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One Bill Could Help Farmworkers Unionize. Why Won’t Newsom Sign It?

Gavin Newsom could change thousands of workers' lives with a signature. He's resisting.

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Video produced and edited by Libby Rainey and Ian McKenna

There’s a bill on California Governor Gavin Newsom’s desk that could change the lives of thousands of farmworkers across California by making it easier for them to unionize. He has until the end of the month to sign it. Here’s what’s at stake for farm workers if he refuses. Below is a full transcript of the video.

Xochitl Nuñez: I keep saying that I’m here to fight, but I can’t stop crying.

[Friend]: It’s okay to cry. That shows just how frustrating this all is for us, how much courage we all have. Crying isn’t for weak people, Xochitl; it’s the strong that cry.

Farmworkers are holding a vigil outside the California State Capitol building in hopes of changing Governor Gavin Newsom’s mind on this labor bill.

[Legislator]: AB 2183 is the bill that will give farmworkers the ability to vote by mail [in union elections].

[Legislator]: The freedom not to have intimidation.

Xochitl: And this bill is why I walked all this way.

Cynthia Burgos: Yes, I marched 335 miles from Delano to Sacramento.

[News Clip]: 24 days walking through California, farm workers and their supporters reaching the state capitol here.

Cynthia: What do we want?

[Crowd]: For him to sign!

Cynthia: When?

[Crowd]: Now!

Cynthia: The pain I carried with me was much more than just from walking.I kept saying, I have to make it—I have to because I know a lot of us had to stay behind.

[News Clip]: Governor Newsom says he does not support the farmwork union bill in its current form.

[Gavin Newsom]: The same bill that they’ve had a few times. I think Governor Brown vetoed that bill. I vetoed that bill.

Xochitl: It’s just so frustrating. But it’s fine—we’ll just keep going, keep fighting.

The Agricultural Labor Relations Voting Choice Act, or California Assembly Bill 2183, would radically change how farmworkers vote in union elections.

[Mark Stone]: Farmworkers under the current law don’t get to [vote by mail in union elections].They go to a polling place that is on a grower’s property.

[Mark Stone]: They’re usually driven there by the grower’s personnel and they’re under a tremendous amount of pressure during that time on how to vote.

Xochitl: If this passes, I won’t have to do it in the field. I’d have a ballot through the mail I can fill out in my car or my living room—even my bathroom. I can fill it out, sign it, and mail it off.

Xochitl: It will relieve a lot of that intimidation.

Farmworkers face grueling, unsafe conditions and low pay in the fields but the vast majority are not unionized.

Xochitl: If there’s not a union, you can’t really do anything.

Xochitl: Working in the fields is hard, it’s really difficult work.

Cynthia: On any given day as a farmworker, you have to wake up at 4 in the morning, you get to the fields at 5 or 6 in the morning, and then you get going. 

Cynthia: I work in the carrot fields. That involves being on your knees for 8 hours.

Cynthia: After that, I get home, cook dinner, pick up the kids from school, take a shower, sleep for about two hours, and wait for my next shift at night.

Cynthia: By day, I’m picking carrots. At night, I work harvesting onions. So I only really sleep for 3 or 4 hours a night.

Xochitl:  And women face a lot of discrimination in this line of work, too. They yell at us, they insult us, they even harm us sexually.

Cynthia: I was raped in the fields. And it was hard because all they did was tell me to keep quiet.They threatened me.

Cynthia: I complained to my supervisor and he told me, “Just remember, you have kids here. And if you get deported to Mexico, who’s going to take care of them?”

Xochitl: As women, we need this legislation to get a little respect, to not have to worry about being assaulted or intimidated.

Cynthia: If this became law, I would just be the happiest person because with a union on these job sites, we’d be able to speak out about what’s really happening.

Governor Gavin Newsom vetoed a similar bill just last year.

[Mark Stone]: Yes, this bill was vetoed last year. But we’ve taken some amendments to this point after really productive discussions with the governor.

On August 26th, Newsom’s communication director said [Newsom] cannot support the farm worker bill in its current form.

That same day, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that a winery group co-founded by Newsom had spent $14.5 million to acquire a 129-acre California vineyard.

Xochitl:  But I think he is thinking as just another rancher, and not the governor of California.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and even President Joe Biden have urged Newsom

to sign the bill into law.

[Interviewer]: Did it make an impact that President Biden weighed in?

[Gavin Newsom]: President Biden weighs in on a lot of issues. And we had a chance—we’ve had many chance to dialog on a lot of issues.

[Gavin Newsom]: That bill is on my desk with a few hundred others. And we’re going to take a good look at it.

Cynthia: We’re just daily farmworkers. We’re not some ranchers who are gonna give him money. So what do you think is better for him as governor?

Cynthia: Help out these farmworkers, or shut this down for the ranchers?

Governor Newsom, has until the end of September to sign AB 2183.

The farmworkers holding vigil outside the Capitol hope he’ll listen to their call to action.

Cynthia: If our pain hasn’t affected him even after we marched 335 miles, what more does he want us to do?

Cynthia: We just want him to sign so we can go back home and be with our families and with our kids.

Cynthia: That’s all we’re asking of him, to just treat us with a little humanity.

Xochitl: I’m just asking him to look into his heart a little and think about the millions of farmworkers that are going to be helped by this law.

Videography by Barbara Ve

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