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Davis had nothing to lose in signing farm labor bills

California agriculture was intensely disappointed when Gov. Gray Davis signed a pair of United Farm Workers-backed bills that in effect created binding arbitration in unsettled labor negotiations.

However, no one should have been particularly surprised. Davis had nothing to lose in signing the two bills. His opponent in November, Bill Simon, continues to falter on the campaign trail. At this date, Davis seems a cinch for a second and final term. He does not need agriculture's support as he did earlier in the year to get a budget passed. Simon was giving him a run for his money then in the polls. Now Simon is fading fast.

He did veto the labor bill that would have radically overhauled the Agricultural Labor Relations Act by mandating binding arbitration, but he did sign two bills that essentially did the same thing. They are binding arbitration by another name. The bills he signed will require mediators and the five-member Agricultural Labor Relations Board to decide the terms of a contract when negotiations between growers and contractors failed.

The UFW won, and agriculture lost.

The ink was hardly dry on the bills Davis signed before agriculture responded. The Nisei Farm League withdrew its endorsement of Davis for re-election. Its endorsement of the governor early on in the campaign drew more than a few raise eyebrows, anyway. It backfired when Davis signed the bills.

Western Growers Association lobbied hard to get Davis to reject the bills and its leaders were “shocked and angered” by Davis signing the bills. WGA president Tom Nassif called the laws “patently illegal and potentially destructive to the California farmer.

“These bills signed by the governor destroy the collective bargaining process between growers and farm workers and their unions and unfairly singles out the agricultural industry for a labor relations process found nowhere else in the United States.”

A court fight is promised.

Missing in the Herculean lobbying efforts surrounding the labor bills were the other labor unions representing farm workers. The non-UFW unions were conspicuously absent from the debate. As we understand it, non-UFW unions represent far more workers than UFW. No one seems to know why they did not get into the fray. Probably did not want to get mud all over themselves. They had nothing to gain by getting into it, other than get into a fight with the UFW. They have won that fight in the fields and at the ballot boxes.

The UFW is the darling of the newspapers and television. Whenever they unfurl the red and black flags, cameras will follow. No one ever asks their leaders how many contracts they have or how many workers they represent or how many farm workers are unionized under non-UFW banners.

One thing the UFW can deliver is media attention, and Davis knows that. Davis likes the limelight and will share it with anyone.

Earlier this year he was sharing it with his friends the farmers. When Davis signed the $100 million agricultural tax relief package, farmers were Davis' best friends. He was their man. He was invited to the Tulare farm equipment show and everyone wanted pictures taken with agriculture's man as he signed the tax relief bill.

How quickly tide turns in the world of California politics.


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