(Oct. 1) SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Grower organizations are looking into legal ways to derail a binding mediation bill Gov. Gray Davis signed into law Sept. 30 over their strident objections.

The governor had less than 12 hours left to sign the bills when he finally did so as jubilant United Farm Workers members cheered in Spanish around the state capitol.

The concept of binding arbitration has been a hard-fought battle this summer that pitted the UFW, longtime supporters of the governor, against growers. An original bill passed by a Democratic legislature, SB 1736, would have imposed binding mediation in contract disputes between growers and farm workers.

Under pressure from the grower lobby, which argued that binding mediation could force growers out of business by imposing mandatory labor contracts on them that they could not afford, the governor balked at signing SB 1736.

Late in the summer, after a deadline had passed to introduce new bills, UFW supporters in the legislature rewrote other bills with similar language. Two of them, SB 1156 and AB 2596, Gov. Davis signed into law.

Davis said the bills were an improvement over SB 1736 because they limited the effect to a pilot program that would only cover up to 75 cases in five years and because the law would affect only growers with 25 or more farm workers.

Western Growers Association, Irvine, Calif., and other grower organizations condemned the governor’s action and the new law, which would go into effect Jan. 1.

“Our members are shocked and angered that the legislature has passed and the governor has signed into law legislation so patently illegal and potentially destructive to the California farmer,” Tom Nassif, president of WGA, said in a prepared statement. “This, at a time when our industry is under attack by a flood of foreign imports and a weak farm economy.”

Nassif said the bills the governor signed into law effectively call for binding arbitration but disguise it with the term ‘mediation.’ In effect, he said, it forces contracts on California’s farmers and farm workers by government agents.

Marc Grossman, a representative of the UFW, was unavailable for comment.