California Finishes Session with Anti-Farm Worker Legislation

Last week, the California legislature finished session with a flurry of bills passing the House, Senate, and being signed into law. While you may have read about some of the last-minute bills, like the bill to reclassify workers in the gig economy or the bill that would allow college athletes to be paid, there was another piece of legislation that hasn’t received much attention and that is AB 1783, the Farmworker Housing Act of 2019. 

On its face, and given its name, the bill seems like it could only be a good thing for farm workers, right? 

As is often the case, however, names and titles can be misleading. While this bill purports to address the housing shortage for farm workers, if enacted it could actually make it more difficult to provide housing for people who need it the most.

AB 1783 creates a program allegedly designed to streamline the permitting process, but in order to qualify a farmer would have to enlist a nonprofit to manage the housing, even though the housing would be built on the farmers’ own land. Few, if any, farmers would be willing to go through this process, making this bill ineffective at addressing the housing shortage. In reality, this bill will reduce funding for farm worker housing and ultimately delay the construction of housing that is needed desperately

Sadly, high profile labor leaders like Dolores Huerta, co-founder of the United Farm Workers (UFW) union, and Rep. Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher have put their weight behind this legislation.

And this is not the first time Rep. Gonzalez Fletcher, and the UFW have been on the wrong side of what is good for farm workers. 

Last year, Gonzalez Fletcher opposed a legislative package that would have given farm workers more bargaining rights. These bills, introduced by Rep. Jim Patterson, would have made it so a labor union would be decertified if they abandoned the farm workers for a period longer than 3 years, and would also give workers the opportunity to ratify a union contract that results from the mediation and conciliation process. As it stands, if a union contract goes through that process, workers are forced to accept the final results, even if that means for them less take-home pay and benefits. 

These common sense bills would give farm workers more rights, something that Representatives like Gonzalez Fletcher say they are for, but when it comes time to take power away from the union bosses and give it back to the workers, she seems to always side with the union bosses. Her support for AB 1783 is consistent with her desire to appear like she is on the side of workers, without actually doing what is best for them. 

The UFW’s anti-worker activities are even more egregious, as they have been caught trying to prevent workers from conducting a peaceful protest and in one instance disappeared for 22 years before coming back to a farm and tried to force a contract on workers that would result in a decrease in their take-home pay. 

Even when a bill, legislator, or organization claims to be on the side of farm workers it is important to examine the facts to discover where their true allegiance lies. Often you will find they support big union bosses over the people the union is supposed to represent. It is disappointing that bills like AB 1783 don’t get more attention from the media because sunlight is the best disinfectant. Instead, it is dependent upon all of us to do our research and hold our elected officials accountable.