Tags: agribusiness, agriculture, betsy butler, cesar chavez, farm workers, farmworker deaths, farmworker safety, farmworker wages, farmworkers, jerry brown, labor, labor conditons, labour, roger hollander, ufw
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According to Assemblymember Betsy Butler, D-Los Angeles, author of the Farmworker Safety Act of 2012, “At least 16 farm workers have died since the state issued emergency regulations related to heat illness in 2005. Since all of the deaths were preventable, it’s clear that the regulations and their enforcement are ineffective.”
Let’s replay that: every year farmworkers are dying from thirst and heat exposure due to inadequate water and shade.
In announcing AB 2346, Butler added: “It is absolutely abhorrent to think that in this day and age, farm workers are not regularly provided with shade and water. These two commodities are essentially free and we all know that no grower would let their crops go without water.”
To rally support, the United Farm Workers union and other advocates will gather in Sacramento this weekend and laborers will speak of toiling thirsty and overheated in the fields.
You’d think this would be a no-brainer, but history shows a long, sorry resistance to treating farmworkers with even the most basic dignities. In July 2010, Gov. Schwarzenegger vetoed a bill to give farmworkers overtime pay after eight hours a day or 40 hours a week (New York passed such a bill in 2009). This February, after lobbying from Kraft Foods, the American Meat Institute and others, the USDA withdrew a proposed rule requiring companies doing business with the agency to prove that their subcontractors–including growers–are complying with labor laws.
Can you imagine any other profession where such injustices would be allowed? We hear of the sweatshops behind our computers, sneakers and other attire–yet the exploitation of farmworkers has become normalized. Somehow food, so intrinsic to our daily lives, escapes the kind of justice we should take for granted in 2012.
Our ongoing “harvest of shame” is about more than water and shade. It is about toxic pesticide exposures that send farmworkers to the hospital–up to 20,000 are poisoned annually according to the Centers for Disease Control. It is about rock-bottom wages for back-breaking work: more than 60 percent of farmworkers live south of the poverty line. “Hired farmworkers continue to be one of the most economically disadvantaged groups in the United States,” the USDA says, noting, “they are sometimes forced to sleep in their vehicles, in tents, or completely outdoors.”
Farmworkers receive just half the average hourly wage of other private-sector workers, yet their pay represents up to 40 percent of food production costs for “crops such as fruits, vegetables, and nursery products,” according to the USDA.
The dirty big secret of our food is that highly exploited labor is a major cost (particularly in organic farming), and even well-meaning growers fight to keep their costs down. If food prices get too high, consumers howl for price relief. Something has to give.
This Cesar Chavez Day, let’s renew a national conversation about justice and fairness for America’s roughly one million farmworkers. Here’s a start: in the 2012 Farm Bill coming before Congress this summer, let’s create an income and health support fund for farmworkers–and a Farmworkers’ Bill of Rights. Currently, taxpayers subsidize agribusiness to the tune of roughly $15 billion a year–most of it benefiting large-scale production of additives for fast food and fuels that deplete our health and the environment. Let’s redirect some of that money to prevent severe farmworker poverty, chronic disease and premature deaths.
Why spend taxpayer dollars to make sure farmworkers get basic justice? We’re already paying the bill every day for uninsured farm laborers who end up in emergency rooms due to acute and chronic pesticide exposures or heat exhaustion; and we’re already paying the bill for impoverished underpaid farmworkers who need welfare and other supports just to survive. We can pay now to prevent farmworker suffering, or pay later for the inevitable health and economic emergencies.
Farmworkers are often undocumented and vulnerable–but not powerless. They’ve won some impressive battles recently, with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers extracting better pay from Taco Bell and Trader Joe’s. Like Cesar Chavez’ great boycotts of the early 1970s, these campaigns organized farmworkers and consumers in common cause.
It’s time for consumers and policymakers to demand an end to the sweatshops hiding behind our dinner plates. It’s not just one company or a few bad apple growers–it’s our whole economy and policy of “cheap food,” which has cost many farmworkers an arm and a leg.
Cesar Chavez: A True American Hero March 31, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Agriculture, California, Labor.
