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AB 616 Agricultural Labor Relations Voting Choice Act Backgrounder

Argument for AB 616:

On Sept. 14, Californians voted overwhelmingly in the recall election to keep Governor Newsom.

Some of them went to the polls to cast their ballots.

Others mailed in their ballots.

Some of them needed help filling out and turning in their ballots.

Some of them dropped their ballots off before election day at official sites.  

They had choices.   

The California Voting Choice Act gave them those choices…choices that didn’t exist in 1975 when California gave farm workers the right to vote in union representation elections.

AB 616 is the Agricultural Labor Relations Voting Choice Act. 

It modernizes secret ballot elections for farm workers by giving them many of the same opportunities to vote Californians used on Sept. 14 to retain Governor Newsom.

• This CalMatters piece on Aug. 31 covered both sides of the debate: (Note the labor experts quoted in the article.)

• Commentary piece in CalMatters on Sept. 2 by UC Berkeley Law Professor Catherine Fisk, who wrote labor law textbooks used at Cal Berkeley law school:

• While drafting the bill, the UFW showed it to then-Secretary of State Alex Padilla. He shared it with attorneys from his office who are experts in election law, asking them to examine it as to how it conformed with present-day state law and make any recommendations for changes. They had none. Now-U.S. Senator Padilla said, “As Secretary of State, I was proud to support and implement changes in state law to make it easier for people to exercise their right to vote. Farm workers should have similar opportunities as they exercise their longstanding right to vote in a union representation election, and the Agricultural Labor Relations Voting Choice Act would modernize the process and expand voting accessibility for farm workers in California.” (See Padilla quote in attached news release from AB 616 author Assemblymember Mark Stone.)

• Why AB 616 is legally different from card check:

First, unlike card check, the Agricultural Labor Relations Board maintains strict oversight over the representation ballot card process. 

Unlike card check, the ALRB tracks and distributes the ballots cards.

Unlike card check, AB 616 provides parties with an opportunity to contest the validity of a signature or worker identity.  

Unlike card check, AB 616 provides an objections process for parties to contest the manner or method in which workers cast their ballot cards.  

Unlike card check, if the objections are valid, AB 616 provides a hearing in front of a judge.  

And finally, unlike card check, AB 616 provides that an election petition can be invalidated if there is union misconduct

(See Cal Berkeley labor law professor Catherine Fisk’s commentary in CalMatters.)

• Also remember, unions must meet a much higher standard to win an election under both the ALRA and AB 616 than elected officials such as governors and legislators.

—Politicians need only win a plurality of votes cast in a political election. It is often not anywhere near a majority of all registered voters eligible to cast ballots.

—In order to win any union representation election, including under AB 616, unions must win a majority of all voters—all the eligible workers employed at a company. Workers who don’t vote are effectively casting a ballot for “no union.”

For example, Governor Gavin Newsom won 61.9 percent of the 12,464,235 voters who voted in the 2018 gubernatorial election. Governor Newsom earned 7,721,410 votes. Governor Newsom won his election by an historically large margin, but Governor Newsom’s vote total fell far short of 50 percent+1 of all eligible voters. In fact, Governor Newsom earned just over 39 percent of the 19,696,371 total registered voters in California in 2018. Under the rules of the ALRA and AB 616, Governor Newsom would not have been “certified” as the winner.  

Some other examples:

State Senator Tom Umberg received 51 percent of the votes from those who cast ballots. That was 28% of all registered voters in his district. 

Senator Steven Bradford received 72 percent of the votes from those who cast ballots. 

That was 45 percent of all registered voters in his district. 

Senator Melissa Hurtado received 56 percent of the votes from those who cast ballots. 

That was 23 percent of all registered voters in her district. 

A similar pattern holds true for dozens of state lawmakers.

• A short UFW-produced video on AB 616:


AngeliaHi, what are you up to?

Jose Luis: Just here filling out my ballot for the gubernatorial election. I need to make sure to send it in before September 14. I actually just finished filling it out.  You know what, I really like this new way of voting; filling out my ballot from the comfort of home. 

Angelia: I would very much like to be able to fill out ballots like this during union elections. It would be much better and safer for everyone. How about it ? It would be very good right?

Jose LuisYes, yes. Well, if we can fill out ballots for Governor elections from home, I think we should be able to vote the same way for union elections.

Angelia: Yes, I like the idea. I would feel more secure, more confident, and it just better for everyone’s assurance.