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Schwarzenegger appointee quits agricultural labor board [UPDATED]

March 27, 2009 |  1:25 pm

Update, 2:50 p.m.:  Gov. Schwarzenegger announced later Friday that he was appointing Sharon Runner to the state Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board, which also pays $128,109 per year. "Sharon is a great public servant with experience in addressing the critical needs of Californians, and we feel she is better utilized at the Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board," said Rachel Cameron, a spokeswoman for the governor.

Former state Assemblywoman Sharon Runner (R-Lancaster) has stepped down from the state Agricultural Labor Relations Board after opposition from the United Farm Workers put state Senate confirmation of her appointment in jeopardy.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who appointed Runner in February, was warned by representatives of the Senate Rules Committee that the farmworkers’ opposition would mean unlikely confirmation of her appointment, said people familiar with the talks. The sources requested anonymity because they are not authorized to speak for the committee.

The governor’s office notified the committee this week that he was withdrawing her appointment, said Jim Evans, a spokesman for Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento), the rules chairman.

"The agricultural labor law is designed to protect farmworkers, and people who have consistently voted against farmworkers have no business sitting on the Agricultural Labor Relations Board," said Maria Machuca, a UFW spokeswoman.

Runner’s appointment on Feb. 27 sparked controversy in part because the post, which pays $128,109 annually, is seen by many Capitol watchers as one of several soft landing pads for retiring legislators. Runner, 54, was forced by term limits to leave her Assembly seat in November.

As a legislator, Runner voted against a 2005 measure, introduced after some farmworkers died of heat-related problems in the fields, that would have set strict rules for the provision of water, shade and work breaks for fieldworkers. The proposal did not pass.

The California Agricultural Labor Relations Board was created in 1975 "to ensure peace in the fields of California by guaranteeing justice for all agricultural workers and stability in agricultural labor relations," according to its website.

The board oversees labor laws to protect farm employees and addresses disputes between them and employers.

-- Patrick McGreevy