Steinberg bill would triple size of UFW

July 3, 2013

By Katy Grimes

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SACRAMENTO — If a labor union-friendly bill currently working through the California Legislature is signed into law, the United Farm Workers labor union stands to triple in size.

According to peach and wine grape grower Dan Gerawan of Gerawan Farms, SB 25, by Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, would forcibly unionize his 5,000 employees along with other farm employees. And it would make the workers surrender 3 percent of their paycheck as dues to the UFW — or the workers would be fired.

Steinberg’s bill was heard in the Assembly Judiciary Committee Tuesday. Sponsored by the UFW, SB 25 is an attempt by the UFW to force the Agricultural Labor Relations Board to put its decisions into immediate effect, rather than allow an employer the right to an appeal in order to stay the decision.

According to Steinberg, SB 25 is needed because some farm employers are exploiting loopholes in the farm labor law to delay enacting contracts with unionized farm workers.

But SB 25 appears to be a direct assault on large farming operations in California. Of the 86,000 farms in the state, Steinberg said, SB 25 “will impact only about a half dozen.” And small farms of less than 25 employees would be exempted altogether.

This explains how the UFW stands to triple in size.

According to many of the state’s agriculture employers, Steinberg’s bill would allow unions to bypass the bargaining process, and  move immediately to mandatory mediation, where a state arbitrator would make all decisions.

“Not all employers are bad,” Steinberg said at the hearing.

Mandatory binding mediation

California Women For Agriculture said, “This would go around the bargaining process and cause the case to go immediately to mandatory mediation. The bill also expands the definition of ‘Agricultural Employer’ to include subsequent purchasers of an ag employer’s business where the original employer had an obligation to bargain with its workers.” The new farm employer would have been forced into a union contract, but this portion of the bill was amended and removed before it went to the Labor committee.

Some say labor unions are trying to gain what they can no longer win through the secret ballot  process and sincere labor negotiations, with agriculture employers.

SB 25 would revise the Agricultural Labor Relations Act to allow a union to immediately force an employer into mandatory mediation.

Growers could be forced into fast track mandatory binding mediation with a backbreaking, collective bargaining agreement. Doing so would severely limit any due process an employer may currently have to appeal a mediator’s order to a court.

UFW shopping for new members

The UFW reported only 3,329 active members with voting rights and 1,052 retirees with no voting rights at the end of 2012.

According to a January 2012 article in The Nation magazine, “Cesar Chavez and the Farmworkers: What Went Wrong?,” the union boasted “50,000 members at the end of the 1970s.” So it has declined by more than 90 percent. By contrast, today the California Teachers Association lists 325,000 members.

The UFW’s LM-2 report, filed with the United States Department of Labor for 2012, listed receipts of $7.5 million and expenditures of $8.7 million. UFW dues are 3 percent of covered worker earnings, so $3.7 million in dues would represent $123 million in “covered earnings,” the total of what all employees were paid under the union contract.

California’s 1975 Agricultural Labor Relations Act, signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown during his first stint as governor, granted broad new rights to laborers. The ALRA provides many of the worker protections that previously needed to be negotiated in union contracts.

Pro-worker or pro-union?

But the UFW said the ALRB was “powerless when growers ignore state orders to implement union contracts.” 

In a prepared letter writing campaign, the UFW said “SB 25 honors farm workers’ vote in favor of the union.”

But Steinberg hasn’t been able to garner the vote of pro-labor Assemblyman Luis Alejo, D-Salinas, who has not even cast a vote on SB 25 in any of the legislative committee hearings. Alejo’s refusal to vote has caused quite an uproar in Salinas, his home turf. And as I previously reported, Alejo has clashed with the union over attempts by its own workers to negotiate better labor contracts for themselves.

Alejo told the Salinas Californian he had concerns about SB 25 and had reached out to the union prior to a hearing last week. But the UFW canceled the meeting, according to Alejo. Shortly after the committee vote, the UFW was protesting at Alejo’s Capitol office.

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