Tag Archives: Cesar Chavez

Remembering Cesar Chavez

by California Labor Federation Legislative Advocate Caitlin Vega

The Napa I grew up in is probably not the place you'd come to spend a long weekend winetasting. Real Napa, as we call it, is not glamorous or exclusive. In the old days, my dad says, “it used to be a place where poor kids could grow up in the country.”  Today, even with the fancy restaurants and expensive tourist shops, Napa is still an agricultural town at heart, which means it is a farmworker community.

The wineries that have made Napa famous are also workplaces. The workers in the vineyards work long hours in freezing cold and sweltering heat. Most have no health care and no pension. Wages are low and workers are often paid piece rate.

Farmworkers are routinely exposed to dangerous pesticides. The cancer rate is very high, as are birth defects among the children whose mothers work in the fields. Heat stress has caused not only serious illness, but also deaths.

But it hasn't always been this way. My mother-in-law, Emma, started working as a farmworker at the age of 19. The daughter of a bracero, she joined her father in Napa to work beside him in the fields.

A few years in, everything changed. A young organizer named Cesar Chavez came to town. At first workers were scared but they were soon inspired to make a better life by joining the farmworkers union.  As longtime worker advocate Aurelio Hurtado recalls, “He had a simple message: we're people and are not afraid of anything when it comes to our future. We're here to work, not to beg.”  

When Emma tells me the stories, her face lights up and she says, “me encanta con la union.” She loves the union. Throughout her 35 years working in the vineyards, my mother-in-law and her compañeras rode buses up and down the state to wave their union flags in support of labor organizing and union boycotts.

Because she had a union, Emma was able to work for one employer for three decades. She was able to buy a home and provide security for her son. She worked ten hour days, six days a week, but she had health benefits, a small retirement, and job security. And because she had a union, she felt she was part of a movement to make conditions better for all workers.

But joining a union is no easy matter. Over 92 percent of employers conduct anti-union campaigns, 75 percent hold one on one meetings to discourage workers from unionizing, and 25 percent fire workers for organizing. This intimidation is much more intense in the fields, where workers have few other options and are often the sole support for their extended families in Mexico. In addition, many workers fear immigration consequences and are fearful to speak out about abuses or demand their rights. 

That's why farmworkers need a better way to organize. SB 104 would protect the right of farmworkers to join a union. Under this bill, workers could decide for themselves whether or not to join a union without the threat of losing their job or facing deportation. Governor Schwarzenegger vetoed this bill year after year, leaving farmworkers with little hope of improving their lives. 

You hear a lot these days about “union bosses.” The whole notion is kind of funny, since union leaders are democratically elected by their members — it's actually the other side that's got all the bosses. But on Cesar Chavez day, I am reminded that real leadership is about empowering people to believe in themselves.

My mother-in-law is soft-spoken and sweet, but put her on a picket line and she is transformed. To me, that's what Cesar Chavez stood for, and it's what our labor movement is all about. All workers, especially farmworkers, deserve the right to join this movement.

Urge EPA to rethink toxic chemical after scientists say it can’t be managed

“Adequate control of human exposure would be difficult, if not impossible.”

-CA Scientific Review Committee

This is the time of year many talk about United Farm Workers’ founder Cesar Chavez. Cesar was many things, among them he was a strong voice on pesticides.  

PhotobucketCesar Chavez said, “In the old days, miners would carry birds with them to warn against poison gas. Hopefully, the birds would die before the miners. Farm workers are society’s canaries. Farm workers-and their children-demonstrate the effects of pesticide poisoning before anyone else…There is no acceptable level of exposure to any chemical that causes cancer. There can be no toleration of any toxic that causes miscarriages, still births, and deformed babies.”

As you celebrate his legacy, add your voice to continue Cesar’s fight.

Cesar’s UFW is currently working on a campaign that is critical for farm workers health and safety. We are working together with a coalition of environmental and farm worker groups to try to get the EPA to re-review the toxic pesticide methyl Iodide.  

Science has proven that methyl iodide is a water contaminant, nervous system poison, thyroid toxicant and carcinogen. In other words, it’s a toxic poison that should not be used near where people live.

Despite this, the Bush Administration’s EPA registered methyl iodide nationally in 2007–automatically permitting this toxin for use in a number of states. Other states like California have their own state regulations and are still deciding whether to allow it to be used.

