Farm workers in California said they felt "squeezed" by Gov. Jerry Brown's veto of SB 104 last week, a bill that would allow them to use the card check method to unionize, so they delivered 50 pounds of cut-up oranges to Brown's office at the state Capitol in Sacramento.
The demonstration was a reminder to Brown of remarks he made during last year's gubernatorial race when he opposed farm owners who wanted to import guest workers.
Activists recall Brown saying, "You don't just bring in semi-serfs and say 'Do the dirty work, and then we're finished with you, like an orange and just throw it away. That's after you squeezed it. That's not right."
Farm workers are angry that Brown vetoed the measure minutes before it was about to become law. Thousands of farm workers rallied in the Capitol every day since June 16, when the state senate passed the measure, until the governor finally killed the bill last week. He refused to meet with them or any of the 25 legislators that camped outside his office June 28, the night of his veto.
Raul Garcia, 44, a Salinas farm laborer, told reporters that same night that, through his actions, Brown had "thrown farm workers into the trash. He missed a great opportunity to bring justice to many people."
California has 400,000 farm workers, and the majority of them do not belong to unions.
The United Farm Workers organized the orange protest.
People who work in California's fields are speaking up on the UFW's website.
Mauricia Calvillo says she will never forget the countdown to Sept. 1, 2005, when she and other employees of Giumarra Vineyards Corporation voted on whether to join a union.
About 80 percent of the workers had signed cards authorizing the UFW to represent them. Despite the solid support, the union narrowly lost the election. The Agricultural Labor Relations Board found later that the loss was due to successful intimidation tactics by the company.
Current law provides no remedy against such intimidation except throwing out the election. The bill Brown vetoed, say the farm workers, would provide that remedy.
"In the days before our union election I was certain, all my co-workers were certain, we would win," said Calvillo. "But the company broke the law. That's why we lost. We were lined up to vote in the fields. The bosses and foremen were watching us. If we had the card check method we could have voted in the privacy of our homes."
The UFW notes that SB 104, the bill the governor vetoed, would not end the secret ballot process. It simply would allow workers to choose between the traditional election method or filling out ballots in the privacy of their homes, free of outside intimidation.
The proposal has been the top legislative priority for years for the UFW. The groups founder Cesar Chavez, worked closely with Brown who, years ago, was instrumental in the fight to allow farm workers the right to organize. Union leaders reacted angrily to his veto of a measure they say is needed to make that right into a reality in the fields.
"To us it's a real clear decision," UFW President Arturo Rodriguez said. "This governor has decided to side with the rich against the powerless."
Union leaders and lawmakers who backed the bill vow to continue to fight for its passage.
Photo: Farm workers Ruth Martinez, left, and Josefina Flores, hold the chair of the former United Farm workers leader, the late Cesar Chavez, during a prayer vigil outside the Gov. Jerry Brown's office in an effort to persuade him to sign a bill to make it easier for farm workers to unionize, held at the Capitol in Sacramento, Calif., June 28. (AP /Rich Pedroncelli)