Tags: agriculture, boycott, cesar chavez, child labor, dick meister, farm workers, grape boycott, history, immigrant labor, labor, labor organizing, labour, non violence, roger hollander, ufw, union rights, unions
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Cesar Chavez. (Photo: Wikimedia)
Saturday, 31 March 2012 09:22
Dick Meister, Dick Meister’s Blog | Op-Ed
I hope we can all pause and reflect on the extraordinary life of a true American hero today (March 31). It’s Cesar Chavez Day, proclaimed by President Obama and observed throughout the country on the 85th birth date of the late founder of the United Farm Workers union. It’s an official state holiday in California, Texas and Colorado.
As President Obama noted, Chavez was a leader in launching “one of our nation’s most inspiring movements.” He taught us, Obama added, “that social justice takes action, selflessness and commitment. As we face the challenges of the day, let us do so with the hope and determination of Cesar Chavez.”
Like another American hero, Martin Luther King Jr., Chavez inspired and energized millions of people worldwide to seek and win basic human rights that had long been denied them, and inspired millions of others to join the struggle.
Certainly there are few people in any field more deserving of special attention, certainly no one I’ve met in more than a half-century of labor reporting.
I first met Cesar Chavez when I was covering labor for the San Francisco Chronicle. It was on a hot summer night in 1965 in the little San Joaquin Valley town of Delano, California. Chavez, shining black hair trailing across his forehead, wearing a green plaid shirt that had become almost a uniform, sat behind a makeshift desk topped with bright red Formica.
“Si se puede,” he said repeatedly to me, a highly skeptical reporter, as we talked deep into the early morning hours there in the cluttered shack that served as headquarters for him and the others who were trying to create an effective farm workers union.
“Si se puede! – it can be done!”
But I would not be swayed. Too many others, over too many years, had tried and failed to win for farm workers the union rights they absolutely had to have if they were to escape the severe economic and social deprivation inflicted on them by their grower employers.
The Industrial Workers of the World who stormed across western fields early in the 20th century, the Communists who followed, the socialists, the AFL and CIO organizers – all their efforts had collapsed under the relentless pressure of growers and their powerful political allies.
I was certain this effort would be no different. I was wrong. I had not accounted for the tactical brilliance, creativity, courage and just plain stubbornness of Cesar Chavez, a sad-eyed, disarmingly soft-spoken man who talked of militancy in calm, measured tones, a gentle and incredibly patient man who hid great strategic talent behind shy smiles and an attitude of utter candor.
Chavez grasped the essential fact that farm workers had to organize themselves. Outside organizers, however well intentioned, could not do it. Chavez, a farm worker himself, carefully put together a grass-roots organization that enabled the workers to form their own union, which then sought out – and won – widespread support from influential outsiders.
The key weapon of the organization, newly proclaimed the United Farm Workers, or UFW, was the boycott. It was so effective between 1968 and 1975 that 12 percent of the country’s adult population – that’s 17 million people – quit buying table grapes.
The UFW’s grape boycott and others against wineries and lettuce growers won the first farm union contracts in history in 1970. That led to enactment five years later of the California law – also a first – that requires growers to bargain collectively with workers who vote for unionization. And that led to substantial improvements in the pay, benefits, working conditions and general status of the state’s farm workers. Similar laws, with similar results, have now been enacted elsewhere.
The struggle that finally led to victory was extremely difficult for the impoverished workers, and Chavez risked his health – if not his life – to provide them extreme examples of the sacrifices necessary for victory. Most notably, he engaged in lengthy, highly publicized fasts that helped rally the public to the farm workers’ cause and that may very well have contributed to his untimely death in 1993 at age 66.
Fasts, boycotts. It’s no coincidence that those were the principal tools of Mohandas Gandhi, for Chavez drew much of his inspiration from the Hindu leader. Like Gandhi and another of his models, Martin Luther King Jr., Chavez fervently believed in the tactics of non-violence. Like them, he showed the world how profoundly effective they can be in seeking justice from even the most powerful opponents.
“We have our bodies and spirits and the justice of our cause as our weapons,” Chavez explained.
His iconic position has been questioned recently by outsiders claiming Chavez acted as a dictator in his last years as head of the UFW. But what the UFW accomplished under his leadership, and how the union accomplished it, will never be forgotten – not by the millions of social activists who have been inspired and energized by the farm workers’ struggle, nor by the workers themselves.
Chavez deservedly remains, and undoubtedly will always remain, an American icon who led the way to winning important legal rights for farm workers. But more than union contracts, and more than laws, farm workers now have what Cesar Chavez insisted was needed above all else. That, as he told me so many years ago, “is to have the workers truly believe and understand and know that they are free, that they are free men and women, that they are free to stand up and fight for their rights.”
