IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Biden turns to California for pro-labor voting rights push

The president urged Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom to sign a bill to expand union voting rights for farm workers. It's far from guaranteed that he will.


Joe Biden and the Democratic Party’s inability to overcome conservative obstruction and pass federal voting rights protections remains a barrier to the president's popularity aspirations.

Biden won’t net a win on federal voting rights before Election Day, but the White House did throw its weight behind voting rights legislation on Sunday — albeit at the state level. Here, I’m referring to Biden’s support for a California bill that would expand voting rights for farm workers vying to unionize. 

This could be a fork-in-the-road moment for Newsom’s ambitions in the Democratic Party.

In a statement released on Sunday, Biden endorsed the Agricultural Labor Relations Voting Choice Act (AB 2183), which would let farm workers vote on union business using some of the same methods California allows for voting in political elections. That means allowing voters to receive assistance filling out a ballot, allowing someone to drop their voting cards off on their behalf, and allowing workers to vote by mail if necessary. State lawmakers sent the bill to California Gov. Gavin Newsom's desk last week.

The bill’s supporters say it’s necessary to protect farm workers — many of whom are undocumented — from exploitation and intimidation by their employers. The reverberations from this bill could lead to fairer working conditions for thousands, if not millions, of people.

In a statement, Biden said he “strongly” supports the proposed legislation, which workers, union representatives and lawmakers have pushed Newsom to sign. The governor vetoed a similar bill last year and his office has said he wouldn’t sign the bill as currently written because of concerns over election security. 

But Biden sided with the farm workers’ union, saying the bill “will give California’s agricultural workers greater opportunity to organize and collectively bargain for better wages, benefits and working conditions.”

Newsom and union leaders have clashed over the governor's request for a provision in the bill requiring employers be given advance notice of union election dates, according to The Sacramento Bee

But pressure is mounting on the governor, who’s been floated as a potential 2024 Democratic presidential candidate, to deliver what would be a huge victory for organized labor in a state steeped in union history. California was home to two of the most famous labor activists in history — Dolores Huerta and César Chávez. California’s current crop of United Farm Workers have channeled those two titans in their push for expanded union voting rights, culminating with a 335-mile march to the state Capitol to raise awareness.

This could be a fork-in-the-road moment for Newsom’s ambitions in the Democratic Party. And many liberals — all the way up to the president — are imploring him to come down on the side of workers.