The state Assembly approved a bill making it easier for California's farm workers to exercise their right to join a union, but it remains unclear whether Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown will sign the measure.

The Fair Treatment for Farm Workers Act, or SB 104, was put forward by Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg and Assemblyman Luis Alejo, both Democrats.

Lawmakers took up the bill on the third anniversary of the death of a pregnant immigrant farm worker who succumbed to heat exhaustion after toiling in the fields for more than nine hours without shade or water.

The bill passed the Assembly by a vote of 51-25.

"We're very happy that the Assembly approved this legislation, thus providing great support for farm workers, who in this way will be able to protect themselves with union representation," Maria Machuca, the communications director for the United Farm Workers, told Efe.

UFW leaders and more than 260 farm workers were present during Monday's vote on SB 104, which had been approved by the state Senate on March 31, the anniversary of the birth of late UFW founder Cesar Chavez.

The bill allows farm workers - as an alternative - to select their union representatives by sending in petition cards.

"In the past, and at present, some employers took advantage (of the fact) that the voting was at the work site and exerted pressure on the farm workers," the UFW representative said.

"With this system, they can request the ballot, just like when we vote from home, and express their intention to belong to a union," she said.

Alejo, whose parents and grandparents worked in the fields, said that SB 104 is aimed at giving farm workers the chance to join a union without intimidation, threats or retaliation by employers.

Doroteo Jimenez, who for the past three years has been lobbying for justice for his niece, Maria Isavel Vazquez Jimenez, who died from heat exhaustion, said that SB 104 "will give agricultural workers the tools to ensure dignity and respect in the fields."

Three earlier versions of the measure approved by the state legislature were vetoed in 2007 and 2009 by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

UFW leaders said that the next step is showing Gov. Brown the importance of this bill.

"We still don't know his position, but we're hoping that (because of) the long history Brown has of supporting farm workers, the governor will sign the law," Machuca said.

The 17-year-old Vazquez Jimenez died on May 16, 2008, in Lodi, two days after collapsing from excessive heat while she was working in the fields.

According to the investigation performed by state authorities, the young woman had a body temperature of 108 F before she collapsed.

"In commemorating today the third (anniversary) of the death of Maria Isavel, this is an important homage to her memory," Machuca said.