(March 15, 2011) A California Chamber of Commerce-opposed proposal seeking to limit agricultural employees’ ability to make their union choice in a private secret ballot has won approval from a Senate policy committee.
SB 104 (Steinberg; D-Sacramento) essentially eliminates the secret ballot election and replaces it with the submission of representation cards signed by more than 50 percent of employees, thereby leaving employees susceptible to coercion and manipulation by labor organizations.
SB 104 is similar to SB 789 (Steinberg; D-Sacramento), which the CalChamber designated as a “job killer” bill in 2009. SB 789 was vetoed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.
California’s Agricultural Labor Relations Act (ALRA), modeled on the National Labor Relations Act, affords agricultural employees to select, or to refrain from selecting, a particular union as their collective bargaining representative through a formal and secure secret ballot election.
SB 104, however, allows unions to bypass secret ballot elections under an alternative “majority signup” procedure. Under SB 104, a union would be installed as a bargaining unit’s representative merely by submitting a petition to the Agricultural Labor Relations Board (ALRB) along with representation cards signed by a majority of affected employees and designating that union for that purpose.
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.
SB 104 specifically provides that it is lawful for the union to complete the card for the employee and just have the employee sign. Moreover, SB 104 will allow the certification of a union based on representation cards signed by employees up to a year before the union submits them to the ALRB. With no provision for allowing employees who have changed their minds to revoke their cards, this process will not guarantee that the cards when submitted reliably indicate employees’ then-current preferences.
Finally, SB 104 creates a huge disparity in the remedies provided for unfair labor practices committed by an employer versus unfair labor practices committed by a union.
Under SB 104, if an employer is charged with interfering, coercing, or discriminating against an employee through the exercise of his/her rights to unionize, the charge will be elevated to priority level and take precedence over any other case filed in that ALRB office.
Thereafter, if the employer is found by the ALRB to have committed an unfair labor practice, the ALRB can issue a statutory civil penalty against the employer in an amount of up to $20,000 per violation.
No such comparable treatment or penalty is provided where a union is charged with and found to have committed an unfair labor practice.
This proposed treatment of an unfair labor charge against an employer is significant, as it is not only one-sided, but completely alters the nature of the remedies traditionally awarded by the ALRB.
As set forth in Labor Code Section 1160.3, the current available remedies are essentially the same regardless of whether the guilty party is the employer or union and are designed to make the employee whole, not to penalize the employer and/or create a windfall for the employee.
SB 104 passed the Senate Labor and Industrial Relations Committee on a party-line vote of 5-2 on March 9.
Ayes: Lieu (D-Torrance); DeSaulnier (D-Concord); Leno (D-San Francisco); Padilla (D-Pacoima); Yee (D-San Francisco).
Noes: Wyland (R-Escondido); Runner (R-Antelope Valley).
The bill will be considered next by the Senate Appropriations Committee.
Staff Contact: Jennifer Barrera