Freedom. No leader has ever left a greater legacy. But the struggle continues. Despite the UFW victories, farm workers are in great need of fully exercising the rights won under Chavez’ leadership. They need to reverse what has been a decline in the UFW’s fortunes in recent years, caused in part by lax enforcement of the laws that granted farm workers union rights.
Many farm workers are still mired in poverty, their pay and working and living conditions a national disgrace. They average less than $10,000 a year and have few – if any – fringe benefits. They suffer seasonal unemployment.
Job security is rare, as many of the workers are desperately poor immigrants from Mexico or Central America who must take whatever is offered or be replaced by other desperately poor workers from the endless stream of immigrants. Child labor is rampant.
Most hiring and firing is done at the whim of employers, many of them wealthy corporate growers or labor contractors who unilaterally set pay and working conditions and otherwise act arbitrarily.
Workers are often exposed to dangerous pesticides and other serious health and safety hazards that make farm work one of the country’s most dangerous occupations. They often even lack such on-the-job amenities as fresh drinking water and field toilets, and almost invariably are forced to live in overcrowded, seriously substandard housing.
Cesar Chavez Day should remind us of the continuing need to take forceful legal steps and other action in behalf of farm workers – to help them overcome their wretched conditions and finally provide a decent life for all those who do the hard, dirty and dangerous work that puts fruit and vegetables on our tables.
We need, in short, to carry on what Cesar Chavez began. We could pay no greater homage to his memory.
Copyright © 2012 Dick Meister
This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license.
Tags: agriculture, burger king, cesar chavez, ciw, fair food, farm workers, floriida labor, food industry, immokalee, justice, labor, labour, michelle chan, roger hollander, taco bell, tomato industry, trader joe's, ufw
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The hot summer has brought in a bumper crop of food activism from coast to coast. For the past few weeks, a group of Florida farm workers has embarked on a marketing coup that challenges the country’s food business giants by educating consumers about exploitation in the tomato industry.
(Image: Coalition of Immokalee Workers) The Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) has made a name for itself by using creative consumer-driven campaigns to promote fairer wages and working conditions for tomato harvesters, a workforce fueled by Latino migrant laborers. Though corporate resistance has been formidable, the group has scored a series of victories over the past few years over the likes of Taco Bell, Burger King and Subway. Partnering with consumer groups and fair-food activists, the CIW’s Campaign for Fair Food seeks to educate people about the brutal labor that goes into each tomato.
Farmworkers’ backbreaking toil will be spotlighted on some of the trendiest sidewalks in Manhattan on Friday, with rallies at Trader Joe’s stores in the Village and Chelsea. The actions follow a similar campaign on the West Coast in which protesters in San Francisco and Berkeley wielded paper-bag picket signs and marched through the Mission District calling on drivers to “Honk for Farm Worker Justice.” The CIW now counts a number of religious leaders and gourmet food activist Barry Estabrook among its allies.
The Coalition says its multi-pronged struggle involves “all the elements of our country’s food industry,” from the folks hauling baskets all the way up to the florescent-lit supermarket aisle. Most importantly, the organization banks on the political leverage of consumers to push stores and suppliers to abide by ethical standards. With an active membership of several thousand, the workers themselves participate as well through organizing and educating people on “humanizing our farm labor system.”
The workers’ key demand, an additional penny per pound of tomatoes picked, seems a tiny cost for consumers and producers to absorb, given the workers’ long hours, arduous working conditions and their vulnerability to maltreatment and even slave labor. The pennies do add up for laborers, potentially boosting yearly earnings by several thousand dollars. (Typical wages amount to less than $12,000 annually, according to the Coalition, and after years of virtually stagnant wages, “a worker today must pick more than 2.25 tons of tomatoes to earn minimum wage in a typical 10-hour workday.”)
CIW’s summer Truth Tour demonstrations, which focus on big-name grocers, have been decried by the right-wing blogosphere as a “Prototypical Example of Alinsky Tactics and Smug Self-Immortalization.” Translation: an effective protest action.
The campaign puts Trader Joe’s hip, liberal brand in a bind: the company complained publicly in May that while it was willing to comply with CIW’s demands in general, specific provisions of the draft agreement were “overreaching” and “improper.” CIW responded with lengthy point-by-point rebuttals and declared, ‘It seems that the longer Trader Joe’s resists the Fair Food movement, the more its leadership — from the CEO to the public relations department — is determined to tarnish the company’s reputation as an ethical, progressive grocer.”
