Marching to Sacramento for Equal Voting Rights

Farmworkers recently completed a 335-mile march for the right to participate freely in union elections — and for the right to fair and healthy jobs.

August 30, 2022
By Nathalie A. Muñoz, BFI Administrative Coordinator

Photos by Nathalie A. Muñoz

Update: On September 28, 2022, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed AB 2183 on the condition that United Farm Workers and the California Labor Federation pass supplemental language during next year’s legislative session to address some of Newsom’s concerns. This post has been updated to reflect these changes.

Earlier this month, a group of farmworkers began a 24-day march from Delano, California, up the Central Valley to Sacramento. They were retracing nearly the same historic route Cesar Chavez took with farmworks in 1966: 335 miles through blistering heat, to prove to the governor that respect and dignity are owed to the people who help feed this state.

This year’s march, organized by the United Farm Workers (UFW) labor union, was done to convince Gov. Gavin Newsom to sign AB 2183, the Agricultural Labor Relations Voting Choice Act. Essentially, this bill outlines the basic right to farmworkers to vote by mail in union elections. Currently, farmworkers can vote only at their work sites. For some, that means in front of their supervisors, with no safety for them to be truthful about unjust and unsafe working conditions.

The marchers were met with support all along the way. Catholic priests blessed them. People walked alongside them holding signs of support. Mariachis played music. Car clubs provided protection. Some people gave food and water. Others provided housing. A few even swapped shoes with them when marchers’ shoes started to fall apart on the hot asphalt. Finally, the march came to a close last Friday, August 26 in Sacramento, where thousands of supporters of all ages and backgrounds joined the marchers at Southside Park to walk the last few blocks to the capitol. Unions from across the state, climate and political action organizations, community clinics, veterans, families, students, and even Sacramento’s Mayor Darrell Steinberg all showed up in full support to get the governor’s signature on AB 2183.

As the granddaughter of a Mexican Bracero farmworker who farmed all over California in the 1950s, I also spent Friday in Sacramento alongside the marchers. This labor movement is deeply personal for me, and I could feel the energy and love of our gente throughout that day. I could see it in parents’ eyes watching their children hold up pictures of Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta or pictures of their own families working in the fields. I could feel it in the purr of low riders’ engines while they drove elders alongside the crowds to the capitol. I could hear it in the pounding drums and smell it in the burning sage of the danzas Aztecas. Our community is quick to come together when we know we are needed.

In closing statements to supporters crowded around the capitol, current UFW President Theresa Romero shared that the author of the bill, Assemblymember Mark Stone (D-Santa Cruz), mentioned how “politicians move policy, and [the UFW] moves people.” While several communities came out to show their support and love for farmworkers, this march was a matter of equal voting rights protections for some of the most vulnerable and astoundingly undervalued workers.

Yet again, despite the outpouring of support, Gov. Newsom announced on the day that marchers reached the capitol that he could not sign this bill in its current form, even though union leaders and the bill’s authors addressed the governor’s concerns from last year. To add insult to injury, that same day, the winery co-founded by Newsom announced the purchase of a new $14.5 million vineyard in Napa. “We farmworkers work for him. It is unjust that he will continue to not give us his signature,” Napa farmworker Vianey Enriquez told the Richmond Pulse.

A few days after the march ended, President Joe Biden issued a rare statement of support for this state-level legislation. Then on September 28, Newsom finally came to an agreement with UFW and the California Labor Federation to sign AB 2183. However, the law doesn’t go into effect right away. To get Newsom to sign AB 2183, UFW and the California Labor Federation have agreed to pass supplemental language during next year’s legislative session to address some of Newsom’s concerns around implementation and voting integrity. This language will include a cap on the number of card-check petitions over the next five years and will allow the California Agricultural Labor Relations Board to adequately protect worker confidentiality and safety. The California Labor Federation tweeted that Newsom’s signature makes AB 2183 “the most consequential private sector organizing bill in our state’s history.”

As a staffer for Berkeley Food Institute, I am proud to see how fiercely motivated our team is to leverage research and experiential learning opportunities to better inform students, faculty, staff, and the general public. Forming bridges amongst advocates, storytellers, and other community partners breathes life into this work.

For now, as a reader, I welcome you to learn more about AB 2183, the history of farmworkers in this state, and how you can more actively participate in our food system.