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ORGANIZED LABOR SOWING SEEDS TO FUNDAMENTALLY CHANGE

CALIFORNIA AGRICULTURAL LABOR RELATIONS.

Agricultural employers in California should play close attention to the 2010 gubernatorial

election because of two bills that would fundamentally impact labor relations in the agricultural

industry. One of these bills, SB 1121, has already passed the Legislature. This bill requires

employers to pay overtime to agricultural employees who work in excess of 8 hours in one day or

40 hours in one workweek. The sole impediment to enacting these bills as law is Gov.

Schwarzenegger’s veto–an impediment that will likely end if a Democratic governor is elected

this fall.

“Card Check” Bill Eliminates Secret Ballot Representation Elections.

Senate Bill (SB) 1474, introduced by Sen. Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento), would give

agricultural employees the option of bypassing secret-ballot elections in determining whether a

union will be recognized. Under current law, the selection of representation by agricultural

employees requires that, after a petition for representation has been presented to the Agricultural

Labor Relations Board (ALRB), the ALRB has seven days to investigate and conduct an election.

SB 1474 would create a “majority signup election” whereby agricultural employees would elect

their labor representatives by simply signing “representation cards.”

Under this process, labor representatives would deliver or mail the representation cards to

the ALRB for tabulation and comparison against a list of current employees in the bargaining

unit. If more than 50 percent of the employees in the bargaining unit sign representation cards,

then the ALRB would certify the election and recognize the labor representative. The employer

would have only 48 hours to file a response to the petition with the ALRB.

The bill would also provide for steep penalties of $20,000 per violation if the ALRB finds
“willful or repeated actions by the employer to interfere, restrain, or coerce agricultural

employees in their right to self organize and collectively bargain” or if an employer is found

“discriminating against a member of a labor organization in hiring or tenure of employment” or

encouraging or discouraging membership in any labor organization.

This bill is similar to several bills that the Legislature has passed since 2009, all of which

were vetoed by Gov. Schwarzenegger. The most recent bill, SB 789, was vetoed by the

Governor in September 2009. In his veto message, Gov. Schwartznegger stated that the card

check process “fundamentally alters an employee’s right to a secret ballot election that allows the

employee to choose, in the privacy of the voting booth without coercion or manipulation,

whether or not to be represented.”

If a Democratic governor is elected this fall, SB 1474 is likely to be passed and signed

into law. Agricultural employers, who have largely been successful in preventing labor

organizing, will face invigorated unions who will seek to obtain representation by simply

presenting a majority of signed representation cards to the ALRB.

Overtime Wages for Agricultural Employees.

In addition to the card-check bill, another bill passed the Legislature that would

fundamentally change agricultural employment law. Senate Bill (SB) 1121, introduced by Sen.

Dean Florez, (D-Shafter), removes the longstanding exemption for agricultural employees from

the California Labor Code and requires employers to pay overtime wages to agricultural

employees who work in excess of an 8-hour workday or 40-hour workweek.

Currently, agricultural employees are entitled to the payment of overtime wages only if

they work longer than 10 hours in a single day or more than six days during any workweek.

Opponents of SB 1121 note that agriculture is critically affected by weather conditions and the
seasonality of agricultural production; therefore, agricultural employers require greater flexibility

in scheduling work than other industries.

While Gov. Schwartnegger is likely to veto SB 1121, a Democratic governor would

probably sign it (or a similar bill passed in the future.) Agricultural employers would be faced

with a steep increase in labor costs, as well as a flood of class action lawsuits alleging unpaid

overtime. Such lawsuits have plagued non-agricultural employers for a number of years.

Conclusion.

There is a great deal riding on the fall gubernatorial election for agricultural employers.

While the composition of the Legislature is unlikely to change, the election of a Democratic

governor would likely mean that agricultural employers would no longer be protected from pro-

union legislation by the governor’s veto. Instead, fundamental changes would occur placing

agricultural employers–who are already facing a stagnant economy–with further challenges.