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First steps in UFW’s 260-mile ‘March for the Governor’s Signature’ for AB 616, making farm labor election voting easier

A week after the recall, farm workers seek the same voting rights California voters used to keep Newsom

Farmersville, Calif.—Farm workers begin a grueling 19-day, 260-mile “March for the Governor’s Signature” on Wednesday from rural Tulare County to the state Capitol in Sacramento urging Governor Gavin Newsom to sign AB 616. The bill gives farm workers the right to cast a secret ballot in many of the same ways that California voters used to defeat the Republican-backed bid to oust Governor Newsom.

The 1975 Agricultural Labor Relations Act allows farm workers to vote only at traditional physical polling places, nearly always on growers’ property. Since then, California has dramatically expanded voting rights in political elections. In rejecting the recall most Californians voted at home. Many deposited them in drop boxes or with voting officials. Some obtained help filling out their ballots and sending them in. California stands in sharp contrast to many Republican-controlled states that have recently enacted voter suppression laws making it harder to vote.

Following passage of the California Voting Choice Act in 2016 and last year’s general election, Governor Newsom said “Making voting easier, providing more choice, more opportunity…is fabulous.” The UFW agrees.

Agricultural workers—including 25 full-time marchers—are embarking on their trek to ask the governor to grant them the same rights as all other California voters and make it easier for them to cast ballots, including at home, by signing AB 616. The UFW-led march will strictly observe COVID-19 protocols.

“I am humbled that farm workers are taking upon themselves to make this sacrifice to support the bill that I had the honor of introducing and getting through the legislature. We, in the legislature, believe in creating greater access to voting,” said the author of AB 616, Assemblymember Mark Stone (D-Monterey Bay).

The march — known as a peregrinacion (or pilgrimage) in Spanish — draws upon California farm workers’ rich history and deep cultural and spiritual roots grounded in self-sacrifice. It retraces much of the same route as the historic Cesar Chavez-led 1966 march to Sacramento. Governor Newsom’s office posted a Tweet on Sept. 8 commemorating the 1966 UFW march to Sacramento.

Farm workers from union-contract companies and non-union workers have volunteered for the laborious pilgrimage. Bakersfield farm worker Baldomero Perez contrasted the fear he witnessed seeing fellow workers vote in a 2016 union election on a farm with how political voters cast ballots. “I’ve seen how different it is when people cast their ballot by mail,” he told CalMatters. “The vote is safe and they can’t receive pressure from anyone.”

Click here for more on AB 616.

Who:               California field workers.

What:              Taking first steps of a 19-day, 260-mile “March for the Governor’s Signature” for AB 616, expanded farm worker voting rights.

When:             9:30 a.m., Wednesday, Sept. 22, 2021.

Where:             The Church/Museum, 881 N. Farmersville Blvd., Farmersville, Calif. 93223