||Arturo S. Rodriguez, second president
of the United Farm Workers of America, has carried on the work
of the union founded by Cesar Chavez in the nine years since
the 52-year old San Antonio, Texas native took over the helm
of the UFW in May 1993, after its legendary founder's death.
Rodriguez was born on June 23, 1949. His grandfather had
a small farm outside San Antonio where he raised cattle. His
father is a retired sheet metal worker. His mother is a retired
The young Rodriguez attended Catholic schools in San Antonio,
graduating in 1967 from La Salle High School and earning a
Bachelor of Arts degree in sociology at St. Mary's University
in 1971. He received a Masters degree in social work in 1973
from the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor.
He initially learned about Cesar Chavez in 1966 from his
parish priest, after Father Marvin Doerfler returned from
a march the farm labor leader led in South Texas' Rio Grande
Valley. He first became active with the UFW's grape boycott
in 1969 as a college student. At the University of Michigan
in 1971, Rodriguez organized support for farm worker boycotts.
After graduation, Rodriguez organized boycott campaigns in Detroit.
He first met Cesar Chavez personally in 1973. The next year he also
met Linda Chavez, the union leader's daughter. They were married
in March 1974 at La Paz, the UFW's Keene, Calif. headquarters in
the Tehachapi Mountains southeast of Bakersfield.
They worked together on the boycott in Detroit until August 1975,
when California's pioneering Agricultural Labor Relations Act, pushed
through the Legislature by Chavez and then-Gov. Jerry Brown, was
about to take effect. Rodriguez helped organize union representation
elections in the Salinas Valley. They included the UFW campaign
at Molera Packing Co.--the artichoke ranch where the first election
under the state's historic farm labor law took place on Sept. 8,
1975. The Teamsters Union had previously represented the workers,
who voted 15-0 for the UFW.
After participating in dozens of other Salinas-area union elections,
Rodriguez moved in November with the harvest to the Imperial Valley
on the Mexican border where he continued organizing until January
1976. Then the state Agricultural Labor Relations Board (ALRB),
which administers the law, shut down following the refusal of grower-friendly
legislators to continue its funding.
He spent much of 1976 working on behalf of Proposition 14, a UFW-sponsored
initiative to restore funding for the agency. Although the measure
didn't pass, it forced lawmakers to vote money for the ALRB. That
spring, Rodriguez was one of a handful of top UFW organizers dispatched
by Chavez to aid then-Gov. Brown's presidential campaign in key
When the ALRB was restored in 1977, Rodriguez kept organizing union
elections in Imperial Valley vegetable fields and Ventura County
citrus orchards north of Los Angeles. In 1978, he was chief instructor
for a unique school at the union's La Paz headquarters that Chavez
established to provide formal training for union organizers.
By fall 1979, Rodriguez was directing a UFW lettuce boycott in
Michigan. He returned to California in 1980 to set up a novel union-sponsored
service center in Ventura County to help farm workers resolve grievances
involving issues such as housing, education and government services.
That year also saw him coordinating UFW efforts for Sen. Edward
M. Kennedy's presidential drive in Texas.
In 1981, he was first elected to the UFW National Executive Board.
For three years, until 1984, Rodriguez managed union operations
covering organizing, negotiations and contract administration for
the California table grape, wine grape and tree fruit industries.
He began working with Chavez on preparations for a renewed table
grape boycott in 1984, focusing for two years on research about
issues affecting grape workers and consumers. He directed boycott
activities in the mid-Atlantic region.
When the 61-year old UFW founder conducted his last long public
fast of 36 days in summer 1988, Rodriguez coordinated fast events
in Delano, Calif. Then he returned to New York, convincing a number
of major East Coast supermarket chains to halt grape advertising
and promotions, a key boycott demand. He headed up the boycott in
California in 1989 and '91.
From May through September 1992, Rodriguez coordinated UFW support
for grape workers walking off their jobs as part of the largest
vineyard demonstrations since 1973 in the Coachella and San Joaquin
valleys. They were protesting eight years without wage increases,
poor working conditions and other grievances. The UFW organized
thousands of workers at dozens of ranches to participate in the
walkouts. Those efforts produced an industry-wide pay raise.
Rodriguez became UFW president in May 1993, after Cesar Chavez'
death on April 23 of that year. Acting quickly to build on a program
Chavez established, Rodriguez recruited 10,000 new farm workers
as associate union members in the year after he assumed the UFW
On the first anniversary of the Chavez' passing in April 1994,
Rodriguez led a 343-mile Delano-to-Sacramento march or pilgrimage
retracing the steps of an historic trek by Chavez in 1966. Some
20,000 farm workers and union supporters greeted the marchers--or
peregrinos--at the steps of the state Capitol in Sacramento.
That event also kicked off a major new field organizing and contract
negotiating drive. Since then, the UFW has won 21 union elections
and signed 25 new, or first-time, contracts with growers.
Those UFW victories include the first agreement in 27 years with
Gallo winery, covering 450 vineyard workers in Sonoma County. Now,
about 70% of mushroom workers on California's Central Coast are
protected by UFW contracts--as are more than 50% of Central Valley
rose workers. Other victories include contracts with the largest
winery in Washington state, the biggest mushroom producer in Florida
and the nation's largest rose producer, in California. In 2001,
the UFW signed a contract protecting the Ventura County field laborers
at Coastal Berry Co., the largest U.S. employer of strawberry workers.
Farm workers under most UFW contracts at mushroom, rose, citrus,
strawberry, wine grape and vegetable companies enjoy decent pay,
complete family medical care, job security, paid holidays and vacations,
pensions and a host of other benefits. Tragically, the majority
of farm workers in California and the rest of the nation still have
none of these protections.
The UFW has recently made legislative progress at the state and
national capitals. In 2001, he California Legislature passed and
Gov. Gray Davis signed UFW-sponsored laws authored by the Assembly
Speaker and Senate President Pro Tem that seek to end some of the
worst abuses farm workers suffer from growers and farm labor contractors.
And the UFW continues pushing legislation in both houses of Congress
that would allow undocumented farm workers and their family members
to earn legal status by working in agriculture.
His permanent home is the UFW headquarters at La Paz, Keene, Calif.
His wife, Linda Chavez Rodriguez, died on Oct. 9, 2000 after a long
illness. They have three children.