The organizing model evokes interesting historical comparisons with another wave of farm labor activist in the 1960s and 1970s led by United Farm Workers and Cesar Chavez, which pioneered union organizing in agriculture. Yet the UFW has lost political salience over the years, as working conditions have deteriorated.
The younger, nimbler CIW is not a union, but in many ways neither needs nor desires the conventional union structure. The fluid, precarious nature of migrant labor is a barrier to movement building, yet at the same time, the tomato industry’s severe consolidation across the supply chain provide fertile ground for focused, visible campaigns that mobilize consumers and workers in tandem.
Last fall, Kari Lydersen reported that faced with pressure from consumers and workers, some of Florida’s big growers had finally agreed to the penny-per-pound wage subsidy. Soon after, the Coalition clinched a groundbreaking deal with the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange, which bound major growers to a contract that includes “a strict code of conduct, a cooperative complaint resolution system, a participatory health and safety program, and a worker-to-worker education process.” The agreement, estimated to cover more than 90 percent of Florida’s tomato industry, helps close a crucial gap in the chain, since retailers and restaurants agreeing to the penny raise could guarantee that the benefit would trickle down to workers.
The enforcement mechanism within the binding agreement is designed to keep growers and suppliers in check, using an outside nonprofit group to monitor compliance, so that, at least in theory, any grower that violates the code won’t be able to sell to retailers also bound to the agreement. CIW organizer Lucas Benitez told Naples Daily News that employers have to answer to both their buyers and their workers:
With this agreement, we will be working with growers to identify and eliminate abuses through a cooperative complaint investigation and resolution system, with real consequences for violations, including zero tolerance for forced labor.
In the absence of strong government regulation, the Coalition’s strategy aims not just to force employers to obey labor laws but also strive for decent working standards overall, in order to turn Florida’s tomato industry from a bastion of poverty into, in Benitez’s words, “a model of social accountability for the 21st century.”
Whether such industrial change can be wrought by a motley alliance of some of the country’s poorest workers, the biggest food brands, and the savviest customers, has yet to be seen. But if a bunch of migrant farm workers can get Manhattan hipsters to think seriously about who picked their salad this summer, they’re on the road to victory.
Tags: agriculture, California, california government, cesar chavez, darrel steinberg, edgar sanchez, farm workers, jerry brown, labor, labor relations, labour, roger hollander, ufw, union rights, unions, workers rights
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By Edgar Sanchez
SACRAMENTO – California’s farm workers would be able to vote without fear for union representation under a historic bill approved Monday by the State Assembly after lengthy debate.
SB 104 – the Fair Treatment for Farm Workers Act – passed by a 51-to-25 party-line vote, prompting applause from 160 farm laborers packing the Assembly Gallery. Another 100-plus farm workers and their supporters watched the debate on television, in a legislative hearing room.
The bill, previously passed by the Senate, now awaits the signature of Governor Jerry Brown to become law.
The measure, granting farm workers the same organizing rights enjoyed by all state employees, is strongly opposed by the state’s $36 billion agricultural industry.
Introduced by Senator Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento), SB 104 would give the state’s more than 400,000 farm workers an alternative to on-the-job polling place elections to decide whether to join a union. The new option would allow them to fill out state-issued representation ballots in their homes, away from bosses’ threats and other interference. If a simple majority – more than 50 percent — of workers sign the ballots, their jobs would be unionized.
All elections would be supervised by the Agricultural Labor Relations Board, with the workers choosing the process.
In a bid to derail SB 104, opponents in the Assembly described it as a job killer, “an anti-democracy bill” and a tool to “blatantly stack the deck against employers.”
Supporters called it a long-overdue proposal to end years of abuse by some unscrupulous labor contractors and growers fighting the United Farm Workers Union.
“This is a great victory for us,” Felipe, a 30-year-old farm worker from Kern County, said after the vote. “There won’t be any more intimidation on the part of contractors or farm bosses when union elections take place.
“There won’t be because if 104 becomes law, the vote could be in your house, without anybody pressuring you,” he said.
Felipe – not his real name — requested anonymity because he fears reprisals from his employer, who he said intimidated workers into voting against unionization in 2006.
