For many years Cesar Chavez traveled the dusty farm roads of California organizing migrant farm workers into what was to become the United Farm Workers (UFW) union. It was a long hard struggle between the growers and the workers, but eventually they came to an agreement that benefited both sides. And California is the better for it.
But I wonder what Cesar Chavez would think if he was to come back and see what his life’s work, the UFW, has become.
I don’t think he would be pleased.
Recent events in the farming communities of Salinas and Watsonville would be very troubling to him.
In one instance I and several other UFW employees sought to unionize because up until this time we have had no representation. We felt, and quite rightly, that the union’s own employees should have the same right to organize as those farm workers we were signing up to be union members.
What did the leadership of the UFW do when we attempted to exercise his rights?
They changed the locks on our office and hired a security guard to keep us out, as well as using the courts to get an injunction against its own UFW workers like myself who wanted to unionize and protest these unfair actions by the union bosses.
Locking out the workers? The lockout is a relic of a long past era of labor-management strife. It is a tactic that businesses used to break unions and stop organizing efforts.
What would Cesar Chavez think?
He might think why would an organization that was founded on the principle that all workers need union representation prevent its own workers from joining one? And more importantly why don’t our own workers enjoy union representation already?
On another front, the state legislature recently passed a bill by Senate Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (SB 25) that would make it easier for farmworkers to unionize, yet the legislature remains silent in helping the UFW employees achieve the same rights. To the UFW leadership, it’s a way of helping preserve the $100,000+ incomes that the UFW President and a majority of the board members make.
We are still waiting for the public statement or letters of support from our legislative leaders.
The recent actions by the UFW Board of Directors has made them a non-union company in our eyes.
What would Cesar Chavez think?
I think he might remind them of the vision statement on the UFW website.
“To provide farm workers and other working people with the inspiration and tools to share in society’s bounty.”
I think he might also remind them of the number one core value out of the five also listed on their website: Integrity.
The UFW describes integrity as “doing the right thing even when no one is looking.” That is one of the best descriptions of that powerful word as I have ever seen.
Unfortunately, the UFW bosses in Salinas and Watsonville are not living up to their own core values as set forth by Cesar Chavez. They are in fact going in the opposite direction as they attempt to take advantage of their workers when no one is looking hoping they won’t get caught.
But somebody is looking and wherever he is I am sure he is not pleased.
That somebody is Cesar Chavez.