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Brown Vetoes Farmworkers ‘Card Check’ Bill

| June 29, 2011
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The Legislature had its dramatic moments tonight as it considered next year’s state budget. Lawsuits were threatened, or promised. Democratic members of the Senate broke with party leadership for a time over their displeasure with some aspects of the package. Republicans complained that they’d been frozen out of the budget-making process as Democrats crafted and passed a package that (they argued) contained no new taxes and thus needed no GOP votes for passage.

But the evening’s real drama at the Capitol only unfolded only after the Legislature was done voting. Governor Jerry Brown vetoed a widely watched piece of farm-labor legislation: SB 104, the farmworker “card-check” bill. The bill would have changed how agricultural union elections are held. Instead of voting by secret ballot on whether to join a union, as provided under current law, workers would express their preference by “card check”—in essence, by submitting a petition accompanied by individual authorization cards. The cards could be filled out anywhere—on the job or at home.

The United Farm Workers backed the bill, introduced by Senate President pro tem Darrell Steinberg, a Sacramento Democrat. Steinberg, the UFW, and their allies say the change was necessary because farm employers have intimidated workers voting in secret elections held at job sites. Opponents of the bill, which predictably include agriculture interests, say the card-check system would make workers vulnerable to coercion from unions. (Here’s the union’s view of the bill. And here’s this week’s Los Angeles Times editorial urging Brown to veto the bill.)

Back to the Capitol: UFW supporters have been camped out there all week, holding a fast and vigil to try to persuade the governor to sign the bill (Brown’s predecessor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, had rejected it). Some had traveled hundreds of miles to be there, and according to KQED Sacramento Bureau Chief John Myers, they were angry and dejected when the word came that Brown had vetoed SB 104.

UFW President Arturo Rodriguez was on the scene. He engaged in a long, testy cellphone conversation with the governor. Rodriguez told Myers, “You know, we’ve looked at all different kinds of ways, we’ve studied and researched how to improve the lives of farmworkers, how to protect their lives, and we believe they need the option of what SB 104 offers.”

Regarding Brown, Rodriguez said: “We’re very disappointed, we’re frustrated, that the governor decided to side with the powerful agribusiness industry, which is a 36 billion dollar industry, as opposed to siding with farmworkers.”

In his veto message, Brown recalled his own role in negotiating and signing the state’s 1975 Agricultural Labor Relations Act—a role that Rodriguez seemed to dispute during their phone call, by the way—during his first term as governor. Brown said he remains committed to farm worker interests and will work with the union, legislators, and unspecified other parties—presumably agricultural interests—on a new bill to update the farm labor law.

The full text (PDF) of the governor’s message is here: SB 104 Veto Message.

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About the Author ()

Dan Brekke has worked in media ever since Nixon's first term, when newspapers were still using hot type. He had moved on to online news by the time Bill Clinton met Monica Lewinsky. He's been at KQED since 2007, is an enthusiastic practitioner of radio and online journalism and will talk to you about absolutely anything. Reach Dan Brekke at dbrekke@kqed.org.

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