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Cesar Chavez & the UFW: Longtime champions of immigrants and immigration reform

No American labor leader or union championed immigrants and immigrant rights earlier and more consistently than Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers.

  • Since its inception in 1962, the UFW has always welcomed all workers into its ranks. The UFW has over the decades provided countless undocumented workers with improved pay, benefits and protections by helping them organize and negotiate union contracts.
  • When the UFW signed its first table grape contracts in 1970, Cesar Chavez rejected calls from some national labor leaders to check the immigration status of grape workers in unionized vineyards.
  • In 1973, decades before most labor organizations acted similarly, the UFW became one of the first unions to oppose the “employer sanction,” the federal law making it illegal for employers to hire undocumented workers.
  • The UFW played a key role in fashioning the amnesty provisions of the 1986 federal immigration law that enabled 1 million farm workers to become legal residents.
  • The UFW has spent years working with the nation’s agricultural industry to create a stable workforce by allowing farm workers to adjust their status and have a path to citizenship. The agricultural provisions of the landmark 2013 comprehensive immigration reform bill that passed the U.S. Senate on a bipartisan vote would have let undocumented farm workers presently in this country earn the permanent legal right to stay by continuing to work in agriculture.

The current UFW-sponsored “Blue Card” bill by U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein and Rep. Zoe Lofgren, both of California, would grant the right to apply for legal status to farm workers who feed America.

Still, some people falsely claim the UFW is or has been against undocumented workers. So there is no misunderstanding, it is important to understand protecting immigrant union members and fighting for immigration reform is distinct and separate from the issue of strikebreaking. No one has the right to be a strikebreaker. No legitimate union permits its strikes to be broken by anyone, regardless of who they are or where they come from. What Cesar Chavez and the UFW opposed was strikebreaking.

Ironically, in past years strikers on UFW picket lines who were most vocal in demanding immigration authorities remove undocumented strikebreakers in struck fields were themselves undocumented.