Immigrant and labor rights bills become law in California

 

Among bills signed by California Gov. Jerry Brown recently were a measure to let undocumented college students apply for publicly funded scholarships and another to strengthen labor protections for farm workers.

AB 131, introduced by State Senator Gil Cedillo, D-Los Angeles, is Part II of the California Dream Act legislation. Part I , AB 130, also introduced by Cedillo and signed earlier by Brown, lets undocumented students apply for privately funded scholarships.

The measures apply to undocumented students who came to the U.S. before they were 16, attended a California high school for at least three years and graduated, and affirm that they are seeking legal status.

Undocumented students already qualified for in-state tuition under a measure passed several years ago.

"This is a really important win for two reasons," Gaby Pacheco of United We Dream told Colorlines Magazine. Pacheco cited the momentum the measure gives similar campaigns in other states, including Illinois, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Maryland. New Mexico and Texas now let undocumented immigrants apply for public financial aid.

Pacheco also said the California Dream Act "balances out the negative legislation - like in Alabama - that's hurting immigrants, hurting the morale of youth and students there. We see them leaving the state because of fear. It shows states like Alabama they're wrong in what they're doing."

The legislature passed a state Dream Act bill in 2006, but it was vetoed by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

In recent months undocumented college students around the country have declared themselves "undocumented and unafraid" as they campaigned around the country, calling for comprehensive immigration reform. 

Also signed into law was SB 126, introduced by State Senate President Pro-Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, to strengthen the labor rights of the state's more than 400,000 farm workers. The measure calls for immediate certification of a union if employer election violations could have affected a unionization vote, and a speeded-up process for certification of elections by the Agricultural Labor Relations Board. The ALRB could go to court to reinstate farm workers illegally fired during union election drives, and mediation could take place after 90 days of contract bargaining instead of the current 180 days.

Earlier in the summer, the farm workers and their labor and community supporters were deeply disappointed when the governor vetoed a bill that would have authorized majority sign-up, or "card check" for farm workers seeking to organize.

The farm workers kept up their campaign, including a 12-day march through the Central Valley agricultural heartland in sweltering summer heat. Brown then presented his own proposals for strengthening their labor rights. SB 126 emerged as a result

"We're now one giant step closer to progress," United Farm Workers president Arturo Rodriguez said in a statement. "We're looking forward to using [Gov. Brown's] new law to change the lives of farm workers up and down the state."

Brown signed several other immigrant rights measures, including one that blocks local governments from making the federal E-verify checks of workers' immigration status mandatory, another curbing police checkpoints and impounding of vehicles that have disproportionately affected immigrant drivers.

The governor also signed bills to penalize employers for willfully misclassifying workers as independent contractors, to bar employers from credit checks for employment unless job-related, and to provide workers and enforcement agencies more information that can reveal wage theft.

There were also some unfortunate vetoes. Brown rejected a measure to let the University of California and California State University consider race, ethnicity and gender in their admissions, saying interpretation of Prop. 209, which bars such consideration, should be done by the courts, not the legislature.

He also vetoed a bill that would have made it possible for tens of thousands of small business people, mostly women, who provide child care in licensed settings, to organize and work to improve standards in their industry.

 

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