California Farm Workers March for Fair Treatment

Despite the heat of a California August, farmworkers will embark tomorrow morning, Aug. 23, on a 167-mile march from Madera, Calif., to the state capitol, Sacramento. The marchers, who should arrive at their destination on September 4 (during Labor Day weekend), hope to draw attention to SB 104–the  Fair Treatment for Farm Workers Act–which was recently vetoed by Gov. Jerry Brown.

The act would have made it easier for farm workers to join unions thanks to a “card check” registration system.  Farmworker Mauricia Calvillo explains that, “With SB 104, we farm workers would have the freedom to fill out union representation cards in the privacy of our homes, outside the presence of owners,  bosses and  field foremen.

The United Farm Workers of America union (UFW), which has organized the march, has had a rich past under such famed leaders as Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta. Its victories include:

  • the first genuine collective bargaining agreement between farm workers and growers in the history of the continental United States
  • the first union contracts requiring rest periods, toilets in the fields, clean drinking water, hand-washing facilities, protective clothing against pesticide exposure, banning pesticide straying while workers are in the fields,
  • outlawing DDT and other dangerous pesticides, and extending unemployment, disability, and worker’s compensation benefits to farm workers.

Injustice still exists, however; for example, farmworkers are some of the few hourly workers in the U.S. who are not paid overtime. Also, some growers ignore the state’s heat, water, and shade regulations. According to a UFW press release, at least 16 California farmworkers suffered heath-related deaths in the past six years. Moreover, only a small percentage of the 400,000 farmworkers in the state are unionized–hence the movement to make joining a union easier.

In vetoing the bill, Gov. Brown said he was “not yet convinced” that it was necessary; marchers will try to convince him otherwise. You can join the Labor Day action in spirit by sending a letter to Gov.Brown demanding equal treatment for farm workers in California, and by extension, for all workers everywhere.

Photo from Flickr user javi42386 under Creative Commons 2.0.

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