Farm Workers Union Celebrates 40th Anniversary of Grape Strike


I'm Jim Tedder with the VOA Special English Economics Report.

The United Farm Workers of America union recently observed the fortieth anniversary of a historic strike. About five hundred people attended the observance at a former union headquarters near Delano (duh-LAY-no), California. The strike by Filipino and Mexican-American field workers led to a nationwide boycott of table grapes.

In nineteen sixty-five, union organizer Cesar Chavez led a march from Delano to the state capital, Sacramento. The march helped awaken the public to the low pay and poor treatment of the workers.

The boycott followed. It lasted five years. Finally, in nineteen seventy, most of the grape growers in the area agreed to recognize the union.

Union membership was about eighty thousand during the nineteen seventies. Today it is reported at twenty-seven thousand.

The United Farm Workers recently held what the union called its first major nationwide boycott in more than twenty years. The three-month action targeted the winemaker Gallo. It ended with a new labor agreement for three hundred ten workers in Sonoma County.

Earlier, though, workers at the Giumarra Vineyards near Bakersfield appeared to reject the union. The union has disputed enough ballots to delay final results temporarily. Yet it had expected a big victory.

Union officials say supervisors threatened the loss of jobs and company housing if workers voted to join the union. Giumarra's vice president dismissed the accusations.

Twelve years after the death of Cesar Chavez, life remains a struggle for many farm workers. The fact that many arrive illegally from Mexico does not help the situation. But California has taken some steps to make life at least a little easier.

In August, state officials approved emergency rules to prevent heat illness. Temperatures in the Central Valley often rise above thirty-eight Celsius. The heat may have led to the deaths of several farm workers in the past year.

The new rules require employers to provide about one liter of drinking water per worker per hour. Employers must also provide an area where workers can go for at least five minutes to recover from the heat. State legislators will consider more extensive measures.

Along with Cesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta organized farm workers. She is seventy-five years old now. Dolores Huerta no longer works with the United Farm Workers union, but she is still an activist.

This VOA Special English Economics Report was written by Jerilyn Watson. I'm Jim Tedder.