Written by Trista Barrantes, Education & Curriculum Intern

March 31st marks the celebration of Cesar Chavez Day! Today, we reflect on the Farmworkers’ Movement in honor of Mexican-American civil rights and labor activist Cesar Chavez. 

Cesar Chavez (March 31, 1927 – April 23, 1993) was a Mexican-American civil rights and labor activist whose actions made monumental contributions towards farmworkers rights nationwide. Chavez experienced unjust living and working conditions during his time working as a farm laborer himself in California’s Central Valley.

(Photo Source: UFW.org)

Cesar Chavez founded the NFWA (National Farm Workers Association) which worked with primarily Mexican-American farmworkers. The NFWA later merged in 1962 with AWOC (the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee), which was founded by Larry Itliong and made up of primarily Filipino-American farmworkers. Their merging formed the United Farm Workers (UFW) Union which still exists to this very day.

United Farm Workers Movement — Some Accomplishments…

1965-1970: The Delano Grape Strike raises political consciousness for millions of consumers nationwide.

1966: Chavez leads a 340-mile march to Sacramento to pressure the state government to pass laws protecting farmworkers’ rights to organize as a union for collective bargaining agreements and better working conditions.

(Photo Source: Brittanica)

1975: Agricultural Labor Relations Act passes, which recognizes California farmworkers’ right to unionize.

1980s: The Grapes of Wrath campaign educates the public about the dangers of pesticides.

1985: Abolish the use of the short-handled hoe, which oppressed workers physically and psychologically.

July-August 1988: Chavez conducts his longest (and last) public fast for a total of 36 days to bring attention to the plight of farm workers and their children from pesticide exposure.

1992: Vineyard walk-outs in California win grape workers’ first industry-wide pay hike in eight years

Late 1990s: Major organizing among farmworkers of the Central Coast strawberry industry leads to two large union contracts, protecting hundreds of workers

1999-2005: Various major regulations and laws passed related to workplace safety (ex. heat exposure) and protections for undocumented farmworkers.

2016: Phase-In Overtime for Agricultural Workers Act passes, mandating overtime pay after 8 hours worked per day/40 hours a week for California farmworkers (before, overtime was only given after 10 hours worked per day/60 hours a week).

Cesar Chavez dedicated his life to creating better living and working conditions for farmworkers all over the nation. Today, farmworkers have secured the right to unionize—however, the fight is far from over.

Today they are still among the most food-insecure groups in the US, with about half (49%) of farmworker households remaining in a consistently food-insecure state (Ip et. al, 2015). And due to working in and living in close proximity to farmlands, they and their families are exposed to pesticides and other toxic chemicals; the US EPA estimates that pesticide exposure causes at least 300,000 cases of acute illnesses and diseases annually (Farming Justice).

Labor activist Cesar Chavez posing with grape pickers in support of the United Farm Workers Union.

We must continue his work now in 2022 and beyond to ensure equitable labor rights, better health, living wages, and food justice for farmworkers all across America, who still struggle with the same issues as they did when Chavez first began organizing.

(Photo Source: The New American Campaign / Time.com)

Recognition of these issues is the first step of addressing them. We can start by becoming more aware of active labor struggles today. As of right now in California, farmworkers are pushing Gov. Newsom to pass AB-2183, the Agricultural Labor Relations Voting Choice Act. It would make it illegal for agricultural employers to commit unfair labor practices (such as vote suppression by intimidation or refusal to provide a list of employees to labor organizations) during union elections and campaigns to hold worker representation (California Legislative Information).

Consumers can also practice mindful purchasing. If you are able to, shop at your nearby farmers markets and get to know the local growers in your area. When shopping in stores, choose locally-grown or US-grown produce that is labeled certified organic and/or no-spray produce, if possible.

In addition to the above, here are some farmworker organizations that you should also consider supporting!

If you’d like to share this information with others, download our 2022 Cesar Chavez Day Brochure here!

References

(2021-2022) AB-2183 Agriculture labor relations. California Legislative Information. Accessed 28 March 2022, from https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billNavClient.xhtml?bill_id=202120220AB2183 

Drexler, K. (31 March 2021). Planetary Sustainability and Celebrating César Chávez Day. American Public University, https://apuedge.com/planetary-sustainability-and-celebrating-cesar-chavez-day/ 

(2013). Exposed & Ignored: How pesticides are endangering our

nation’s farmworkers. Farmworker Justice, https://kresge.org/sites/default/files/Exposed-and-ignored-Farmworker-Justice-KF.pdf 

Ferris, S. & Sandoval, R. (1997). The Death of The Short-Handled Hoe. The Fight in the Fields, Cesar Chavez and the Farmworkers Movement, https://www.fightinthefields.net/book1.html 

Ip, Saldana, S., Arcury, T. A., Grzywacz, J. G., Trejo, G., & Quandt, S. A. (2015). Profiles of Food Security for US Farmworker Households and Factors Related to Dynamic of Change. American Journal of Public Health (1971), 105(10), e42–e47. https://doi.org/10.2105/AJPH.2015.302752

Kim, Inga (3 April 2017). UFW Successes Through The Years. United Farm Workers, https://ufw.org/ufw-successes-years/ 

Sherman, Jocelyn. (25 October 2019). Farm worker movement marks Larry D. Itliong Day. United Farm Workers, https://ufw.org/larryitliongday19/ 

(June 2018). United Farmworkers of America. National Farmworker Ministry, https://nfwm.org/farm-workers/farmworker-partners/united-farm-workers-of-america/ 

UFW Chronology. United Farm Workers, https://ufw.org/research/history/ufw-chronology/ 


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