On Sept. 22, 2021, California Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoed a bill that would have allowed farmers to vote by mail in union elections. Had it gone through, this bill would have been a massive advancement in the voting rights of farmers. Often, farmers find it difficult to vote because most don’t have a permanent address. This bill would have allowed farmers to vote by mail by dropping their ballot at the California Agricultural Labor Relations Board office. By vetoing this bill, Newsom is proving that despite his past progressive policies, in reality he does not care about working-class California farmers.
Still, when farmers are looking for support from the government, Gavin Newsom is nowhere to be found. During the recall elections, hundreds and thousands of farmers went from door to door trying to rally support for Newsom. The United Farmer Workers even encouraged farmers to show their support. Newsom supported vote-by-mail only when it was beneficial for his political power.
In his rejection, Gov. Newsom stated, “The labor force is invaluable to the prosperity of our state and the very fabric of our society.” With this one line, Newsom revealed that all his “pro-farmer” legislation was performative and advocated solely to gain the support of California farmers during the recall election. It’s odd how Gov. Newsom, who spends so much time claiming to be pro-farmwork, has not spent any time speaking to growers and hearing their concerns and how he could better aid California farmers and expand their voting rights. Voting is a fundamental right guaranteed to all within the constitution. For Newsom to reject the requests of farmers to perform this civic duty is a violation of his oath to the people of California.
Following Newsom’s vetoing of the bill, farmers gathered to protest this grave act of injustice. These farmers gathered outside The French Laundry, an expensive restaurant where the governor was seen dining at during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Protesters marched for five miles, carrying flags and posters in favor of their cause. Unfortunately, by denying this bill, Newsom promoted the false narrative that Democrats are elitist and genuinely do not care for the working class.
Kent Wong, the director of labor at UCLA, said, “The tragedy is there are fewer farmworkers under union contract today than there were when Cesar Chavez was alive.” In the 1970s, almost 40,000 California farmworkers were covered by collective bargaining; that number has severely decreased since then. Anti-union activities have dramatically increased, keeping the cash with the big farming companies and away from the farmers. On June 23, 2020, the Supreme Court even ruled that farm owners are allowed to limit union activity on their farms, making it much harder for American farmers to receive overtime pay, disability, medical benefits and workers’ compensation.
California is one of the few states that still allow farmers to unionize, but their living and working conditions are still dismal. From the extremely long working hours with little breaks to the terrible wages, farmers are one of the most exploited worker groups. Two-thirds of U.S. produce is produced in California. Yet, according to the UCLA labor center project director, Gaspar Rivera-Salgado, “Even if you work full time on a farm, farmers will never be above the poverty line because of how low the wages are.” If Gov. Newsom truly cared for the rights of America’s food growers, he would have implemented pro-farmer legislation at the start of his governing term.
Farmers are indeed some of America’s most essential workers and the backbone of the California economy. These workers deserve the same rights guaranteed to all laborers in the United States. Without them, there would quite literally be no food. We must hold the government accountable when it is pushing out legislation harmful to America’s working class, especially farmers.