This is a season of important anniversaries for United Farm Workers President Arturo Rodriguez. It is 40 years since he began serving full time with the UFW, organizing farm worker boycotts of grape, lettuce and Gallo wine in Detroit, Michigan. It is 20 years since he became the union’s second president following the passing of his mentor, Cesar Chavez. And it marks seven years since his marriage to Sonia Rodriguez.
Arturo Rodriguez continues building the union Cesar Chavez began into a powerful voice for immigrant workers by increasing its membership and recently negotiating with major grower associations to fashion the agricultural provisions of the comprehensive immigration reform bill that would enable as many as 1 million undocumented U.S. farm workers earn permanent legal status and a pathway to citizenship. A UFW-sponsored bill moving through the state Capitol in Sacramento would make it easier for farm workers to renegotiate their union contracts.
Highlights of other UFW victories under Arturo’s leadership are union contracts with one of the nation’s largest vegetable growers, the biggest strawberry employer in America, the country’s largest winery, one of the biggest dairies in the U.S. as well as winery workers in Washington state and more than 75 percent of mushroom workers in California. Since last year, 2,000 California tomato workers at three, soon to be four, Central Valley companies will have won new UFW contracts. Thousands more melon, vegetable, tree fruit and table grape workers are negotiating union contracts and will hopefully be protected by UFW agreements in 2013.
Other historic recent UFW legislative achievements include a 2011 law signed by Gov. Jerry Brown helping farm worker organize when growers deny them the right to have a union, a 2002 California law letting farm workers call in neutral arbitrators to hammer out union contracts when growers refuse to negotiate and a 2005 regulation the UFW convinced then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to issue, the first state standards in the nation to try to prevent farm and other outdoor workers from dying or becoming ill because of extreme heat.
The veteran farm labor organizer was first exposed to Cesar Chavez through his parish priest in his hometown of San Antonio, Texas in 1966. Arturo became active with the UFW’s grape boycott as a student at St. Mary’s University in 1969. At the University of Michigan, where he earned an M.A. degree in social work, he organized support for farm worker boycotts in 1971. He began serving full time with the UFW in 1973, when he first met Cesar, who became his mentor for 20 years. Over four decades, Arturo has organized farm workers, negotiated UFW contracts and led numerous farm worker boycott and political drives across North America.
Arturo Rodriguez lives with his wife, Sonia Rodriguez, near the UFW headquarters at Keene, in California’s Tehachapi Mountains.