“Before the election, we were told we would lose our jobs if we voted for the union,” the $8-an-hour laborer said. “I came to Sacramento today without my bosses’ knowledge. They don’t know that I came here.”
The Assembly passed SB 104 on the third anniversary of the heat-related death of Maria Isavel Vasquez Jimenez, 17, who had collapsed on a vineyard east of Stockton. The pregnant laborer fainted after being denied proper access to water and shade in nearly 100-degree heat.
In all, 16 farm workers have died in the California heat since 2005, Luis A. Alejo (D-Watsonville), SB 104’s principal co-author, stated on the Assembly floor.
He cited two main reasons for the ongoing deaths: Employers, including Maria Isavel’s, intentionally disregard heat regulations and the state seldom enforces the laws.
Even the justice system failed Maria Isavel, Alejo said, expressing disbelief that no one went to prison after she was “killed.”
“Those responsible for her death were ‘sentenced’ to community service,” despite prior worker-safety law violations, he said. “Community service? For manslaughter? I don’t need to be an attorney to know that that is a disservice to our justice system.”
Noting that Maria Isavel’s uncle, Doroteo Jimenez, was in the Assembly Gallery, Alejo urged colleagues to “consider telling him that we will not let Maria Isavel’s death be for nothing … but, not with our words. But, with our actions today.”
Mariko Yamada (D-Davis), said that when Maria Isavel died, “her body temperature was over 108 degrees.”
“Members, can you believe that only six years ago there were no standards for working in the heat in California?” she said. “…Today, we have an opportunity to take another step on the long, tortuous path for civil rights in the farm worker community.
“I ask for your ‘Aye’ vote” on SB 104, she said.
Asking for a “No” vote was Tim Donnelly, R-Twin Peaks.
“I rise in opposition to this bill, even though I support the cause of protecting the farm workers in the field,” he said. “Right now, we tolerate a system where (they) are systematically abused. They are exploited …
“SB 104 does nothing to protect farm workers,” he said.
Also blasting SB 104 was Bill Berryhill (R-Ceres), a longtime farmer who said that, if enacted, 104 would “get rid” of secret-ballot elections on ranches.
The bill runs counter to what Cesar Chavez fought for, Berryhill said, reminding that the UFW’s co-founder campaigned for farm workers’ right to choose a union through secret ballots.
William W. Monning (D-Carmel), responded to Donnelly’s and Berryhill’s remarks.
“Mr. Berryhill is right,” Monning said. “The philosophy of Cesar Chavez, (fellow UFW co-founder) Dolores Huerta and the union was to achieve secret-ballot protection for farm workers.”
That milestone came in 1975 when then-Governor Jerry Brown signed the Agricultural Labor Relations Act into law, he said.
Monning, a distinguished lawyer and former law professor, told colleagues he knows how the Act evolved. In the mid-1970s, he worked in the UFW’s Legal Department as it lobbied legislators for the Act’s passage.
But, Monning said, “under the current rules … once a petition for election is filed it sets in motion a wave of disparate power – the power of the labor contractor, the power of growers to maximize threats, intimidation, closed company meetings (to) dissuade workers” from voting for union representation, “even in the privacy of that secret ballot.”
“So now, by the time we get to election day, the election’s already been determined,” he said. “So we need to amend this law to level the playing field, to allow workers in the privacy of their homes, labor camps, to sign a card authorizing union representation” for themselves.
Then, in what appeared to be a direct rebuke to Donnelly, Monning denounced “those colleagues who say they oppose this bill because they care about farm worker rights.”
He continued: “When I look to an authority on farm worker rights, I look to farm workers. And farm workers are here today, here at their own expense, many missing a day of work asking us to give them the tools to end the exploitation of unscrupulous labor contractors who intimidate, bend the rules and violate the rights.
“Members, the legacy of Cesar Chavez is embedded in this legislation. I ask for your ‘Aye’ vote.”
The farm workers applauded enthusiastically.
Bob Wieckowski, D-Fremont, accused opponents of distorting the facts.
SB 104, he said, “does not eliminate the secret ballot. It simply adds card check … as another option for farm workers to choose collective bargaining.”
Sandré R. Swanson, D-Oakland, said SB 104 would make it easier for farm workers to organize and demand basic rights that other workers in California already have.
“We’re talking about the right for farm workers not to have to die of heat stroke, to have adequate water, available restrooms and decent pay,” he said. “That is fundamental to the opportunity to work in this state.”
