President Trump’s recently announced tariffs on Chinese agricultural products serve as a reminder that our farmworkers desperately need elected officials who have their back. As the California Legislature comes back into session from its summer break, lawmakers again have the opportunity to stand up for farmworkers, and not just pay lip service to working-class values and priorities to get votes.
A clear example where some elected officials, and even organizations that were created to help farmworkers like the United Farm Workers (UFW) union, are on the wrong side of what is best for workers is Assembly Bill 1783. On its face, this bill may appear like it is on the side of workers, as it purports to create a “streamlined” process to build housing for farmworkers.
In reality, this bill would reduce the funding for agricultural workers’ housing by using those funds to create a bureaucracy that would be unworkable. This bill would also result in the delayed construction of housing that workers desperately need right now.
The Western Growers Association explained it simply by stating, “AB 1783 would not help mitigate the farmworker housing crisis and in fact would make it worse. The bill creates a new ministerial permitting process for farmworker housing located on agricultural land… Few farmers would be willing to do this as they would remain responsible for the housing and any liability claims associated with its operation.”
Yet the UFW and other prominent organizations like the Dolores Huerta Foundation support this bill.
And this legislation is not the first bill that goes against farmworkers. Other prominent lawmakers have introduced or supported bills that may seem counterintuitive, given their pro-worker rhetoric.
Current mayor of Sacramento Darrell Steinberg introduced legislation while in the California Senate which would have forced farm workers to accept mandatory union contracts, even if those contracts resulted in less take home pay for workers. Shockingly, many lawmakers supported the bill, including a former state senator that now serves on the Agriculture Labor Relations Board, Isadore Hall.
Just last year, Assemblyman Jim Patterson introduced a package of bills that would give California farmworkers the same bargaining rights as other union workers, but some legislators in the Assembly Labor Committee opposed this effort. These bills would have prevented workers from being abandoned by their union by decertifying labor organizations that disappear for three years or more, given farmworkers a say in approving labor contracts imposed by the ALRB, and provided more due process by allowing a new election to take place in a decertification vote.
Given that the ALRB staffers are members of the Service Employees International Union, it seemed only fair that the farmworkers the board claims to represent have the same bargaining rights as the staff members.
All the components of these bills would have provided workers with more rights and reasserted their constitutional right of freedom of assembly. Yet many lawmakers opposed the legislative package, including Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez-Fletcher, who claims to be a huge supporter of farmworkers’ rights but whose actions often show otherwise.
As the California Legislature comes back into session to finish out the rest of this legislative year, I hope members of both parties who support farmworkers will oppose legislation like AB 1783. And I hope elected officials will finally get called out when they introduce and support legislation bad for farmworkers and working-class Californians.
Jesse Rojas is a farmworker rights activist, spokesperson for Pick Justice and founder of California Farm Workers & Families PAC.