Labor

Former Braceros Demand Payments Owed Them

February 4, 2011

A group of elderly men, their relatives, and supporters protested outside the Mexican consulate in Los Angeles on February 3 to demand payment of wages held from the men when they were guest workers in the U.S. government's bracero program between 1942-1964.

Under the Bracero Treaty negotiated between the United States and Mexico, 10% of workers' gross wages would be deducted and put into a "savings" fund that they could claim upon their return to Mexico.

Many of the braceros were not told why this money was deducted from their paychecks or how to claim the money in Mexico. 

Decades after the bracero program ended, a Mexican government commission revealed that most of the braceros had never been paid the 10% "savings" that had been taken from their wages years earlier.

In 2002, a group of former braceros filed a federal class action lawsuit seeking payment of the funds due to them.

In 2008, the Mexican government agreed to a one-time payment of $3,500 to each bracero who could prove participation in the program. But many of the former laborers still have not been paid.

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The bracero program was part of a long history of importing Mexican laborers into the United States. During World War I, the U.S. government helped fill a labor shortage by facilitating the importation of Mexican workers for back-breaking work on farms and ranches, many in California.

After the war, the Associated Farmers, a conservative trade organization of commercial growers, contintued to recruit Mexican laborers, assuming that since they were barred from joining the all-white AFL unions, they would be a tractable labor force.

But with the onset of the Great Depression, the federal government led a massive effort to scapegoat and deport Mexicans, with no distinction made for their legal status. The government forced more than 1 million people--an estimated 60 percent of them U.S. citizens--over the border.

The tide shifted, however, when America entered World War II and faced an acute labor shortage. In 1942, the U.S. government began negotiations with Mexico to bring workers from the impoverished Mexican countryside to work in U.S. agriculture and railroads.

The subsequent bracero program lasted until 1964. 

 

Elders ask Mexican government to pay them money they earned decades earlier when they were guest workers in the U.S.

[Chapter 03] An Injury to All: The Rights of Workers

Labor leaders Tom Mooney and Warren Billings spent years in prison for the bombing of a San Francisco parade in 1916, despite mounting evidence that they were framed by the district attorney for the crime.

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Governor Acts on Civil Liberties Bills

October 2, 2012

Facing a September 30 deadline to decide on proposed legislation, Governor Brown took action on several civil liberties-related bills impacting workers, immigrants, LGBT youth, clergy, and the criminal justice system.

Workers:  He vetoed a bill that would have provided labor protections like overtime pay and meal breaks for domestic workers.  He also vetoed proposals allowing farmworkers to sue employers who deprive them of water and shade.

Immigrants:  The governor vetoed a bill that would have prohibited local law enforcement agencies from detaining individuals for suspected immigration violations unless accused of a violent or serious crime. He approved legislation allowing undocumented young people brought to the U.S. as children to obtain driver's licenses.

LGBT Youth: Governor Brown signed legislation prohibiting psychotherapists from discredited efforts designed to change a young person's sexual orientation or gender identity. 

Religion: He signed a bill clarifying that no clergy members would be forced to perform marriages that run contrary to their religous beliefs.

Criminal Justice:  The governor approved a bill allowing approximately 300 prisoners, issued life sentences as juveniles, the opportunity to appeal for shorter prison terms.

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In the final two days before a legislative deadline, Governor Brown signed and vetoed numerous bills impacting civil liberties

Appellate Court Upholds Ordinance Targeting Day Laborers

June 12, 2010

In a 2-1 ruling, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on June 9 overturned a lower court decision and upheld a Redondo Beach ordinance allowing police to arrest day laborers who approach cars to solicit work.

The majority of the three-judge panel held that the ordinance,modeled after a Phoenix law, is a reasonable restriction to accomodate traffic and safety.

The dissenting judge, and advocates for day laborers, including the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund which brought the lawsuit, believe the ordinance violates workers' free speech rights. 

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In the early 20th century, cities throughout California passed laws restricting the free speech of labor organizers. Although both the 1849 and 1879 California constitutions guaranteed the right of free speech, the 1909 California Supreme Court ruling in In re may Thomas upheld a Los Angeles anti-street speaking ordinance.

In response to labor organizing in Fresno, city leaders passed an ordinance in 1910 criminalizing public speeches, lectures, debates, or discussions in any public park, street, or alley within a 48-block area.

Similarly, in 1912 the San Diego city council passed an ordinance restricting speech within 46 square blocks in the center of town as a means of deterring union organizers.

Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals allows the city of Redondo Beach to arrest day laborers who approach vehicles to ask for work.

First United Farmworkers Headquarters Designated National Historic Landmark

February 22, 2011

On February 21, United States Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar joined UFW co-founder Dolores Huerta, union and political leaders, and members of Cesar Chavez's family for a ceremony dedicating Forty Acres, the UFW's original headquarters west of Delano, as a National Historic Landmark.

A 1965 grape strike started by Filipiino workers in the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee, was joined within weeks by Mexican grape pickers affiliated with the National Farm Workers Association. Eventually the two unions merged into the United Farm Workers, led by Cesar Chavez.

At the time, farmworkers were specifically excluded from labor laws. A 1969 Senate Labor Committee reported that 95% of farm labor camps had no inside toilets or running water, and 99% were infested with rats and other vermin.

