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.”