People across California spent Thursday reflecting on the legacy of civil rights activist Cesar Chavez.
Although many people who marched alongside Chávez in the 1960s and 1970s say the conditions of agricultural workers have improved, they also believe that more work is needed.
On Thursday, agricultural workers’ rights activists stood outside the former Monterey County Jail, asking Gov. Gavin Newsom to sign the Agricultural Labor Relations Voting Election Act (AB 2183).
The bill would allow agricultural workers to vote by mail for union elections. A similar bill (AB 616) was vetoed by Newsom last year.
Lauro Barajas, regional director of United Farm Workers (UFW), says “influence” and “intimidation” in the workplace are problems that many farm workers face when participating in union elections.
“Newsom asked us last year to vote for him by mail,” Barajas said. “This year it’s going to ask us to vote by mail, then, why farm workers can’t have this right on their own.”
Currently, farm workers vote on union matters while they are owned by the company. The bill, inspired by the California Voter Election Act of 2016, would give voters more options to vote: by mail, by email, or at a polling station.
“Most of the time, there are supervisors just running in front of the workers to provoke intimidation,” Barajas added. “That’s what we’re trying to avoid.”
Protester Olga Reyna says she took part in the marches led by César Chaves decades earlier and was forced to take a stand for changes in the current voting process.
Chávez has dedicated his life to improving the working and living conditions of agricultural workers by organizing and negotiating contracts with employers, and giving them the right to unionize.
He was also helped to establish UFW.
“Right now, that this bill is not signed, it brings me to tears because it looks like we’re not going anywhere,” Reyna said. “If we don’t get that freedom, we lose our election and we need the governor to sign and hear the people ask for it.”
Community members said the concentration in the jail was symbolic.
Chavez was jailed at the same place in 1970 for refusing to overturn a nationwide boycott. He was later released by the California Supreme Court.
Protesters also talked about the future of the old jail, as it has not been used for many years.
Gary Karnes, a neighbor who says he worked in the lettuce fields and left with Chávez in 1970, said he hopes the prison will be used as a museum or resource center for agricultural workers.
“It was an important part of my life,” he said. “Some of the biggest strikes in American history have taken place right here. The labor movement needs a museum or a place where local people who are still struggling with working conditions can find resources. This would be a good place.”
Monterey County Superintendent Luis Alejo said the county has made a budget request to Assemblyman Robert Rivas to help preserve the former jail.
“We hope this year we can get state aid to preserve this important part of our local history for our future generations,” Alejo said. “It is the only historical milestone in the movement for the rights of agricultural workers on the central coast. It is the only place where César Chávez has been imprisoned for the rights of agricultural workers.”
Farm workers call for voting rights on Cesar Chavez Day Source link Farm workers call for voting rights on Cesar Chavez Day