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Monday, May 14 2012 12:37 PM

UFW at 50: A history of Cesar Chavez and the UFW

By THE BAKERSFIELD CALIFORNIAN

March 31, 1927 -- Cesar Estrada Chavez is born near Yuma, Ariz., and named after his grandfather, Cesario.

1938 -- A drought causes Chavez's grandparents to fall into debt on the family's 80-acre farm. The family becomes migrant workers, driving to Oxnard, Calif., to pick vegetables in hopes of raising money to save the farm. Before the year is out, they have failed and the farm is lost, leaving painful memories for young Chavez.

"Maybe that is when the rebellion started," he once said.

June 1939 -- The Chavez family moves to California and settles in a San Jose barrio named Sal Si Puedes -- "Get Out If You Can."

1942 -- Chavez quits school after the eighth grade and joins his family full time in the fields. The family worked all over California harvesting every kind of crop. Chavez's father, Librado, joined several unions and would protest or quit a job rather than suffer abuse. During the height of a cotton harvest in Wasco, the entire Chavez family dropped its tools and walked out of the fields because it suspected foremen were underweighing the cotton they harvested.

1943 -- At a malt shop in Delano, Chavez meets his future wife, Helen Fabela, also a child of farmworkers.

1944 -- Chavez joins the Navy during WWII at the age of 17, largely to escape field work. He serves for two years in the Mariana Islands and Guam as a painter. During a 72-hour leave, he is arrested for deliberately sitting in the whites-only section of a Delano movie theater.

1948 -- Chavez marries Helen Fabela. They eventually have eight children. Working with his parents, Chavez and Helen become sharecroppers, growing strawberries under contract for another company. This lasts two years. Chavez and brother, Richard, take jobs with a lumber company in Crescent City, then return to Sal Si Puedes to work at a nearby lumber mill.

1952 -- Fred Ross, a founder of the Community Service Organization (CSO), meets Chavez laboring in an apricot orchard near San Jose. He later recruits Chavez as an organizer. Over the next 10 years, Chavez organizes 22 CSO chapters across California and helps transform the organization into the most militant and effective Latino civil rights group of its day. CSO helps Latinos become citizens, register to vote, battle police brutality and press for barrio improvements.

1956 -- At a CSO fundraiser in Oakland, Chavez meets Dolores Huerta, also a CSO organizer.

1962 -- Chavez and Huerta quit CSO to start a labor union, calling it the National Farm Workers Association. They move to Delano and launch the union there. "What I didn't know," Chavez recalled, "was that we would go through hell because it was all but an impossible task."

Chavez's brother, Richard, designed the union's logo, a black eagle on a red field.

"A symbol is an important thing," Chavez said. "That is why we chose an Aztec eagle. When people see it they know it means dignity."

1965 -- NFWA joins a strike called by Filipino table grape harvesters; boycotts products of Schenley Wine Co., which also grew grapes; FBI begins to compile what became a 1,434-page dossier on Chavez.

The union slogan "Viva la huelga!" (Long live the strike!) was first shouted by Chavez and workers after they agreed to join the strike, which lasted five years, at a meeting at Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church in Delano.

1966 -- Chavez leads Delano-to-Sacramento march; Schenley agrees to raise wages by 40 percent, from $1.25 to $1.75 an hour. The minimum wage at the time was $1.25 an hour.

1967 -- The union informs grape growers it represents their workers and launches a consumer boycott of California table grapes, dubbing the effort La Causa.

1968, February-March -- Chavez fasts for 25 days to rededicate his movement to nonviolence. U.S. Sen. Robert F. Kennedy joins 8,000 farmworkers and supporters at a Mass where Chavez breaks his fast, calling the weakened farm labor leader "one of the heroic figures of our time."

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said at the time, in a telegram to Chavez: "As brothers in the fight for equality, I extend the hand of fellowship and good will and wish continuing success to you and your members ... You and your valiant fellow workers have demonstrated your commitment to righting grievous wrongs forced upon exploited people. We are together with you in spirit and in determination that our dreams for a better tomorrow will be realized."

1970 -- Table grape growers agree to recognize the union and 150 sign contracts covering 20,000 workers. But most lettuce growers sign contracts with the Teamsters union instead.

1971 -- The union moves from its Forty Acres compound in Delano to the former Stonybrook tuberculosis sanitarium in Keene, east of Bakersfield.

The organization acquired the property secretly because it knew that grower-friendly county officials would never sell to the union.

Edward Lewis, a wealthy Hollywood ally who produced such '60s movie classics as "Spartacus" and "Grand Prix," purchased Stonybrook from the county and later sold it to the union for $1.

Chavez renamed the site Nuestra Senora de la Paz, or Our Lady of Peace. With table and wine grape contracts, and some agreements covering vegetable workers, union membership grows to about 80,000.

1972 -- The union becomes officially known as United Farm Workers and is chartered as an independent affiliate by the AFLCIO; it becomes the United Farm Workers of America, AFL-CIO (UFW).

1973 -- UFW claims 180 contracts and 67,000 members in March, which were reduced by December to 12 contracts and a few members.

1975 -- The Agricultural Labor Relations Act is enacted in California; UFW wins 55 percent of the first 361 elections, and the Teamsters 32 percent.

1976 -- The Agricultural Labor Relations Board runs out of money and closes for five months; UFW'S Proposition 14 -- to require funding for the ALRB -- is rejected by voters.

