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April 2023, Volume 29, Number 2

UFW; ALRB; Unions

The UFW represented about 5,500 workers on 22 California farms with contracts in 2022. Governor Gavin Newsom signed AB 2183 in 2022, which created alternatives to in-person secret ballot elections on farms to determine whether workers want to be represented by a union, including having union organizers persuade a majority of workers to sign union authorization cards.

The UFW says that it helps farm workers achieve higher incomes, citing the four decades of representing Monterey Mushrooms, where year-round jobs offer up to $40,000 a year, double the $20,000 average of seasonal farm workers.

The UFW is battling Ostrom Mushroom Farms in Sunnyside, Washington, alleging that Ostrom in 2022 replaced US workers with H-2A guest workers at the $60 million facility opened in 2019. In February 2023, Ostrom was sold to Canada’s Windmill Farms, which renamed the Sunnyside facility Greenwood Mushrooms Sunnyside. Ostrom employees were offered jobs at Greenwood.

ALRB. The ALRB released guidance to implement AB 2183, the card-check law approved in 2022. Employers could register Labor Peace Agreements with the ALRB until January 31, 2023 pledging to allow union organizers to visit employees on their farms and not to oppose union efforts to organize their employees; in exchange, their employees may vote in a secret ballot election. No farm employers registered LPAs for 2023.

Alternatively, unions can collect signatures from workers over a year, present them to the ALRB when they have majority support, and be certified as the bargaining representative for the employees. The third option, a mail-ballot replacement for secret-ballot elections, is expected to be repealed in 2023. AB 2183 also requires employers to post bonds before appealing ALRB decisions and allows the ALRB to impose civil money penalties of up to $25,000 for ALRA violations.

Unions. The United Auto Workers replaced the incumbent appointed president with Shawn Fain in March 2023 in the first elections open to all members rather than being selected by delegates to a UAW convention. The UAW has 400,000 active members and 600,000 retirees who can vote in UAW elections. Fain promised to be tougher in negotiations with large auto firms.

The Amazon Labor Union, which won an election to represent warehouse workers at Staten Island’s JFK8 facility in 2022 but lost elections at two other Amazon warehouses. Internal conflicts are weakening the union, which has yet to negotiate a contract. Without dues, the ALU depends on donations from foundations and other unions.

Starbucks Workers United represents workers at 288 of the 9,300 corporate-owned US stores, winning a majority of votes in NLRB-supervised elections beginning in August 2021 in Buffalo. Starbucks opposes the SWU, and has complained about the way that the NLRB conducted mail ballot elections at some of its stores, while the SWU has charged that Starbucks interference prevented free and fair elections.

The SWU’s wants Starbucks to pay at least $20 an hour, guarantee 37 hour weeks for full-time employees and 20 hours for part time, and offer fully employer-paid health insurance. Starbucks, which is negotiating with the SWU on a store-by-store basis, says it pays an average $17.50 an hour and has average labor costs of $27 an hour. Senate Democrats attacked ex-CEO Howard Schultz for not embracing unions during a March 2023 hearing.

A third of nonfarm unions negotiate a contract within a year of winning an election.

Julie Su, former head of the California Labor and Workforce Development Agency, was nominated to be the Secretary of Labor in February 2023. Su won compensation in the 1990s from the brands that had clothes sewn in Southern California sweatshops for Thai workers.

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