,” said Stone in the bill’s Assembly Floor analysis. “This bill applies that same principle and extends voting flexibilities to farm workers as they exercise their longstanding right to vote in union representation elections.” 

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