Kitzhaber vetoes farm worker bargaining bill

SALEM - Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber has vetoed a bill from the second special session of the Legislature that would have granted collective bargaining rights to farm workers.

House Bill 4025 was engineered by the Oregon Farm Bureau to block Oregon's farm workers' union - Northwest Treeplanters and Farmworkers - from using secondary boycotts to bring agricultural employers to the bargaining table. Known by its acronym, PCUN, the union recently concluded a successful boycott against NORPAC Foods Inc. with an agreement to establish a framework for representation and bargaining on its member farms. HB 4025 was opposed by PCUN, as well as by the Oregon AFL-CIO.

Farm workers are not covered under collective bargaining laws, so for years labor has been trying to change the law to include them. Conversely, farm employers have enjoyed the exemption and their employer groups have worked to retain it in the statute.

HB 4025 was considered bad for farm workers because it applied a non-agricultural collective bargaining bill to a seasonal, migrant workforce that moves from employer to employer. The few states that provide collective bargaining for farm workers, such as California and Hawaii, provide for expedited representation elections and dispute resolution procedures. Without those provisions, which became part of PCUN's agreement with NORPAC, the bill would have shackled the workers' ability to secure effective union representation.

HB 4025 also had a December 2003 sunset clause and contained no funding for enforcement.

Last month, Speaker of House Mark Simmons announced that he was leaving the Legislature to become a paid lobbyist for the Oregon Nurserymen's Association. Simmons, of Elgin, is a member of the Western Council of Industrial Workers and former president of the Umatilla, Morrow Counties Labor Council. His Committee on Political Education voting record as tracked by the Oregon AFL-CIO was 43 percent "favorable" in 2001.

May 3, 2002 issue

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