Calif. bill would enforce farm labor negotiations

Calif. Senate passes union-friendly bill strengthening enforcement of farm labor negotiations

Associated Press

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) -- California's Senate approved legislation Monday that changes the ground rules for negotiations between farmers and fieldworkers by giving state regulators more authority to act.

The bill lets the Agricultural Labor Relations Board require binding mediation between the employer and union even if one side is appealing an unfair labor practice decision in court. It also keeps farm contracts in place if the agribusiness restructures its ownership.

Some owners are exploiting loopholes in the state's decade-old farm labor law to delay enacting contracts with unionized farm workers, said Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento.

He said his bill would affect about a half-dozen of California's 86,000 farms. Small farms would be exempt under what Steinberg called a "reasonable expansion of a good law."

But the organization representing farmers objected that the bill could surprise non-union farm operators who buy a piece of a union farm. Moreover, the non-union farms' employees would suddenly be represented by a union they never authorized, he said.

"It puts people who are trying to do the right thing in a bad position, potentially," said Bryan Little, labor relations director for the California Farm Bureau Federation.

SB25 passed on a party-line 23-10 vote over Republican objections and goes to the Assembly.

"This is simply another attempt to stack the deck against the employers," said Sen. Jim Nielsen, R-Gerber. "It is an unnecessary and unjustified interference with collective bargaining."

The United Farm Workers, which sought the bill, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. But Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, said the measure "will level the playing field" by cleaning up portions of the current law that let some farm operators stall contract negotiations for years.

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