However, there is finally hope to pull this toxic poison off the market. On September 25, 2009, U.S. EPA publicly agreed to reopen its decision on methyl iodide, pending results of the California Department of Pesticide’s Scientific Review Committee, comprised of scientists from across the country.

The Panel’s data is in.

Their report: this pesticide is toxic and harmful. “Adequate control of human exposure would be difficult, if not impossible.”

In addition their report raised serious questions about the scientific accuracy of the federal review that was done under the Bush Administration.

Difficult if not impossible to control–yet this carcinogenic chemical is being used in North Carolina, Florida and fields across the country right now.

This has to stop. Help us hold EPA to their promise to follow the science on methyl iodide. Sign the petition today!

(CA 80th) Honoring César Chávez in Coachella

Manuel Pérez, quoted in the  The Desert Sun recently:

Solis’ legislation gives the Interior Department three years to study sites “significant to the life of César E. Chávez and the farm labor movement in the western United States.” Officials will examine ways to preserve the sites and interpret them to the public.

…… “This goes beyond just honoring him because it helps in so many ways,” Perez said. “He was always very family-oriented and an advocate for leadership development, youth development. The fact that we can dedicate these spaces in our communities for families and youth is such a positive thing.”  Perez, who recalls working on the farms as a child, said his parents were migrant farmworkers who settled in Coachella.  Now Perez is a school board member for the Coachella Valley Unified School District and a candidate for state assembly,  which he said reminds him to “appreciate the sacrifices of people like Chávez who did it in order to build up our communities.”

Crossposted at Daily Kos

Also quoted, our own Joe Mota:

“It’s a beginning and a good start to honoring a man that did so much for the plight of farmworkers,” said Joe Mota of Cathedral City.  Mota worked for UFW as regional director for Southern California from 2001-06.

“He was a very spiritual man,” Mota added, “and giving him parks is an honorable way to remember him because not only did he care for people but he cared so much about nature.”

This bodes well for The Desert Sun, let’s hope. 

It’s a treat to find unsolicited positive press on your candidate in the morning paper, and perhaps it’s a trend away from the usual RW worlitzer fare.  Today they ran an editorial supporting the legislation to honor Chavez,  and weeks ago The Desert Sun lauded Eddie Garcia, the new mayor of Coachella, for his rapid success in attracting businesses and providing civic services, just as he said he would. 

César Chávez so shaped many lives in this district.  It’s no coincidence that Manuel Pérez devoted his career to his community, that Joe Mota and Eddie Garcia did the same, and that they’re supporting Pérez’s run for State Assembly.  The UFW isn’t just a political ally or a social issue for Pérez, it’s family. 

Last night Democrats of the Desert presented Kian Kaeni of People for the American Way at the Peppertree Bookstore in LA Quinta. DoD members, DWD and other club members, and Manuel and Gladys and Amalia were there.  We talked about winning in the CA 80th, which was a priority for Kian, though the regional PFAW offices are now closing.  (New election cycle, new PFAW org structure.  Kian was philosophical about it.)  Kian believes that given the intransigence of the CA 45th voting patterns so far, we need to first win the 80th to win the 45th.

We talked about the gap between registration and actual voting, especially in Imperial County where Dems should dominate on election day, but so far we don’t.  This brought up questions about the southeastern end of the 80th, and Manuel Pérez had the answers.  Manuel brought our group of  western Coachella Valley Democrats up to date on the Democratic organizations in Mecca, Brawley, Calexico, also the newly formed Eastern Coachella Valley Democratic club.  Few knew how much good news there is for Democrats lately in the local Latino community. 

This candidate knows the whole district.  He lives the labor movement, the school reform issue, the healthcare crisis, and he’s completely committed to his community.  This is what the people-powered politics looks like in the 80th.
Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket  Let’s put some energy into my Californians for Manuel Pérez Act Blue page, my fellow dfh brethren.  Manuel Pérez is exactly what we’re talking about.  For Pérez, the UFW is part of his life.  He doesn’t need to build alliances with labor, he can just call his parents to the podium.  They met working these fields.  It’s good that Representative Solis introduced HR 359 which will honor Chávez appropriately, and it’s good that so many of the generation to follow Chávez honors his work with their own.

Speaking of the Perez family, if you’re in the Coachella Valley, don’t miss the party:

Birthday Bash Fundraiser
Bring $35 for Manuel’s 35th

July 28, 2007
38-300 Rancho Los Coyotes, Indio
Rsvp: 760-772-3466
Come celebrate and enjoy food, drinks, & music.

Calitics Event Calendar listing (with map)