Hundreds of California Farmworkers Are Marching for Union Voting Rights

On Wednesday, 250 farmworkers and their support took the first steps in a 24-day Delano–to-Sacramento marche to demand more voting options when they cast a ballot for unionization.

The march, organized by United Farm Workers, or UFW, has been billed as the “March for the Governor’s Signature,” a reference to demands that California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a new bill to protect farmworkers against employer suppression.

“California is a very wealthy state and agriculture contributes to that wealth, but farmworkers continue to be poor and their families suffer — that’s what we need to change,” Dolores Huerta, co-founder of the UFW, told a crowd of marchers gathered at Forty Acres, the site of UFW’s original headquarters in Delano.

“We want everything that you’re doing here to reach the hearts of the growers and the heart of the governor,” said Huerta, before shouting “Si se puede,” a phrase she originated in 1972, while campaigning against legislation that denied workers’ right to organize during harvest seasons.

Over the next few weeks, participants will march approximately 15 miles each day before reaching Sacramento, which is the state capital. Gavin Newsom declared “California Farmworker Day” last October. They’ll be marching in the scorching summer heat, behind the same Lady of Guadalupe banner that UFW has been using since the 1960s.

According to Elizabeth Strater, director of strategic campaigns at UFW, that history was palpable during the march’s launch, which she called a kind of “family reunion” for farmworkers, organizers, clergy and other union workers who attended in solidarity with the farmworker movement.

The new bill — the Agricultural Labor Relations Voting Choice Act, AB 2183 — would allow farmworkers to cast a vote on unionization through mail-in ballots or at a drop-off location. Current regulations require workers to cast their ballots at in person-only polling locations, usually located at their workplace, where they might be intimidated by supervisors.

“The vast majority of those elections are on the growers’ property, under the watchful and often retaliatory eye of their bosses,” said Strater, who explained that such a system has “an incredibly chilling effect” on a largely undocumented workforce.

Even as policymakers have lauded farmworkers as essential workers at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, they’ve largely sided with the agricultural industry in curtailing or neglecting workers’ right to organize over the past several years. In 2021, there were less than three percent of farmworkersbelong to a union, but farmworkers in most states still lack the right of collectively bargaining and unionizing.

Farmworkers and advocates are invited to Cesar Chavez Day in April. organized marches in 13 California cities criticizing the governor’s continued refusal to meet with farmworkers to discuss the most recent bill. Newsom also vetoed a similar billSeptember 2021 would have been the date that mail-in ballots for unionization were allowed.

The Supreme Court ruled in June 2021 that organizers of farmworkers faced another setback. Cedar Point Nursery v. Hassid that labor organizations could no longer go on grower’s property to meet with workers.

Still, longtime organizers like Roberto “El Capitan” Bustos, who led UFW’s famed 400-mile march to Sacramento in 1966, were in attendance on Wednesday to encourage marchers to persevere despite political setbacks.

“I’m here again — I’m still marching,” Bustos told those gatheredWednesday “You can’t get lost. Follow our footprints. You’re going to see our footprints along the way.”