Voters hesitant on farmworker proposal, poll finds


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California voters are split over a proposal to make it easier for farmworkers to unionize, according to a new poll.

Last month, the Legislature passed a bill that would have given farmworkers the option of organizing without the usual petition, followed by a secret election. Instead, they could submit to state labor officials cards signed by a majority of workers saying they want representation.


The United Farm Workers hoped to have an ally in Gov. Jerry Brown, who gave agricultural laborers the right to organize by secret ballot when he was first governor more than three decades ago. But Brown vetoed the legislation.

In the poll, by The Times and the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, respondents were nearly evenly divided on the proposal: 45% opposed such a measure and 42% supported it.

The survey suggested labor leaders need to refine their message. Pollsters asked voters to reconsider the matter after hearing both sides’ arguments:

Supporters, they said, contend that such a measure would prevent corporations from controlling the information workers receive and intimidating or firing those trying to vote for a union. Opponents argued that it would eliminate workers’ right to privacy and raise the risk of intimidation and coercion if they were forced to sign a card in public.

After hearing both pitches, voters opposed the bill 48% to 39%, although Latino sentiment held steady at 44% in favor and 44% opposed.

The Times/USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences surveyed 1,507 registered voters from July 6 to 17. The poll was conducted by a bipartisan team of polling companies based in the Washington, D.C., area: Greenberg Quinlan Rosner, a Democratic firm, and American Viewpoint, a Republican firm. The margin of error is plus or minus 2.52 percentage points.


More poll findings to come.

-- Michael J. Mishak in Sacramento