Despite the fact that the card-check bill cleared the California legislature four times and was vetoed each time during Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s administration, it is back.

If SB104 passes, it could have major ramifications for California agriculture.

The card-check bill, sponsored by the United Farm Workers Union, effectively eliminates secret ballot elections for union certification. A labor organization would be certified as the workers’ bargaining representative by submitting cards bearing the signatures of a majority of the employees.

Steep penalties would also be established if SB104 passes. If a dairy farmer fails to provide the union detailed information within 48 hours after receiving notification of an organizing effort, including home addresses of employees, he may be fined up to $10,000 per day. An unfair labor practice penalty of up to $20,000 can also be assessed per violation under SB104.

Opponents of the bill believe eliminating secret ballot elections will give a green light to worker intimidation, coercion and bullying from union leaders.

Eliminating secret ballot also takes a fundamental right away from employees. “In this country, we believe when people have to make decisions they do so in the form of secret ballot from electing officials at the local level to federal election and even in business,” says Anthony Raimondo, agriculture labor law attorney with McCormick Barstow in Fresno, Calif. “Think about who we are. We teach our children these same values, that the best way to vote is in a secret ballot election. The union wants to take this away from workers – it’s just not right.”

In recent years, the union has been fairly quiet, leaving the dairy industry alone for the most part. “We’ve been successful at keeping unions out of dairy farms,” says Raimondo. “If the union does get voted into a dairy, eventually they are voted out.”

Raimondo believes that because the union has lost under the existing rules and can’t seem to get employees to vote for them once they are in a business, they’ve decided to change the rules and tip the playing field in their favor.

If the card-check bill does pass, a whole new surge of union organization is expected in California. “Dairy farms will be forced into union negotiations before they even know it,” notes Raimondo.

The most important thing will be for dairy farmers to find themselves a good attorney, one that specializes in bargaining. “If you end up with a union, you will be forced to negotiate a contract, and you have to end up with a contract that you can live with and still maintain control of your business.”

And to get through contract negotiations you’re going to have to have two things – resolve and money. “Nobody cares more about your business than you do, but you’re going to have to fight to maintain control of it. Everything is on the table once the union comes in. You can negotiate how fast cows should be milked, the number of turns the parlor should make per hour, the quality of milk, coliform counts, standards for over or under loading feed ingredients, etc.”

It will be expensive to stick to your guns. “They won’t give it to you for nothing,” notes Raimondo.

At the end of the day the card-check bill is the worst thing that could happen to dairy farms in terms of labor problems.“Right now, if the union shows up a dairyman still has a chance. Without secret ballot election, in most cases it will be over before it starts,” he says.

No word has come from Gov. Jerry Brown’s office if he will sign SB104; opponents of the bill believe that he will. SB104 was approved by the senate and is currently sitting in the state assembly.

On the federal level, card-check is dead in the water. But if the card-check bill does pass in California it could open the door to a national bill.