1978 -- California extends unemployment insurance to almost all farmworkers; UFW joins suit accusing the University of California of developing labor-saving machines to displace farmworkers.

1979 -- UFW calls strikes in support of a demand for a 40 percent wage increase; wages rise from $3.75 to $5.25 hourly, but some firms go out of business.

1981 -- UFW testifies in favor of employer sanctions to discourage illegal immigration; internal dissent leads to exit of non-Chavez relatives from UFW.

1983 -- Republican Gov. George Deukmejian takes office. He begins shutting down enforcement of the state's historic farm labor law. Thousands of farmworkers lose their UFW contracts. Many are fired and blacklisted.

1986 -- Chavez kicks off the "Wrath of Grapes" campaign to draw public attention to the pesticide poisoning of grape workers and their children.

1988 -- Chavez fast brings publicity to the grape boycott effort.

1993, April 23 -- Chavez dies in San Luis, a small village near Yuma; lauded by President Clinton and Mexican President Carlos Salinas.

"Cesar Chavez came from the humble yet proud beginnings of a migrant worker to lead those same workers in a movement that irreversibly shaped our nation and brought justice and dignity to thousands." -- President Clinton in a proclamation dated April 28, 1993.

1994 -- Arturo Rodriguez, Chavez's son-inlaw, named UFW president, and Rodriguez repeats the 1966 Delano-to-Sacramento march.

1995 -- UFW claims 24,000 members; wins an election at a strawberry farm, which goes out of business.

1996 -- Rodriguez appointed to the 43-member AFL-CIO Executive Council, and UFW launches strawberry organizing campaign. UFW settles dispute with vegetable grower Bruce Church Inc. that began in 1978.

"Clearly only public support will pressure the industry to recognize workers' rights to support the union free of intimidation and coercion, and to bargain in good faith after they vote for the UFW." -- Rodriguez on the day he announced Ralphs Grocery Co. endorsement of the UFW's drive to aid strawberry workers.

1997-2000 -- Strawberry campaign attracts national interest and support, and the UFW sends 150 organizers into the fields. Local Coastal Berry Farmworkers Committee (CBFWC) wins July 1998, May 1999 and June 1999 elections at Coastal Berry; CBFWC represents workers in Northern California, UFW in Southern California; UFW wins its first NLRB-supervised election in November 2000.

2001-2002 -- UFW boycotts Pictsweet Mushrooms, where there has been no contract since 1987; ALRA is amended to provide for mandatory mediation if employer and union cannot negotiate agreements.

2001 -- The UFW wins a three-year contract to represent workers of Guy Chaddock & Co., an upscale furniture company in east Bakersfield. This is the union's first nonfarm contract.

2002, August -- Rodriguez and hundreds of farmworkers march to Santa Rosa as part of a nationwide drive to put immigration reform back on President Bush's agenda.

2003 -- Months before the contract between Guy Chaddock and the union expired, workers filed a petition to decertify the union with the National Labor Relations Board. The decertification process was blocked for months by a series of claims filed by the union with the NLRB against the furniture company. The contract between the UFW and Guy Chaddock finally expires in August 2003. Workers say they wouldn't vote for UFW representation again.

2003 -- Rodriguez sends a statement to President Bush opposing his plans in Iraq and participates in a series of protests in an effort to win driver licenses for the undocumented.

"Cesar Chavez's legacy is all about peace and non-violent action. If there was ever a time for Chavez's legacy to come alive it is now. Basic principle demands that the United Farm Workers of America, AFL-CIO joins national and global efforts in opposing the Bush administration's plans to mount a 'preemptive' war in Iraq." -- Rodriguez.

2004, February -- Workers from Pictsweet Mushroom Farms in Ventura win a 17-year battle to get a UFW contract. The union had boycotted the company for three years. Pictsweet Mushrooms Farms' is the first union contract won under California's historic binding mediation law.

2004, April -- The UFW opens the National Chavez Center, a museum and memorial garden dedicated to the legacy of Cesar Chavez.

2005 -- Under pressure from the UFW, the state of California issues the first heat regulation in the nation to prevent farm workers from dying in extreme heat during harvests. Among other things, it mandates access to shade and water, and a written safety plan.

2008, June -- More than 500 farmworkers carry two empty coffins on a march from the fields to Sacramento to protest alleged lack of enforcement of heat regulations. The march follows the death of a pregnant 17-year-old girl who died after working in a vineyard near Stockton.

2008, October -- The U.S. Department of the Interior declares Forty Acres, a UFW site west of Delano, a National Historic Landmark. The plot of land at Garces Highway West and Mettler Road was the movement's headquarters from 1968 to 1971, when it moved to La Paz in Keene.

2011, June -- Gov. Jerry Brown vetoes card-check, a union-backed bill that would have allowed farmworkers seeking union representation an alternative to secret-ballot elections. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger had vetoed the same proposal several times during his administration.

2011, August -- Nuestra Senora Reina de la Paz in Keene, farmworker leader Cesar Chavez's home from 1971 until his death in 1993, is listed in the National Register of Historic Places on Aug. 30. A nomination for National Historic Landmark designation was submitted in November. It is still pending.

2011, October -- Gov. Jerry Brown signs an amendment to California's Agricultural Labor Relations Act that, among other things, permits the Agricultural Labor Relations Board to issue an order requiring employers to recognize and bargain with a union even if a majority of employees voted against representation if significant employer misconducted is deemed to have corrupted an election's outcome. The law took effect this year.

Source: Californian archives and research

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