Biden-backed policy that let union deceive California farmworkers could soon go nationwide

Roughly 15 years ago, then-Vice President Joe Biden twisted Capitol Hill arms as the Obama Administration strove to secure the 60 Senate votes it needed to break an inevitable pro-Right to Work filibuster and pass into law S.560, sponsored by Democrats Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts and Tom Harkin of Iowa. This special-interest legislation would have cemented Big Labor’s power to corral workers into unions solely by collecting so-called “authorization” cards workers typically sign while union organizers are watching them.

But even though union-label Democrat politicians controlled a seemingly filibuster proof, 60-40 Senate majority for six months during President Obama’s first term in office, S.560 never became law. Effectively prohibiting employers from granting employees the opportunity to vote in a secret-ballot election before being forced to accept a union as their monopoly-bargaining agent on matters concerning pay, benefits, and work rules was just too radical, insisted several key “swing state” senators.

But mandatory unionization via card collection alone was never too radical for Biden.  

Brushing aside the wisdom of nonpartisan labor-law experts like the late Gary Chaison of Clark University, who in 2017 noted that many workers “sign union cards to get union organizers off their backs so they can eventually vote against the union in the election,” Biden and his appointees have dramatically shifted federal labor policy so that, for the first time in history, it now favors cards-only unionization over secret votes.

And in September 2022, Biden sent out a clear indication of his anti-worker vision for the future when he publicly pressured fellow Big Labor Democrat and California Gov. Gavin Newsom to sign Assembly Bill 2183, a cards-only unionization scheme targeting farmworkers.  

This law is so radical that, according to a regional director of the Golden State’s Agricultural Labor Relations Board (ALRB) cited recently in the Los Angeles Times, it does not even permit government investigations of alleged misconduct by union organizers before a union is certified as employees’ monopoly-bargaining agent!  But according to Biden, giving union operatives a green light to cheat constitutes “an easier path to make a free and fair choice to organize a union”!

What does Biden’s endorsement of AB 2183, which Newsom evidently signed into law against his own better judgment as a consequence of the President’s public intervention, mean in practice?  Charges filed with the ALRB on April 18 by Claudia Chavez and Maria Gutierrez, two employees of Wasco, Calif.-based Wonderful Nurseries, a food-and-drink company, furnish a foreshadowing of the abuses this law will usher in over the next few years.

In sworn declarations filed with assistance from National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation attorneys, Chavez and Gutierrez charge that United Farm Workers (UFW) union operatives resorted to “artifice, fraud, deceit, misrepresentation, and/or coercion” to obtain signed “membership” cards from them and other rank-and-file Wonderful Nurseries employees.

According to Chavez and Gutierrez, UFW officials falsely told employees their signatures on union “authorization” cards were necessary in order to obtain taxpayer-funded COVID-19-related benefits, and also deceitfully told him their signed cards would not be used for union organizing purposes.  Subsequently, UFW bigwigs broke their word and used the cards to grab monopoly-bargaining power over Wonderful Nurseries employees, while illegally disregarding requests from employees to return signed cards that had been obtained under false pretenses.

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With the 2022 amendment now incorporated, California’s Agricultural Labor Relations Act is so biased against employees who disagree with union bosses that the UFW hierarchy could ultimately get to retain its “exclusive representation” privileges over Wonderful Nurseries employees even though the ALRB has already admitted that worker allegations of UFW criminal misconduct are “serious in nature.”

When Joe Biden leaned on Gavin Newsom to sign AB 2183 roughly 20 months ago, was the President aware that, once signed into law, this scheme would be used to facilitate unionization via “fraud” and “deceit”?  Given that even Bill Clinton-appointed former National Labor Relations Board Chairman Bill Gould basically admits AB 2183 is stacked against employees’ freedom of choice, it’s hard to believe Biden didn’t know.  If he’s reelected this fall, all kinds of American workers may soon be in the same boat as California farmworkers. 

Mark Mix is president of the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation

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