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“Setback for Unions”: Farmworkers Fought to Allow Unions Access During Breaks. Supreme Court Says No.

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The Supreme Court has ruled 6 to 3 that a California labor law violated the constitutional rights of property owners by giving union organizers access to workers on privately owned farms during their work breaks. The union-busting decision strikes down a crucial part of a landmark 1975 labor law that was the United States’ first to recognize agricultural workers’ rights to collective bargaining and grew out of efforts by the United Farm Workers to demand better pay and working conditions for California’s agricultural workers. “This ruling is a setback for unions, for workers’ rights,” says Camila Chávez, executive director of the Dolores Huerta Foundation.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: So, I want to turn to one of those decisions that was just made — yes, the Supreme Court’s union-busting decision last Wednesday in which the justices ruled 6 to 3 that a California labor law violates the constitutional rights of property owners by giving union organizers access to workers on privately owned farms during their work breaks. The ruling strikes down a crucial part of a landmark 1975 labor law that was the nation’s first to recognize agricultural workers’ rights to collective bargaining and grew out of efforts by the United Farm Workers to demand better pay and working conditions for California’s agricultural workers.

For more, in addition to Adam Cohen, we are joined by Camila Chávez. She is executive director of the Dolores Huerta Foundation. She’s also the niece of the legendary farmworker organizer Cesar Chavez.

Thanks so much for joining us. Of course, Chavez was the United Farm Workers co-founder. And now you continue the legacy with Dolores Huerta, Camila Chávez. Can you respond to this Supreme Court ruling?

CAMILA CHÁVEZ: Yes. Good morning. Thank you for having me. And I also just wanted to say that I’m also the youngest daughter of Dolores Huerta.

So, to your question, this ruling is a setback for unions, for workers’ rights. The idea that organizers who are on property, after giving notice, are “taking property” is ridiculous and clearly a union-busting position. Farm companies said that union access allowed, quote, “physical invasion of land without compensation.” So, we know that when it comes to workers that live on the labor camps, they are living on private property. They’re then shuttled to work in company vehicles. Union organizers would have no access to these workers in this case.

AMY GOODMAN: And, Adam Cohen, if you could expand on this and the precedent it sets for workers all over the country?

ADAM COHEN: Sure. There are times that you hate to be right, but, you know, in the book that you mentioned that I wrote, Supreme Inequality, I pointed out, for the last 50 years, this court has been on a drive to expand the rights of corporations and to take away rights from workers, consumers, people of color, other disadvantaged groups. That’s what this is part of, that larger picture.

And what they used is a very broad expansion of the Takings Clause, saying that it’s taking private property for California to say that union organizers have a right to go onto an employer’s property to organize workers. But that’s just a crazy expansion of the law. In fact, the government allows inspectors of all kinds to enter on private property, like to do food inspections, to do inspections of nursery schools.

What this means, effectively, is that it’s very hard for unions to organize folks like the farmworkers, because it’s hard to find them if you don’t get to go to their workplace. We saw that in Alabama when Amazon had trouble reaching workers on the streets on their way to work. So, this is a real blow to union organizing. We’ve seen how union membership has been declining precipitously, really back since World War II. A big part of that is decisions like this from the Supreme Court that really make it impossible for them to organize workers.

AMY GOODMAN: And, Camila Chávez, back on the specifics of this, the 45-year-old California law that allowed unions to organize on private farms, what does this mean also for how it might affect workers when it comes to COVID-19 vaccinations and other treatment of farmworkers?

CAMILA CHÁVEZ: Right. So, we know that agricultural workers have experienced a higher risk of exposure throughout the pandemic due to field and packing facilities’ working conditions, a lack of preventative education and PPE. They have crowded transportation to and from worksites and live in overcrowded housing conditions. There was a study by the UC Merced Labor Center that showed that workers in California industries — warehousing, agriculture, food processing, meatpacking — they had a 30% increase in deaths related to COVID. So we know that they aren’t getting the information, the resources that they need.

And I will say that, you know, community-based organizations have had to step in to provide this information. And many of the organizations that we work in collaboration with are going to the fields. We are providing this information to the workers and wondering: Is this going to now deny us that access of being able to provide them even with setting up vaccination appointments? We were the ones that were advocating that farmworkers be put at the top of the list of essential workers with healthcare workers to be prioritized for vaccinations. Thank goodness Governor Newsom did listen to us. Governor Newsom also invested millions of dollars for organizations, community-based, grassroots organizations, to provide this direct outreach regarding COVID.

AMY GOODMAN: And finally, Adam Cohen, as the Supreme Court term wraps up, what are other cases you’re looking at?

ADAM COHEN: Well, there’s a lot of damaging stuff that’s in the pipeline. The court accepted a case which could be the one that they use to overturn Roe v. Wade, out of Mississippi. And there haven’t been five votes to do that yet; there may be now.

There’s also a big Harvard affirmative action case in which Asian American students are challenging Harvard’s selection procedures. So far, two courts have upheld Harvard’s affirmative action plan, but there’s a very real chance that Chief Justice Roberts, who does not like race-based remedies of any kind, will use the Harvard case, probably next year, possibly next year, to end affirmative action in even private education, and maybe even more broadly. So, there is a lot of damage that even a 6-to-3 majority is likely to do.

AMY GOODMAN: And expected to take up a transgender case?

ADAM COHEN: Possibly. There is a transgender case that they could take up out of Virginia that could do a lot of damage there, as well, yeah. So, again, we’re seeing what a 6-to-3 court can do. A 7-to-2 court, which would also preserve a conservative majority for many years, maybe decades, can do a lot more damage across our society.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you all so much for being with us, Adam Cohen, writer and author of Supreme Inequality: The Supreme Court’s Fifty-Year Battle for a More Unjust America. We’ll link your piece in The Atlantic, “Justice Breyer’s Legacy-Defining Decision.” And I want to thank Camila Chávez, executive director of the Dolores Huerta Foundation, daughter of Dolores Huerta and niece of Cesar Chavez.

That does it for the show. If you’d like to sign up for our Daily Digest, send the word “democracynow” — one word, no space — text it to 66866, “democracynow” to 66866. Democracy Now! is produced with Renée Feltz, Mike Burke, Deena Guzder, Nermeen Shaikh, María Taracena, Carla Wills, Tami Woronoff, Charina Nadura, Sam Alcoff, Tey-Marie Astudillo, John Hamilton, Robby Karran, Hany Massoud and Adriano Contreras. Our general manager is Julie Crosby. Happy fifth birthday to Julie’s daughter, Ava Lee! I’m Amy Goodman. Please be safe. Thanks so much for joining us.

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