Governor Vetoes Job Killer Bill on Forced Unionization of Ag Workers

(September 23, 2021) Governor Gavin Newsom yesterday vetoed a California Chamber of Commerce job killer bill that would have eliminated agricultural employees’ democratic right to cast an independent vote in a secret ballot election on whether to unionize.

AB 616 (Stone; D-Scotts Valley) would have limited an employee’s ability to independently and privately vote for unionization in the workplace, by essentially eliminating a secret ballot election and replacing it with the submission of representation cards signed by over 50% of the employees, which would leave employees susceptible to coercion and manipulation by labor organizations. Also, the bill unfairly limited an employer’s ability to challenge any order by the Agricultural Labor Relations Board (ALRB) by forcing employers to post an unreasonable bond, and then limited an employee’s ability to decertify a union, by forcing them to go through the ballot election process instead of submission of representation cards. The bill also included an unnecessary presumption of retaliation that was effectively unlimited in scope because it would apply for the duration of an election campaign, which could last for a year or more.

In his veto message, Governor Newsom pointed out that AB 616 contained “various inconsistencies and procedural issues related to the collection and review of ballot cards.” He also cautioned that significant changes to the state’s agricultural labor laws must be carefully crafted.

Current Law

The state Agricultural Labor Relations Act (ALRA) protects the rights and interests of employees and employers, as well as unions.

Modeled on the National Labor Relations Act, the ALRA affords agricultural employees the opportunity to select — or to refrain from selecting — a particular union as their collective bargaining representative through a formal and secure secret ballot election.

Each employee votes in a private booth, without any pressure or coercion from the employer, union or other employees.

Favors Unions

AB 616, however, would have stripped employees of this fundamentally democratic right, instead allowing unions to bypass secret ballot elections under an alternative “ballot card” procedure.

Under AB 616, a union would be installed as a bargaining unit’s representative merely by submitting a petition to the ALRB along with representation cards signed by a majority of affected employees and designating that union for that purpose.

Unlike the current process, which guarantees that employees ultimately express their true sentiments about unionization in the tightly controlled setting of a supervised secret ballot election, the AB 616 procedure provides no safeguards to ensure the representation cards really indicate the employees’ free, uncoerced and current choice.

Similar Bill Vetoed

Nearly identical legislation (SB 104; Steinberg; D-Sacramento) was vetoed in 2011 by Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr., who signed the ALRA into law in 1975.

In his veto message, Governor Brown noted that the ALRA was “not the product of one side but a hard-fought compromise” reached after months of meetings and participation by thousands of people, including representatives of all sides.

Before making such a drastic change to the ALRA, Governor Brown wrote in his veto message, the Legislature should consider legal provisions that “more faithfully track its original framework” in a process that includes “all those who are affected by the ALRA.”

Staff Contact: Ashley Hoffman