Steinberg Pushes 'Card Check' Bill

MAR. 10, 2011


If the third time’s a charm, then Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg can look forward to passing a new “card check” bill. The bill is described as “the alternative electoral method for choosing collective bargaining representatives.”

But the bill could go down for the count, as in a boxing match.

Under “card check,” instead of voting for or against union representation in private, workers would be asked to sign union cards in front of organizers and colleagues, potentially subjecting them to harassment or intimidation. Once a majority of employees has signed cards, the union is immediately recognized.

Opponents of “card check” say it would take away numerous rights and protections currently afforded to workers at companies and businesses where unions are actively seeking to organize.

At a hearing Wednesday in the Senate Labor and Industrial Relations Committee, Steinberg’s third attempt at “card check” legislation was presented.

The bill has very similar language to two previous “card check” bills, one of which was authored several years ago by former Sen. Carol Migden (SB 180). Then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed Migden’s bill. But after she termed out of office, he appointed her to the Agricultural Labor Relations Board (ALRB).

Steinberg’s newest bill states that the purpose is to give agricultural employees “an alternative electoral method for choosing their collective bargaining representative, the majority signup election.”

Limiting Employee Rights

But opponents say that this particular bill limits employees’ right to vote using a secret ballot, as well as unfairly penalizing employers for potential violations during union organizing. And opponents are critical that unions are not penalized under this bill for the same type of potential violations during organizing.

Steinberg did not appear at the committee hearing, and instead sent representative Charles Wright in his place. “SB 104 does not eliminate the secret ballot — it just adds the new option to the secret ballot process,” Wright said.

Salinas Democratic Assemblyman Luis Alejo appeared in support of Steinberg’s bill, and said he was there “on behalf of the hard working men and women who work in the fields of California.”
 Alejo said farms in his district produce more fruits and vegetables than anywhere else in the country. With him at the hearing, Alejo had more than 25 farm workers in support of the bill.

The bill has the support of more than 20 unions and labor organizations, including the California Labor Federation, the Teamsters, the United Nurses Association and the AFL-CIO.

In addition to vetoing Migden’s bill, Schwarzenegger vetoed two similar bills. He said in one veto message, “This process fundamentally alters an employee’s right to a secret ballot election that allows the employee to choose, in the privacy of the voting booth without coercion or manipulation, whether or not to be represented… I cannot support this alteration of the secret ballot process.”

However, supporters were very confident that new Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat, will not veto Steinberg’s bill.

Farmer Opposition

Opposition to the bill came primarily from farm and agricultural growers’ associations.
 “The characterization of this bill as an alternative to the secret ballot is an illusion,” said Barry Bedwell, president of the California Grape and Tree Fruit League. Bedwell said the bill unfairly imposes hefty penalties against employers for potential intimidation, “but has no mention in it about intimidation from the unions.”

Bedwell said that if legislators were really interested in addressing intimidation, “why isn’t current law addressing intimidation, instead of taking away the right of the secret ballot?” 
Bedwell added after the hearing that his association was concerned that passage of the bill would be “a wholesale license for union intimidation.”

Bill Little, another opponent of the bill with the California Farm Bureau, said his organization represents 75,000 farm families. Little said that farm bureau members employ more than 175,000 people in the state, “and up to one in five jobs are dependent on what farming does.” Little pointed out that under SB 104, card check can be used to certify an election, but not to decertify. “We prefer a remedy with a supervised, secret ballot election,” he said.

Also registering opposition to SB 104, in addition to the farm and growers associations, were the Agricultural Council of California, the Wine Institute, the California Independent Grocers Association, tje California Chamber of Commerce, the California Hotel and Lodging Association, and the National Right to Work Committee.

The Senate committee voted to pass the bill. This was just the first hearing of the bill since its introduction in January. The Labor and Industrial Relations Committee analysis of the bill is here.

Tags assigned to this article:
Arnold Schwarzeneggercard checkKaty Grimesunions

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