Job Killer Bill Eliminating Secret Ballot Union Elections to Be Considered When Legislators Return From Break

A California Chamber of Commerce job killer bill that seeks to eliminate an agricultural employee’s democratic right to cast an independent vote in a secret ballot unionization election will be heard in the Senate Appropriations Committee within the coming weeks.

The proposal, AB 2183 (Stone D-Scotts Valley), limits an employee’s ability to independently and privately vote for unionization in the workplace, by essentially eliminating a secret ballot election and replacing it with the submission of representation cards signed by over 50% of the employees, which leaves employees susceptible to coercion and manipulation by labor organizations. The bill also unfairly limits an employer’s ability to challenge the cards submitted by forcing employers to post an unreasonable bond, and then limits an employee’s ability to decertify a union, by forcing them to go through the ballot election process instead of submission of representation cards. The proposal also includes an unnecessary presumption of retaliation that is effectively unlimited in scope because it would apply for the duration of an election campaign, which could last for a year or more.

Unfairly Tips the Balance in the Union’s Favor

In a letter submitted to legislators earlier this month, the CalChamber explained that the current provisions of the Agricultural Labor Relations Act (ALRA) adequately protect the rights and interests of employees and employers, as well as unions. Modeled on the National Labor Relations Act, the ALRA affords agricultural employees the opportunity to select—or to refrain from selecting—a particular union as their collective bargaining representative through a formal and secure secret ballot election. Each employee votes in a private booth, without any pressure or coercion from the employer, union or coemployees. In this way, the employees’ true and current preferences on unionization are reliably determined.

AB 2183, however, seeks to strip employees of this fundamentally democratic right, instead allowing unions to bypass secret ballot elections under an alternative “ballot card” procedure. Under AB 2183, a union would be installed as a bargaining unit’s representative merely by submitting a petition to the ALRB along with representation cards signed by a majority of affected employees and designating that union for that purpose.

But unlike the current process, which guarantees that employees ultimately express their true sentiments about unionization in the tightly controlled setting of a supervised secret ballot election, this new procedure provides no safeguards to ensure the representation cards really indicate the employees’ free, uncoerced and current choice, the CalChamber warned.

For example, all ballots issued for an election are required to include a space for the employee to check “No Labor Organizations.” No such space or designation is required for a representation card. Additionally, AB 2183 expressly allows the union to complete the card for the employee. All the union or another employee has to do then is pressure the employee to sign it. Once signed, the card is valid for an entire year.

While the Agricultural Labor Relations Board (ALRB) will be required to maintain the confidentially and secrecy of the cards, the union will be under no such restriction. Accordingly, the union and employees who support it will be able to easily identify,  target and hassle those employees who have not given cards to the union. They will also have names and contact information provided to them by the employer to easily find employees. Notably, the bill includes consequences in Section 1156.35(i) if the employer is found to have engaged in inappropriate conduct, but there is no similar provision if a union is found to have engaged in inappropriate conduct. There is also no language in the bill making this ballot card process applicable to the decertification of a union, further demonstrating how one-sided this proposal truly is, the CalChamber pointed out.

Imposes Significant New Penalties on Employers

AB 2183 would impose steep penalties on employers for certain violations of up to $10,000 or $25,000. Notably, the bill imposes a penalty on an employer who interferes with organizing, but there is no penalty for a union found to have engaged in misconduct. The bill further provides that the court may impose personal liability on any director or officer of a company.

The CalChamber pointed out that there are already legal mechanisms by which someone may claim that an individual should be personally penalized for a corporation’s actions.

“This lowers the bar for personal liability, which has been rebuffed by courts in other labor law contexts,” the CalChamber said.

Similar Bill Vetoed

Last fall, Governor Gavin Newsom vetoed AB 616 (Stone; D-Scotts Valley), which included the same card check provisions as AB 2183. Governor Newsom specifically directed the Labor and Workforce Development Agency and ALRB to work together to develop alternative policies for the Legislature’s consideration.

In his veto letter, the Governor stated: “…This bill contains various inconsistencies and procedural issues related to the collection and review of ballot cards. Significant changes to California’s well-defined agricultural labor laws must be carefully crafted to ensure that both agricultural workers’ intent to be represented and the right to collectively bargain is protected, and the state can faithfully enforce those fundamental rights.”

Staff Contact: Ashley Hoffman