Guerrero: Governor Newsom disappoints farm workers after recall

On Saturday, Guillermo Garcia spoke to dozens of farm workers outside French Laundry, the upscale restaurant in Yountville, Calif., Where Governor Gavin Newsom was caught having dinner without a mask during ‘a party during the pandemic.

“I don’t know about you, but I’m angry! Exclaimed the 49-year-old farmer from El Salvador, who has spent two decades harvesting kale, parsley, cilantro and other produce for American tables.

“We are all angry! Someone agreed. “This is how I feel,” added another.

Many farm workers – who often toil for minimum wage in 100-degree heat and risk their lives to feed the nation through a public health crisis – had defended Newsom against accusations of elitism and hypocrisy during the the recall election, knocking on doors and making calls. urging people to vote no. Now they feel betrayed.

Three days earlier, Newsom had vetoed a bill that would have allowed farm workers to vote by mail in union elections, with ballots that could be mailed or filed with the California Agricultural Labor Relations Board. .

In its veto, Newsom cited “inconsistencies and procedural issues” in Assembly Bill 616 and called on a national employment agency to work on other options. Teresa Romero, president of United Farm Workers, told me that the Newsom team did not raise any issues when discussing the bill.

Newsom spokesperson Erin Mellon said the governor’s office “has proposed codifying a postal ballot election process,” in which ballots are mailed to workers’ homes and they can mail them back or vote in person at a polling station. She said the offer was turned down.

The union and the bill’s mover, Assembly Member Mark Stone (D-Scotts Valley), take issue with the claim that Newsom’s office offered alternatives. Additionally, the union noted that farm workers’ addresses are often unreliable, so mailing them ballots would not work. The ballots, which organizers could retrieve from the Agriculture Labor Relations Board, were intended to address this issue.

A protest against Governor Gavin Newsom on Saturday in Yountville, California.

(Jean Guerrero / Los Angeles Times)

Romero says Newsom’s veto shows a double standard in which postal voting was allowed when it was beneficial to it, such as in the recall vote. She said protesters chose French Laundry “because we wanted to connect it to the double standards it has.” Newsom dining there in November, while asking Californians to stay home, sparked a right-wing media frenzy that Latino voters had to mobilize to counter.

Farm workers walked over five miles in the scorching sun to PlumpJack Winery, which Newsom co-founded. They carried flags and a sign saying, “Newsom doesn’t care about farm workers!” “

Newsom’s previous policies suggest he cares, but the veto plays into a harmful caricature that the Trump administration has popularized by borrowing from white supremacist literature: that Democrats are “globalist elites” who are indifferent to concerns of the working class and support immigration as a means of importing cheap labor.

“His veto has given a great victory to some of the same producers who have long fought against the expansion of agricultural workers’ rights,” said Ana Padilla, executive director of the UC Merced Community and Labor Center, noting that powerful producers praised Newsom’s action.

The bill’s alleged flaws, as described by Newsom staff, were not insurmountable. They included questions about how the organizers would identify all of the employees who should vote in a particular election. Newsom had a moral duty, given the importance of these workers, to work with United Farm Workers to ensure the success of the bill.

“If you really care about the people who do the most work to keep us well nourished, how don’t you work so hard that you can sign this bill?” Asked MP Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego).

In the 1970s, the efforts of Cesar Chavez and other civil rights leaders ensured 40,000 Californian farm workers were covered by collective agreements. Today, their number has fallen to just a few thousand due to anti-union activities by producers, aided by a multi-million dollar consulting industry.

“The tragedy is that there are fewer farm workers under union contracts today than there were during Cesar Chavez’s lifetime,” Kent Wong, director of the Labor Center of the UCLA. Union elections are usually held on producer property, which discourages participation as farm workers fear reprisals.

“They are being subjected to a gauntlet by employers who make all kinds of threats,” said Ken Jacobs, president of the Center for Labor Research and Education at UC Berkeley. Producers will sometimes fire organizers, even if this is illegal; the penalties are modest and rarely enforced.

California has health and safety protections in place for farm workers, but it’s difficult to ensure compliance if farm workers are concerned about reporting abuse. Most are undocumented and a third do not speak English.

California, which produces two-thirds of the fruit and one-third of the vegetables in the United States, is one of the few states to allow unionization of farm workers. But the working conditions remain catastrophic. And the need to consolidate workers’ rights became even more urgent this summer after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a California law allowing union organizers to enter farms during breaks, overturning regulations that have been in effect since. decades.

“Even if you work full-time in California agriculture, you won’t exceed the poverty line,” said Gaspar Rivera-Salgado, project director for the UCLA Labor Center. The pandemic has exacerbated existing inequalities and climate change is fueling forest fires that are also hurting farm workers.

Lourdes Cárdenas, a 58-year-old mother and Mexican farmer, also paraded last weekend. She remembers being sprayed with pesticides while working and making fun of complaining. She said to me, “Without this law, we will continue to be humiliated and hurt.

When she and the others got to PlumpJack Winery, they were hoping Newsom would be there and explain himself. But he didn’t show up. Shortly before sunset, the farm workers returned home.

For Democratic politicians, supporting the rights of agricultural workers should be a core value, not a principle they can dismiss when it suits them. It looks like Newsom did just that with its veto.


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