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Hearing in Bakersfield regarding union rights draws over 100 people from across the state

Posted at 10:52 AM, Jun 12, 2024

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — A union rights hearing began in Bakersfield on Wednesday, and hundreds of people from across California traveled downtown to show support for farmworkers. This is an ongoing story.

  • Video shows the scene Wednesday morning as people gathered downtown in support of farm workers. Representatives from various industries and unions traveled to Bakersfield from across California.
  • A hearing began Wednesday morning at Kern County Superior Court regarding farm workers unionization. Wonderful Nurseries filed a lawsuit against the state's Agricultural Labor Relations Board last month to challenge the 2022 state law that expanded union rights for farm workers.
  • This story will be updated once more information is available regarding the hearing.

BROADCAST TRANSCRIPT:

A hearing began Wednesday morning in Downtown Bakersfield regarding a lawsuit Wonderful Nurseries filed against the state last month.

The lawsuit targets a California law that expands protections for farm workers looking to unionize. September makes two years since Governor Gavin Newsom signed the bill into law in 2022.

It allows workers to use a “vote by mail” process for union cards, which advocates say protects workers from potential employer intimidation. According to the lawsuit, Wonderful claims the law cuts employers out of the process too much.

In early March, farmworkers in Wasco reportedly signed enough authorization cards, under the new law, to unionize.

Since then, 23ABC has reported on part of the unionization efforts, including the contentious debatesbetween the Agriculture Labor Relations Board, or ALRB, United Farm Workers and Wonderful Nurseries.

This lawsuit against the state comes after nearly 100 workers at the Wonderful Company staged a walkout at the ALRB offices in Visalia, claiming they felt misrepresented.

When 23ABC reported on the walkout in late March, just weeks after the Wasco workers signed the union cards, Wonderful said in a statement that read in part quote, “Wonderful remains among the only ones trying to protect farm workers as opposed to the UFW or the ALRB,” end quote. The UFW claimed Wonderful pushed its employees to protest in Visalia for fear of consequence.

Ahead of the hearing, union supporters gathered in downtown Bakersfield in support of farm workers. People from various industries, including other union leaders, lined Truxtun Avenue.

Alan Sheehan, president of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, was among those gathered downtown. He told 23ABC he traveled from San Mateo County in Northern California to Bakersfield.

"We’re here to support the hardworking farm laborers and give them the right to unionize, which is the right of any American citizen," Sheehan said. "We’re here to support them. An injury to one is an injury to all, and we’re all about unity.”

UPDATE: In a statement to 23ABC on Wednesday, Wonderful Nurseries said: "Today, the Court acknowledged the serious issues raised in the Wonderful Nurseries’ constitutional challenge to the card check law — a positive step for the hundreds of farmworkers who continue to courageously speak out in defense of their right to choose whether or not they want to be part of a union. We appreciate and understand the need for further consideration of this important matter and look forward to continuing to address the Court on the merits of this issue.  Our motion is centered on ensuring that the extreme flaws inherent in the existing card check law are considered and addressed before it is further applied by the UFW at the expense of farmworkers. It’s about the significant gaps in transparency, privacy and informed consent that led two pro-union governors to veto this legislation before it became law. And it’s about the extraordinary allegations made by farmworkers of rampant fraud prior to the state board’s rushed certification."

This story will continue to be updated once more information is available regarding the hearing.


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