Child labor in the fields was common. Babies born to migrant workers suffered a 25% higher mortality rate than the rest of the population; malnutrition among migrant worker children was ten times higher than the national rate. Farmworkers suffered 250 times the rate of tuberculosis as the general population. A major cause of death was pesticide poisoning.

In 1967, the UFW called for an international boycott of grapes picked by non-union labor. In 1970, growers began signing UFW contracts which banned child labor and established a fair basic wage, as well as safety and pesticide controls.

In the late 1960s, Elaine Elinson, co-author of Wherever There's a Fight (pictured above), organized the grape boycott in Europe. In the early 1970s, she worked for the UFW at Forty Acres.

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Wherever There's a Fight co-author Elaine Elinson pictured here by a plaque at Forty Acres, the site west of Delano which was the original headquarters of the UFW

Wherever There's a Fight on New America Now Radio Program

November 12, 2009

Wherever There's a Fight co-author, Stan Yogi, spoke with Sandip Roy, host of New America Now: Dispatches from the New Majority.  The interview was broadcast on San Francisco's KALW radio on Friday, November 6, and again on Sunday, November 8.  Listen to the interview by clicking on the button below.

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Listen to Wherever There's a Fight co-author Stan Yogi being interviewed by Sandip Roy of KALW's New America Now.

President Obama Designates Cesar Chavez's Home a National Monument

October 3, 2012

On October 8, President Obama will visit the San Joaquin Valley town of Keene to establish a new National Monument honoring United Farm Workers leader Cesar Chavez.

The site, known as La Paz, was the national headquarters of the farm labor union, as well as Chavez's home beginning in the early 1970s until Chavez's death in 1993. Chavez is also buried there.

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This year marks the 50th anniversary of the founding by Chavez and others of the National Farm Workers, which merged with a Filipino group, the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee, to form the United Farm Workers (UFW).

Throughout the 1960s, the UFW fought for the legal rights of agricultural workers. At the time, the sight of children working in the fields was still common. Farmworkers suffered 250 times the rate of tuberculosis as the general population. They had the third highest accident and death rates. A major cause of death was pesticide poisoning. In 1965, farmworkers' life expectancy was 49 years, compared to 73 years for the average American.

That year, the UFW launched a grape strike, which growers met with force. The UFW organized a successful international boycott of grapes which contributed to growers eventually signing contracts with the union banning child labor, establishing a fair basic wage, and safety and pesticide controls.

Labor leader's former home and headquarters of the United Farm Workers will become the Cesar E. Chavez National Monument

Appeals Court Strikes Picketing Law

July 20, 2010

In a dispute between a Sacramento grocery store and the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, California's Third District Court of Appeal invalidated a 1975 law which protects the rights of unions to picket on property owned by the business that is the target of the protest. The law allows a judge to bar labor picketing on private and public property only to prevent illegal action that would cause significant property damage that law enforcement officers could not avert.  

The owners of a Foods Co. store in Sacramento had asked the court to strike down the law because union protestors were distributing leaflets five feet from the entrance to the store. Labor organizers began picketing the store when it opened in July 2007.

A  three-judge panel of the appellate court unanimously agreed that the law is unconstitutional because it singles out speech by labor unions for protection.

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In a related case, the United States Supreme Court in 1980 upheld an earlier California Supreme Court ruling in Pruneyard v. Robins that owners of shopping malls cannot prohibit political activists from passing out literature and otherwise exercising their free speech rights within the shopping center.

In the early 20th century, cities throughout California passed laws restricting speech on public streets and in public parks as a means of preventing labor union leaders from organizing workers.

 

 

Justices rule unconstitutional a 1975 law that allows labor picketers to demonstrate on a store's privately-owned parking lot or walkway.

Against The Grain

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December 16, 2009

Hear an interview of Elaine Elinson and Stan Yogi by C.S. Soong, host of Against the Grain, which aired on KPFA.

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United Farm Workers Leader Richard Chavez Dies

July 31, 2011

Richard Chavez, a leader of the United Farm Workers union and the younger brother of Cesar Chavez, died on July 27, 2011 at the age of 81. He passed away in a Bakersfield hospital after complications from surgery.

Richard Chavez was born in November 1929 on his family's farm in Yuma, Arizona. He was a migrant farm worker as a child. But in 1949, Richard his his older brother Cesar left farm labor and worked for a year in lumber mills near Crescent City, California.

In 1950, Richard moved to San Jose and in 1951 entered a carpenters' union apprentice program. He worked on residential and commercial construction projects in San Jose and Delano, where he helped to form and became President of the local chapter of the Community Service Organization, a Latino civil rights organization. 

In the early 1960s, he helped his brother Cesar organize the United Farm Workers. His varied responsibilities included leading the union's successful boycotts during the 1960s and early 1970s in New York and Detroit of California grapes and other produce picked by non-union labor.

He also oversaw construction and helped to build the union hall and office, health clinic, and coop gas station at "Forty Acres," the United Farm Workers' headquarters outside of Delano.

Chavez retired from the union in 1983 but stayed active in the labor movement. He also served as a board member of the Cesar Chavez Foundation and the Dolores Huerta Foundation, the latter named for another founder and longtime leader of the United Farm Workers.

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The younger brother of Cesar Chavez organized grape boycotts in the 1960s and helped his brother build the United Farm Workers union.
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