farm worker

United Farm Workers


The United Farm Workers of America (UFW) is a labor union that evolved from unions founded in 1962 by César Chávez, Philip Vera Cruz, Dolores Huerta, and Larry Itliong. This union changed from a workers' rights organization that helped workers get unemployment insurance to that of a union of farmworkers almost overnight, when the National Farm Workers Association (NFWA) went out on strike in support of the mostly Filipino farmworkers of the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee (AWOC) led by Larry Itliong in Delano, California who had previously initiated a grape strike on September 8, 1965. The NFWA and the AWOC, recognizing their common goals and methods, and realizing the strengths of coalition formation, jointly formed the United Farm Workers Organizing Committee on August 22, 1966. This organization eventually became the United Farm Workers and launched a boycott of table grapes that, after five years of struggle, finally won a contract with the major grape growers in California.


The union then brought in thousands more lettuce workers in the Salinas and Imperial Valleys and orange workers in Florida employed by subsidiaries of Coca-Cola.

The union publicly adopted the principles of non-violence championed by Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The union was poised to launch its next major campaign in the orange fields in 1973 when a deal between the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and the growers nearly destroyed it. The growers signed contracts giving the Teamsters the right to represent the workers who had been members of the UFW.

The UFW responded with strikes, lawsuits and boycotts, including secondary boycotts in the retail grocery industry. The union struggled to regain the members it had lost in the lettuce field; it never fully recovered its strength in grapes, due in some part to incompetent management of the hiring halls it had established that seemed to favor some workers over others.

The battles in the fields became violent, with a number of UFW members killed on the picket line. The violence led the state in 1975 to try to find a solution for these problems by creating an administrative agency, the Agricultural Labor Relations Board, to enforce a law modeled on the National Labor Relations Act that would channel these disputes into more peaceful forms.

On July 22, 2005 the UFW announced that it was joining the Change to Win Federation, a coalition of labor unions functioning as an alternative to the AFL-CIO. On January 13, 2006, the union officially disaffiliated from the AFL-CIO. In contrast to other Change to Win-affiliated unions, the AFL-CIO neglected to offer the right of affiliation to regional bodies to the UFW.

Texas Strike

In May 1966, California farm worker activist Eugene Nelson traveled to Texas to rally support for the Schenley Farms boycott. While in Houston, AFL-CIO state representatives suggested that he visit Rio Grande City on the Texas-Mexico border in the lower Rio Grande Valley. Seeing the possibilities for organizing workers in the impoverished region, he quickly set about recruiting volunteers for the United Farm Workers Organizing Committee (UFWOC) as both strikers and assistants. Other UFWOC activists joined Nelson in Rio Grande City, including Gilbert Padilla, Antonio Orendain, and Bill Chandler.

On June 1, Nelson led workers to strike demanding $1.25 as a minimum hourly wage, protesting La Casita Farms and others packing sheds. The activists also protested the hiring of “scab” labor, mostly those with green card visas from Mexico, who were allowed to cross the border as day workers. In the dispute, reports and allegations of vandalism to equipment, produce, and public property caused Starr County officials, along with the support of the growers, to call for additional law enforcement, which arrived in the form of the Texas Rangers. Both county officials and rangers arrested protestors for secondary picketing, standing within 50 feet of one another, a practice illegal at the time. Allegations of brutality and questions of jurisdictional limits created national headlines in what came to be known as “La Huelga.”

On July 4, members of UFWOC, strikers, and members of the clergy set out on a march to Austin to demand the $1.25 minimum wage and other improvements for farm workers. Press coverage intensified as the marchers made their way north in the summer heat. Politicians, members of the AFL-CIO, and the Texas Council of Churches accompanied the protestors. Gov. John Connally, who had refused to meet them in Austin, traveled to New Braunfels with then House Speaker Ben Barnes, and Attorney General Waggoner Carr to intercept the march and inform strikers that their efforts would have no effect.

Protestors arrived in Austin in time for a Labor Day rally, but no changes in law resulted. Strikes and arrests continued in Rio Grande City through 1966 into 1967. Violence increased as the spring melon crop ripened and time neared for the May harvest. In June, when beatings of two UFWOC supporters by Texas rangers surfaced, tempers flared.

At the end of June as the harvest was ending, members of the Senate Subcommittee on Migratory Labor, including Senators Harrison Williams and Edward Kennedy, arrived in the lower Rio Grande Valley to hold hearings in Rio Grande City and Edinburg, Texas. The senators took their findings back to Washington as a report on pending legislation. Subsequently, the rangers left the area and the picketing ended. On September 20, Hurricane Beulah's devastations ruined the farming industry in the Valley for the following year. One major outcome of the strikes came in the form of a 1974 Supreme Court victory in Medrano v. Allee, limiting jurisdiction of Texas Rangers in labor disputes. Farm workers continued to organize through the 1970’s on a smaller scale, under new leadership in San Juan, Texas, independent of César Chávez.

Recent developments

In July 2008 the farm worker Ramiro Carrillo Rodriguez, 48, died of a heat stroke. According to United Farm Workers he is "13th farm worker heat death since CA Governor Schwarzenegger took office in 2003. In 2006 California's first permanent heat regulations were enacted but these regulations are not strictly enforced, the union says.

References and Notes

Further reading

External links

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