❌ Vote-by-mail for farmworker union elections

Fieldworkers are photographed picking strawberries on April 25, 2020. Photo by David Rodriguez, The Salinas Californian part of the USA Today Network
Fieldworkers are photographed picking strawberries on April 25, 2020. Photo by David Rodriguez, The Salinas Californian part of the USA Today Network

By Grace Gedye 

WHAT THE BILL WOULD DO

Currently, farmworker union elections are held in-person, often on the grower’s property. AB 616 by Democratic Assemblymember Mark Stone of Santa Cruz would give farmworkers the option to vote at home — or anywhere else they like — in union elections. Then they could deliver or send their ballot, sealed in a signed envelope, to the state board that oversees farmworker union elections, or they could give it to an organizer to deliver on their behalf.

WHO SUPPORTS IT

Labor groups and unions, including United Farm Workers, which sponsored the bill. They say it would make union elections more accessible to farmworkers. 

WHO’S OPPOSED

Business groups, like California Chamber of Commerce, and groups that represent the interests of farm owners, like the Western Growers Association, oppose the bill. They say they’re concerned about workers being pressured into voting a certain way if this bill is enacted. Workers are allowed to have a witness present when they vote at home under this bill. 

WHY IT MATTERS

The rate of unionization among farm workers is incredibly low — approximately 0% according to analysis from UC Merced. Unions are linked to higher wages and better benefits for workers. This bill would give farm workers another way to participate in union elections and could speed up the election process.

GOVERNOR’S CALL:

Newsom vetoed the bill on Sept. 22, issuing a statement saying it “contains various inconsistencies” related to the collection and review of ballot cards. “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 said. Instead, the governor said he was directing his administration to develop some kind of alternative for the Legislature to consider in the future.