CALIFORNIA, USA — California farmworkers launched a 24-day, 335-mile march Wednesday to advocate for a bill to expand union voting rights.
The march started early in the morning at the United Farm Workers' (UFW) headquarters, known as The Forty Acres, in Delano. Farmworkers and supporters will arrive at the state Capitol in Sacramento on Aug. 26 to urge Gov. Gavin Newsom to sign AB 2183, the Agricultural Labor Relations Voting Choice Act.
The bill would make it easier for farmworkers to vote in union elections by allowing them to mail or drop off their ballots to a relevant Agricultural Labor Relations Board (ALRB) office.
The "March for the Governor's Signature" comes after Newsom vetoed a similar bill last September, which would've allowed workers to mail their ballots. Newsom stated the bill contained "various inconsistencies and procedural issues related to the collection and review of ballot cards."
Currently, farmworker union elections nearly always happen on the grower's property where farmworkers are required to vote in-person. According to the UFW, this leads to voter suppression through abuse and intimidation.
This march in August will follow a similar path to UFW's historic 343-mile march back in 1994, where farmworkers and supporters kicked off a new contract negotiating campaign. The march in 1994 came a year after the death of César Chávez, a civil rights activist and co-founder of the National Farm Workers Association, which would later be known as the UFW.
"There had been continuous struggle since the 60s. Farmworkers had been in a very suppressed, devalued status in the U.S," said Manuel Barajas, a professor of sociology at Sacramento State University and co-founder of the Center on Race, Immigration and Social Justice (CRISJ). "That march in 1994 was a way to bring attention to the plight of farmworkers, to the need to create awareness and empathy and motivate ethical actions among everybody."
Barajas said the march now comes at a critical time for farmworkers, who have lost a lot of ground in the midst of more recent challenges.
"In these past two years with the pandemic, with the economic downturns, farmworkers have been the most impacted and hurt in the state, in the nation," Barajas said.
He's hopeful that if this new bill is passed, farmworkers will feel empowered to fight against unfair labor practices for the first time in decades.
"Workers will be more able to have their voices heard, they will be encouraged to vote, the policies and the actions will reflect their interests. Right now, they haven't in the last 40 years," Barajas said.
He's now encouraging others to stand with the farmworkers and supporters as they make their way up to Northern California.
"Join them, support them, honor them, respect them... each of the people who make the nation run, operate. Without them, we would crumble," Barajas said.