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UFW President roughed up, arrested by upstate NY cops while protesting mistreatment of strwberry workers

May 15, 1998

UFW President Rodriguez roughed up, arrested by upstate N.Y. cops while protesting the mistreatment of California strawberry workers

Arturo Rodriguez, Cesar Chavez’s successor as president of the United Farm Workers of America, was pushed around and arrested this afternoon by police in the Buffalo, New York suburb of Cheektowaga while protesting the mistreatment of California strawberry pickers at a local Wegmans supermarket.

Rodriguez, 48, had joined a delegation of labor leaders, a Catholic priest and college students who were attempting to meet with the manager of the Wegmans store. Then "police arrived and started pushing people around," Rodriguez said in a phone call Friday evening from the Police Department jail. "One female student was pushed to the ground.

"I tried telling the officer that all we wanted to do was speak with the Wegmans manager," the UFW president said. "I asked him why he was arresting people. He told me to either get off the property or he’d arrest me. I said I was trying to understand what was going on. The officer grabbed me, flipped me around, pushed me against his [patrol] car, roughly pulled both arms up towards the top of my back and cuffed me so tightly my right hand is still numb."

"We’re shocked at the treatment by Wegmans and the police of people who were peaceably exercising their First Amendment rights," Rodriguez said.

Wegmans is one of the nation’s top buyers of strawberries shipped by Driscoll, America’s largest strawberry corporation. The UFW has helped strawberry workers file three major federal class action lawsuits against Driscoll growers for forcing pickers to labor without pay, engaging in alleged widespread sex discrimination and failing to provide full overtime pay.

With Rodriguez at the Wegmans store were Al Davidoff, New York State representative for the AFL-CIO, and Roger Cook, head of the Western New York Coalition on Occupational Safety and Health. Davidoff, Cook and two students were also arrested.

Since becoming union president after Chavez’s death in 1993, Rodriguez has led a major organizing campaign that has seen the UFW win 15 straight union elections and sign 18 contracts with growers.

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