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Deal could make it easier for farmworkers to unionize

A bill stemming from an agreement between advocates and Gov. Jerry Brown would let a state board certify a union if it finds a grower has acted illegally to affect the outcome of a labor election.

September 03, 2011|By Anthony York, Los Angeles Times
  • United Farm Workers President Arturo S. Rodriguez, left, and others held a prayer vigil outside Gov. Jerry Brown's office in June in an unsuccessful effort to persuade him to sign the "card-check" biil.
United Farm Workers President Arturo S. Rodriguez, left, and others held… (Rich Pedroncelli, Associated…)

Two months after an acrimonious late-night standoff on a related issue, Gov. Jerry Brown and farmworker advocates have struck a deal to give state regulators new powers that could help agriculture workers unionize.

The measure, introduced in the Legislature on Friday, would allow the state's Agriculture Labor Relations Board to certify a union if it finds that a grower has acted illegally to affect the outcome of a labor election. The legislation would also accelerate the mediation process for workers in disputes with their employers.

Lawmakers could vote on the proposal as early as Tuesday, just three days before the Legislature adjourns for the year, said Senate leader Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento), who helped negotiate the deal with Brown.

Agriculture industry representatives expressed concern that the measure was being jammed through the Legislature at the 11th hour.

"It's disconcerting," said Rob Roy, executive counsel of the Ventura County Growers Assn. "I would hope that such sweeping changes to the [law] would be subject to more hearings."

The farmworkers union for years has lobbied to make it easier for agriculture workers to unionize. Rather than be required to hold a formal election, its leaders want to be able to simply collect signatures from a majority of workers on cards saying they want representation. Legislation known as the "card-check" bill, which would have permitted such a change, was vetoed multiple times by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and by Brown in June.

Brown's veto came as supporters held a late-night vigil outside his office. Moments after he rejected the bill, the governor had a tense cellphone conversation with United Farm Workers of America President Arturo S. Rodriguez — one of those camped out in the Capitol hallway — as dozens of farmworkers, sympathetic lawmakers and journalists listened.

On Friday, the tone in both camps was more conciliatory. Brown spokesman Gil Duran said the new legislation, once signed into law, would be "more effective and supportive of the right of farmworkers to freely choose whom to represent their interests."

While the deal outlined Friday falls short of what union advocates sought in the earlier bill, Rodriguez said he was pleased with the new proposal, calling it "a significant advance in the cause of fair treatment for workers."

If Steinberg's legislation is sent to the governor next week, it will be one of hundreds of bills Brown must act upon within about a month. Among the measures lawmakers passed Friday was one to give college students who are illegal immigrants access to public financial aid.

That proposal is part of a two-bill package by Assemblyman Gil Cedillo (D-Los Angeles) known as the California Dream Act. Brown signed the first portion earlier this year, making undocumented students eligible for private aid. Although he has not said officially whether he will sign or veto the second measure, the governor said he was "positively inclined" to sign it.

"We expect a signature," Cedillo said Friday. "Everyone appears to be satisfied, and all indications are that we're moving toward a signature."

anthony.york@latimes.com

Times staff writer Teresa Watanabe contributed to this report.

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