California State Capitol building, wide angle with trees

A wide angle view of the California State Capitol building in Sacramento, with trees on each side framing the view. The California State Capitol building is home to the state's government, including the mayor's office and the California State Legislature.

The California State Senate has approved AB 616, much to the dismay of several agricultural organizations. AB 616 would overhaul the voting process for unionization, allowing for a type of mail-in ballot system. Only Senators Andreas Borgeas, Melissa Hurtado, Jim Nielsen, Shannon Grove, Scott Wilk, Brian Dahle, Rosilicie Ochoa Bogh, Melissa Melendez, Brian Jones, and Steven Glazer voted against the legislation. Several agricultural groups including the California Farm Bureau Federation (CFBF), Western Growers, and the California Fresh Fruit Association have voiced opposition to the bill.

“The fact is that there will be farm employees who show up to work one day, only to find that they are part of a union, without ever having an opportunity to voice their own desire,” CFBF President Jamie Johansson said in a written statement. “They are already suffering from lost jobs due to drought, reduced paychecks due to the overtime law and now the Senate takes their right to vote away. This bill will likely pass the Assembly again soon. However, we sincerely hope the governor values the dignity of farm employees enough to protect them from intimidation, preserve their right to vote and protect the sanctity of the secret ballot by vetoing this bad bill.”

The Agricultural Labor Relations Board (ARLB) has historically overseen polling place elections for union representation, to allow employees to vote without feeling pressured by outside groups. AB 616 has been heavily criticized for eliminating the ALRB’s direct involvement in the voting process. CFBF Director of Employment Policy, Bryan Little told AgNet West back in June that the legislation raises several concerns.

“What AB 616 does is to take away an agricultural employee’s right to have a supervised, secret ballot election to decide whether or not they want to be represented by a union,” Little noted. “There are a lot of problems with this and a lot of coercion. What’s really interesting about it I think, is that the way this is going to work is that you can bet that the union is never going to give a ballot card to someone who they think doesn’t support unionization.”

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