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A controversial bill to change mandatory mediation procedures in farm labor contract disputes narrowly cleared the Assembly Monday.

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, monitored the 41-24y vote from the Assembly floor after working to thwart what he described as fierce lobbying to kill Senate Bill 25.

Proponents, including the United Farm Workers union, say the bill is needed to avoid lengthy delays in contract disputes by forcing agricultural employers into mediation.

Farmers that oppose the bill have argued that it limits the ability of farm workers to vote on contracts and hurts relations between management and agricultural employees.

Assemblyman Brian Dahle, R-Bieber, said SB 25 would create an advantage for unions during collective bargaining.

"Giving one side more leverage in the collective bargaining process is not fairness," Dahle said. "It's a power grab."

On Friday, Steinberg sent Assembly members a letter titled "illegal activity," in which he urged lawmakers to consider a complaint filed by the general counsel of the Agricultural Labor Relations Board against fruit grower Gerawan Farming. The complaint alleges Gerawan employees pressured farm workers to sign a petition to oust their union. Gerawan also paid for an ad attacking Steinberg and his bill for being harmful to farm workers.

"Over the last several weeks Dan Gerawan and Gerawan Farming have waged an expensive lobbying and public relations campaign against my Senate Bill 25," Steinberg wrote to Assembly members.

Steinberg's bill received the minimum needed to pass Thursday as 10 Democrats did not vote, including Salinas Assemblyman Luis Alejo, who has rallied for farm workers' interests throughout his political career. Alejo also abstained from voting on the bill in two committees. Alejo said he didn't see a compelling case to alter the current mediation system.

The bill now heads back to the Senate for concurrence in Assembly amendments.

PHOTO: Senate President Pro Temp Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, during session in the Senate chambers in March. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua


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