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Salinas farmworkers call on Newsom to pass union voting bill on Cesar Chavez Day

SALINAS, Calif. (KION) In front of the Old Monterey County Jail, where Cesar Chavez spent 20 days incarcerated — local farmworkers gathered 52 years later to call for support from Governor Gavin Newsom.

Chavez was jailed in 1970 for refusing to call off a lettuce boycott. In that same location, on what would have been Chavez's 95th birthday, advocates returned to urge Newsom to pass Assembly Bill 2183.

"They tried to intimidate him [Chavez]. They tried to stop him. They tried to incarcerate him, to stop him from working and advocating for our farm workers. And he didn't let anyone stop them. And that's what we're doing," said Adriana Melgoza, with the Center for Community Advocacy.

The bill, authored by Assemblymember Mark Stone, aims to give farmworkers more choices when voting in their union elections, by:

  • Giving them options to vote by mail
  • Allowing ballots to be dropped off at multiple locations
  • Or allowing someone else to mail or deliver their ballot.

Newsom already rejected a similar bill, saying there were "procedural inconsistencies."

"We're asking for farmworkers to have the right to exercise their vote freely with no pressure, no intimidation," said Lauro Barajas, Regional Director for United Farm Workers.

"Farm workers feed the nation, but we are denied basic rights other workers have. We deserve to vote where we don’t have supervisors and labor contractors there pressuring us. It’s impossible to have a free choice when you have the supervisor who threatened to fire anyone who voted for the union staring at you."

Vianey Enriquez, vineyard worker

The old jail building has sat vacant for years and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2004. The county said they have submitted a budget request to Assemblymember Robert Rivas, hoping to get state funding to help preserve the only landmark on the Central Coast that commemorates the sacrifices of California farmworkers.

"We worked in the fields for maybe two seasons. It was hard work," said Gary Karnes, a local historian, author and former farmworker. "This was a big fight in this town between the growers and the workers. And there was some success. And I'm here to honor that legacy. There were many marches that he led that I was participated in. It was very much a part of the kind of history that we need to preserve."

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Lisa Principi

Lisa Principi is a reporter at KION News Channel 5/46.

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