Saturday, April 25, 2009

Farmworkers and the Employee Free Choice Act

Farm Worker Employee Free Choice Act Passes the California Senate


by David M. Greenwald
Editor
California Progress Report

On Thursday the California Senate approved legislation that would make it easier for farm workers to organize and help enforce workplace laws.

The bill sponsored by Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) the California Employee Free Choice Act for Farm Workers, mirrors the federal Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), which would also make it easier for workers to organize a union by allowing the “card check” method of organizing.

Steinberg’s bill will permit farm workers to form a union by submitting a petition to the Agriculture Labor Relations Board accompanied by representation cards signed by a majority of the bargaining unit. The legislation is sponsored by the United Farm Workers of America (UFW).

“California has workplace laws on the books, but those laws aren’t being applied in the fields,” Steinberg said. “Farm workers only want to protect themselves from heat related illness and death, ensure they have clean drinking water and give themselves the ability to make a living wage. This bill is designed so they can fairly choose whether they want union organization or not.”

“For far too long, farm workers have labored in one of the most difficult industries without a system to ensure their safety or employee representation,” said Senator Leland Yee (D-San Francisco/San Mateo). “Unfortunately, current federal and state labor laws either exempt farm workers or are unevenly applied to the agricultural industry. These workers need and deserve protection from heat related illness and death, contaminated drinking water, and unfair wages. I am proud to stand with the United Farm Workers to finally put an end to the injustices within this industry.”

Senators, on a vote of 23-14, approved Senate Bill 789 that also would allow organizers to collect the signatures of a majority of farm workers on state-issued cards to establish a bargaining unit. The secret ballot would still be an option.

The bill next goes to the Assembly. Gov. Schwarzenegger vetoed a similar proposal in 2007. Republican lawmakers cited similar objections this time around.

"It creates a card-check system ripe with opportunities for union organizers to coerce, intimidate and threaten workers to join a union," said Senate minority leader Dennis Hollingsworth (R-Murrieta).

But for many workers, they are fighting for basic protections that unions would provide.

“Senator Steinberg recognizes that state government has not enforced the laws on clean drinking water, shade, minimum wages, child labor, and pesticide safety for farm workers,” said Arturo S. Rodriguez, president of UFW. “His legislation will give farm workers the ability to help the state enforce those laws. Farmers and farm workers have different needs. The Legislature and the Governor have an opportunity this year meet those needs.”

Posted on April 24, 2009

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