Opinion: Labor Advocate Lorena Gonzalez Betrays California Farmworkers
Last week, farmworkers’ rights group Pick Justice Action launched a six-figure public awareness campaign to highlight the anti-worker record of Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez. The assemblywoman has recently been elevated on the national stage as a champion of workers, but her past tells a different story.
Given the national attention, many constituents may not know that their state representative has obstructed pro-farmworker legislation. So, we are here to set the record straight through television, digital, radio, and print ads highlighting her votes and hypocrisy.
In interviews and on social media, Gonzalez expresses great concern for farmworkers, but in typical Sacramento fashion, the legislator partnered with union bosses to oppose workers’ rights. The United Farm Workers, founded by Cesar Chavez, has long abandoned its original purpose of representing and protecting the backbone of California’s $50 billion agricultural industry. Its new mission is to shake down members for cash.
Gonzalez turned a blind eye when this happened to workers at Gerawan Farming. After 22 years of no contact with the workers, the UFW reappeared to collect 3 percent of their weekly paychecks, and threatened to fire those who refused to pay it. Even worse, the union tried to force a non-negotiated contract on the workers, without letting them vote to ratify it, even though it would have lowered their take-home pay.
The vast majority of workers voted to decertify the UFW—but the union’s allies at the state Agricultural Labor Relations Board, which oversees union elections, sat on the votes. For five years, those ballots were left uncounted, collecting dust at the board’s office until a judge ruled that the votes must be tallied. The verdict? A landslide: 1,098 voted to leave the union, while only 197 voted to stay.
But Gonzalez and her circle of anti-farmworker legislators want those workers to be forced into union representation, violating their most fundamental American rights: freedom of association. She opposed Assemblyman Jim Patterson’s legislation that would have prevented the ALRB from effectively nullifying elections to disassociate from unions (like it attempted in the Gerawan case) and would have extended farmworkers the same rights that workers in other sectors have, including workers at the ALRB.
What is especially concerning is Gonzalez’ growing influence in the Democratic Party and the national discourse. She has since become a semi-national figure, outgrowing the 80-person state assembly, after The Atlantic wrote, in bold letters, that she is “setting the national agenda” and has “become arguably the state’s most influential female politician.”
As one of the state’s most influential politicians, she can kill legislation that would empower farmworkers and take power away from UFW. And she has already demonstrated this power. Moreover, Politico Magazine profiled her in their list of the top 50 “thinkers, doers, and visionaries transforming American politics.”
What these magazines and national figures don’t know is that she harbors an anti-farmworker bias. But, rest assured, after our ad campaign, more Americans will know the truth about Lorena Gonzalez. And hopefully this will serve as a lesson to other anti-farmworker legislators, until they restore and protect the rights of farmworkers.
Jesse Rojas is a farmworker rights activist and spokesperson for Pick Justice, a farmworker movement in the Central Valley that advocates choice in union representation.