Reminiscent of Cesar Chavez’s 300 mile pilgrimage from Delano to Sacramento in 1966, more than 5,000 farmworkers, their families, and supporters marched the final steps of a 13-day, 167 miles pilgrimage through California’s Central Valley, to the north steps of the capitol on Sunday, September 4, 2011. The farmworker’s call to action is for Governor Jerry Brown to sign SB 126, a bill that would make it easier for farm workers to join unions and speak up for fair labor rights.
The last leg of the walk for civil liberties in Sacramento began at Southside Park at 10am and ended with an urging of support for Governor Brown to sign the bill that is making its way through the California Legislature.
SB 126 penned by Senator Darrell Steinberg includes a revised version of the Fair Treatment for Farm Workers Act (SB 104), a bill that would have made it easier for farm workers to join a union and speak up for their rights, previously vetoed by Gov. Brown and legislation to would allow farm workers the right to be paid overtime after 8 hours of work per day.
This comes at a time when safety conditions for the state’s nearly 400,000 agricultural workers who spend long days in the hot sun each summer to harvest fruits and vegestables is at its worst. At least 16 California farm workers have suffered from heat related deaths since 2005 and State Division of Occupational Safety and Health is investigating two other California farm worker deaths – one in April in Imperial County and one in June in Riverside County.
Francisco Estrada, a migrant farm worker recalls the last day of his wife’s life, Lillia Estrada while working in the farms. “She complained of dizziness. The ambulance did not come until an hour later”, a translator noted in Spanish. “We came in as two and I came out as one.” There is not a day that passes where he does not think of his wife and the two sons she has left behind.
“There will come a day, when farmworker rights will be left at the hands of our children,” Becky Chavez, the daughter of Richard "Ricardo" Chavez urged in her speech.
The philosophy of The United Farm Workers, brothers Richard "Ricardo" Chavez and Ceasar Chavez’s legacy continues. The movement behind the Delano Grape Strike of 1966 still continues. Equity has not been reached for low paid workers as long as the struggle by farm workers continue.
Watch the her very moving speech by clicking here.
Today, unions appear to be the vehicle of choice to level the playing field for low paid workers otherwise deemed silent. Fewer than 5% of the farm workers have the protection of union contracts. A day before labor day, the walk is symbolic of those farm workers who continue to struggle for their rights to unionize and receive equitable labor practices.
Organizers say they want Americans to know that the fresh food we take for granted on our tables were hand picked by human hands.
"My grandparents were farm workers. My dad started out working in the fields. I’m here because I understand the importance of these jobs especially for immigrants and their families. These are hard jobs and the people who work these jobs…deserve more protection, " urged Rebecca Gutierrez, 23 a student from Fresno State.