The Farm Workers and Jerry Brown Make Up, For Now

Governor Jerry Brown and his decades-long friends and allies at the United Farm Workers have made up. In a way. For now.

Two months ago, I wrote here on the Huffington Post about the seeming mystery of why Brown vetoed the farm worker bill, which would have allowed unionization to occur in the fields through so-called card check legislation.

This would have provided certification of the union as the bargaining agent for workers at a given location or set of locations once a majority of workers there signed cards authorizing the union to represent them. The UFW says this is necessary because growers have too many opportunities to intimidate farm workers into voting against unionization.

State Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg joined United Farm Workers president Arturo Rodriguez and other UFW members to deliver card check legislation to Assembly Speaker John Perez this past spring. Governor Jerry Brown vetoed the bill.

As I noted, many were surprised by Brown's veto, given his long history with the farm worker movement. Which was even more extensive than reported.

The UFW has been a staple of every one of Brown's campaigns, an immediate "of course" endorser and provider of ground troops and liberal cachet. When Cesar Chavez died in 1993, I remember talking with Brown as he helped carry Chavez's casket in the long funeral procession. Brown spoke later as one of the eulogists, and old girlfriend Linda Ronstadt appeared.

When Brown vetoed the card check bill, UFW members gathered outside his office late at night, urging him to come out and engage in dialogue with them. He demurred. The union leaders then decided to up the pressure campaign on their old friend.

Last month, the United Farm Workers began a march up the Central Valley to pressure Brown on the vetoed card check legislation. It culminated with a noontime rally Sunday at the Capitol.

The core group of marchers took nearly two weeks to march nearly 200 miles from Madera. On Sunday morning, they joined up with supporters and other farm workers bused in for the occasion and marched about a mile from a downtown Sacramento park at 8th and T to the North steps of the state Capitol, a rally venue I'm very familiar with.

About 1500 UFW members and supporters were on hand to hear United Farm Workers president Arturo Rodriguez, looking a little drawn from yet another peregrination, and state Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg discuss the unsuccessful struggle for card check legislation, and the successful bid for compromise legislation to aid the union with recalcitrant growers.

The canny Brown negotiated new legislation that allows the UFW some progress without granting its card check goal, thus turning what would otherwise have been a protest of his policies into a somewhat muted celebration.

Rather than coming in for condemnation, Brown was the subject of some praise, albeit rather muted, such that he did not put in a rumored appearance.

Because in the end the UFW definitely wants the card check legislation, under which the union would be certified upon gaining a majority of workers signing union cards. So the rally was an intriguing blend of applause and challenge for its longtime friend and ally, California's new/renewed governor.

"We marched to Sacramento and Governor Brown listened," UFW President Arturo Rodriguez declared to the crowd, speaking in both English and Spanish.

Brown's compromise proposal "will significantly advance the cause of fair treatment for farm workers," Rodriguez said.

"While we celebrate our success today, we will never rest until all farm workers are accorded the opportunity for a better life," Steinberg declared ringingly, with the crowd cheering, especially as his remarks were translated into Spanish.

The bill introduced by Steinberg, a Sacramento Democrat, expected to pass this week, would provide for immediate certification of the union if the Agricultural Labor Relations Board (ALRB) finds that grower violations of elections processes affected the vote.

It also would accelerate a sometimes dilatory process negotiations after elections, shorten the mediation process around contracts, and empower the general counsel of the ALRB to take legal action in the courts to reinstate workers fired as part of union election campaigns.

As for the card check legislation, I expect Brown to name a task force to fully study the issue. I don't expect him to sign card check any time soon.

For one thing, as I discussed here in July, Brown believes that the law that he enacted in 1975, which enabled the UFW to flourish for a time, still has potential.

For another, he is working on developing a business-labor coalition to push for needed revenues and reforms in the 2012 elections. If he approves card check, which has been a top national goal for labor for the last several years, on which it has gotten nowhere, that's the camel's nose under the tent. He would immediately find himself under great pressure to approve it for other workers. And that would be that for what he sees as a needed coalition in the 2012 elections.

But his coalition with elements of the business community bore little fruit when he needed it in the big budget battle early this year.

So Brown will talk with some of his advisors after the state legislature finally ends its yearly session late Friday about what worked and what did not in this first year, so far, of his new/renewed governorship.

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