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ha_farmwsot46436 farmworker.JPGOn a day honoring labor leader Cesar Chavez, the state Senate approved "card check" legislation that would create an alternative path to a secret-ballot election for farmworkers seeking union representation.

Senate Bill 104, which passed today on a 24-14 party-line vote, would let workers unionize by having a majority of employees sign and submit petition cards to the Agricultural Labor Relations Board. The bill, sponsored by the United Farm Workers union, would also create steeper penalties for employers who seek to block workers from unionizing or engage in unfair labor practices.

"This is a simple, sensible, righteous piece of legislation that does not eliminate the secret ballot but gives farmworkers another option to choose a collective bargaining representative," Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, the bill's author, said during a floor debate.

Supporters say the bill levels the playing field for farmworkers seeking union representation, but opponents argued that the secret ballot process works in its current form and any changes would give too much influence and power to the unions.

"What this bill seeks to do is to change the playing field because getting those cards signed, the so-called card check, really tilts the playing field toward the union," said Sen. Mark Wyland, R-Solana Beach.

Sen. Anthony Cannella, R-Ceres, whose engineering firm is unionized, warned that allowing a process besides the secret ballot "opens the door to worker intimidation, coercion and bullying" from union leaders. Supporters dismissed that argument, saying employers already have significant influence compared to the agricultural workers.

"The suggestion that the legislation somehow empowers intimidation by union representatives when all of the power, all of the control and all of the economic resources are in fact held in the hands of the employer is simply beyond pale," said Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto.

Dozens of United Farm Workers members, including President Arturo Rodriguez, gathered in the hall outside the Senate floor, cheering after the vote and chanting "Si, se puede," a slogan used by Chavez. Steinberg, flanked by the union members, hand-delivered the legislation to Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez, whose chamber must approve the bill before it heads to Gov. Jerry Brown's desk.

Similar legislation has passed both houses in recent years, but was vetoed multiple times by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Brown's office has not responded to a request for comment on whether he would sign the bill.

PHOTO CREDIT: Fabian Millan of Stockton cleans weeds from a tomato field on Highway 12 near Rio Vista on Tuesday, July 06, 2010. Hector Amezcua / Sacramento Bee


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