After arriving in California’s capital from across the state, the farm workers had assembled at mid-morning in the basement of the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament, where they were welcomed by, among others, UFW President Arturo Rodriguez, several assembly members and Bishop Jaime Soto of Sacramento.
“You are pilgrims seeking a better way of life,” Soto told the gathering. “You deserve human benefits. And you are not alone in your struggle. Many people support you.”
Rodriguez said simply: “Today, we’ll be witnesses to history.”
With that, the farm laborers began a silent pilgrimage to the Capitol, a couple of blocks away.
After the vote, Assembly Speaker John Perez (D-Los Angeles), Assemblymember Alejo and other members of the Legislature addressed a cheering UFW crowd in the Capitol basement. The speakers vowed to do what needs to be done to ensure that Governor Brown signs SB 104.
Edgar Sanchez is a former writer for The Sacramento Bee and The Palm Beach Post
Tags: blueberry pickers, california agriculture, california farm workers, california labor, cesar chavez, employeed free chocie, farm worker conditions, giumarra, giumarra vineyard, roger hollander, sb789, schwarzenegger, sunrise agriculture, ufw, united farm workers
Supposedly we have the water available, we have the shade available, we have bathrooms available but dare not use them for fear of being fired. It was as if we had none at all.
— Rigoberto Ramirez, Blueberry worker
We’ve shared stories with you about farm workers who’ve had no water to drink. This week we want to tell you about workers who do have water, but don’t have the opportunity to drink it because of the pressure put on them by the companies they work for. Please read their stories and then take action to help them by sending Gov. Schwarzenegger and your legislators an e-mail today.
The following is from a May 26th complaint the UFW filed on behalf of workers at Munger Farms, where 3 farm labor contractors employ more than 40 crews and 1,000 workers to harvest blueberries. Pickers are working hourly, but have a huge quota of 5 boxes a day–which forces them to work through their breaks, not drink water or go to the bathroom for fear of losing their jobs. This is not an imaginary fear. It happened to about 60 workers on May 26. The workers were promised 3 days of work. They were fired after one day before they even had the chance to acclimatize themselves to the brutal pace demanded. Here is the story of an experienced blueberry picker, Guillermo Cruz:
We started working at 8 am and we were asked to pick 5 boxes of blueberries for the day which is a total of 65 pounds of blueberries. I did everything that I could to meet the quota. Company supervisors were constantly on top of us and yelling at us if we dropped any blueberries on the ground which made us very nervous and confused on what to do. Workers could not afford to go to drink water or even go to the restroom because of the tremendous fear of losing their jobs. Some workers even worked through their lunch breaks to try to meet the quota. The company would not even allow us to take our third break. Many workers were running and going as fast as they could to try to meet the goal. I was one of the few that was able to make 4 boxes and could not understand why I would be fired if I had done everything in my power to meet the quota. The time we worked we saw crews of 60 workers going and coming because of the tremendous pressure to meet the quota and the company was firing workers every day.
This is not the only incident. On May 26, the UFW filed charges on behalf of Giumarra vineyard worker Francisco Farfan. Francisco was suspended and sent home for the day after the foreman said Francisco had gone too many times to drink water. He was keeping up with the workload demanded. It was hotter than 100 degrees that day. Francisco believes he was suspended for taking safety measures that did not impede his work performance and to which he is legally entitled.
Two days later the UFW also filed charges on behalf of vineyard workers at Sunrise Agriculture. Again, the about 100 workers there did have water. The problem was they were not allowed to drink the water unless they were on an official break (10 minutes every 4 hrs) or at lunch. These workers also did not have shade to protect them from the sun and were not trained in heat safety as required by law.
Such incidents show that workers need the ability to speak up without being afraid of losing their jobs. It’s why SB789 CA Employee Free Choice Act for Farm Workers is so vital. This bill will make it easier for farm workers to organize, speak up to improve working conditions and help enforce the laws that CA’s government cannot enforce. SB789 passed the CA state senate and will next be heard in the assembly and then go to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Happy Birthday, Cesar Chavez! March 31, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Agriculture, California, Human Rights, Labor.
Tags: agriculture labor relations, agriculture union, beyond the fields, california agriculture, california labor, cesar chavez, david swanson, economic justice, farm workers, farm workers union, farmworkers union, grape boycott, jerry brown, labor, labor boycott, labor leader, labor rights, mexican-american, randy shaw, roger hollander, ufw, united farm workers, worker rights
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www.opednews.com, March 31, 2009
No, he’s NOT the president of Venezuela.
