Rank and file members of local unions rallied alongside their leadership, local community activists and hundreds of farmworkers in downtown L.A. on Thursday. They called on Davis to sign a bill that would force growers to put an end to stalling tactics and negotiate in good faith with the union.
If Davis decides to veto this bill, he won’t just anger farmworkers or Latino voters – he’ll have to reckon with teachers, health care workers, film industry workers and the statewide labor movement.
“This is the number one labor issue right now in California,” said Miguel Contreras, Executive Secretary-Treasurer of the L.A. County Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO. “On this Labor Day in the year 2002, this is THE issue for working families in California.”
Matt Kimbrough of AFTRA’s LA local echoed Contreras’s remarks. “We are out in the street as members of both the state and county federation of labor to show our solidarity and support with what the farmworkers are trying to accomplish here.”
Members of SEIU local 399 were out in force, in the union’s trademark purple t-shirts. Ethel Rowe explained why she was there. “We’re here as workers, you know. We might be health care, but it all pans out in one that everybody is a working family that deserves to have good conditions, good standards.”
The legislation originated from the United Farm Workers union, and has its roots in the UFW’s successful struggle for California’s groundbreaking Agricultural Labor Relations Act 26 years ago. That law required growers to recognize the unions when their workers voted for representation. However, since that law was passed, hundreds of growers have simply dragged their feet in negotiations to avoid signing contracts with the union. By refusing to negotiate in good faith, growers can stop a contract from ever being signed. Under current law, the UFW has no tool to force the growers to the table.
“We have farmworkers here who’ve worked for companies 22 years, that have been in negotiations for 15 years. That’s ridiculous. This bill will end that and allow farmworkers to get the benefits of good contracts that can raise their living standards,” said Irv Hershenbaum, First Vice President of the UFW.
Pictsweet Mushrooms is only one of hundreds of agricultural companies whose workers voted in UFW representation 14 years ago, but has refused to negotiate and sign a contract with the union. As a result, Pictsweet is the target of a much-publicized consumer boycott.
The original bill from the UFW, AB 1736, would have required growers and the union to go into binding arbitration when they reach an impasse in negotiations. The governor, who has been flooded with donations from growers once they saw his Republican opponent Bill Simon didn’t have much of a chance in November, has threatened to veto the bill.
In response, the UFW offered a compromise bill that, Hershenbaum says, “would meet Governor Davis’s concerns, and still give farmworkers the tools to get contracts with growers when they don’t negotiate.”
The state Assembly passed AB 1736 by a wide margain, and they have passed the compromise legislation as well. The bill is sitting on Governor Davis’s desk, where he must now decide whether the stacks of cash from growers weighs more heavily on his conscience than the lives of California’s farmworkers.