Yes, he was the man who popularized the slogan “Yes, we can!” Only he said “Si’ se puede!”
Cesar Chavez, American young people should know, was an American who 40 years ago was inspiring young people to work long, hard hours for social justice. And not only did they do so in great numbers, but they actually achieved social justice, they won victories that kept them going. And many of them are going still, having made long, enjoyable, and effective careers of it.
Chavez organized the United Farm Workers, vastly improving the working conditions of farm workers in California and around the country. The UFW pioneered numerous tactics that have been used with great success ever since, including most famously the boycott. Half the country stopped eating grapes until the people who picked the grapes were allowed to form a union.
Now much of what we eat and otherwise consume is made by slave labor, sweatshop labor, and workers without rights or their basic needs met. Many of these products are shipped to us from distant lands. Some are produced in the United States, including California, where farm workers’ power is not what it was.
But the people the UFW trained have taken their skills “Beyond the Fields,” which is the title of a wonderful new book by Randy Shaw that chronicles the long-term effects of the UFW’s successes. Techniques mastered by the UFW have been employed with great success beyond the fields, including the technique of targeting a corporation or politician from numerous angles at once. In addition to boycotts, the UFW pioneered the use of fasting, the framing of workers’ issues in moral terms, actions aimed at gaining media attention, creating media with human billboards and other street theater, encouraging civic participation among union members, coalition building, and voter outreach and election day activities that have proved consistently powerful and effective.
UFW veterans have used these techniques to elect better politicians, to reform numerous corporations, to win union contracts and better conditions for janitors, to build a movement for immigrants rights, and to advance an endless list of social causes. When I worked for ACORN, what I saw ACORN’s organizers and members doing was straight out of the UFW. In fact, reading Chavez’ writings was mandatory. A campaign like the one I wrote about here that won a half a billion dollars from a predatory bank for its victims was pure UFW, even if those working on it were a degree of separation or two removed from Cesar Chavez. “If there were a post-World War II Hall of Fame for activists in America, UFW veterans would dominate the inductees,” writes Shaw.
That doesn’t mean there haven’t been failures and improvements, set backs and new innovations, and good techniques put to questionable ends. But, on the whole, the approach of the UFW is one we would clearly benefit from following more closely. We should focus on training and education. We should build activist organizations that inspire young people to join and sacrifice. That means taking principled moral positions and fighting for them. And it means delegating responsibility to young people and training them above all to train others. And it means taking risks.
The cry of “si’ se puede!” comes out of a 1972 campaign to recall the governor of Arizona who had just signed an anti-labor bill. In four and a half months, the UFW registered almost 100,000 new voters, most of them poor Navajos and Mexican Americans. While the attorney general blocked the recall, four Mexican Americans and two Navajos were elected to the state legislature, and Mexican Americans were elected to local councils, judgeships, and school boards, and two years later to the office of governor. In the process, the UFW showed others how to alter politics by organizing volunteers to sign up new voters.
But the UFW didn’t just register voters who could be counted on to vote for the lesser of two lousy candidates. The UFW backed candidates and got them elected while simultaneously forcing them to comply with farm workers’ demands. This is the lesson that we’ve lost today, as we put massive efforts into electing candidates while making no demands of them. In 1974 the UFW was critical to the success of Jerry Brown’s campaign for governor of California, and had high hopes that he would sign a bill friendly to farm labor once elected. But the UFW did more than hope, it got a similar bill introduced and forced Brown to publicly express his support for it. This required a sit-in in a campaign office staffed by friends and colleagues. Once Brown was governor, Chavez had to threaten a massive march to the capitol. The first Agricultural Labor Relations Act in the country was signed into law in June 1975, and UFW staff went on to coordinate Brown’s presidential campaigns. They had earned his respect, something progressives today do not get from politicians by giving everything they have and never insisting on anything in return.
If Cesar Chavez were alive, he would be sitting in the office of a senator who is refusing to back the Employee Free Choice Act, he would be fasting, he would be refusing to leave, and he would be telling you Si Se Puede!
David Swanson is the author of the upcoming book “Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial Presidency and Forming a More Perfect Union” by Seven Stories Press and of the introduction to “The 35 Articles of Impeachment and the Case for Prosecuting George W.