“We don’t need perfect political systems; we need perfect participation.” - Cesar Chavez
March 31, 1962–On his birthday, Cesar Chavez resigns from the Community Service Organization after the group refuses to commit to organizing farm workers. He moves his wife and eight small children to the dusty little Central Valley farm town of Delano and dedicates himself full-time to organizing farm workers. Dolores Huerta and others later join him.
1962-1965–With few funds and often baby-sitting the youngest of his eight children, Chavez drives to dozens of farm worker towns throughout California, painstakingly building up the membership of his infant organization. Believing field strikes and union contracts are years, perhaps decades, away, Chavez concentrates on offering farm workers modest benefits and meaningful services to join his infant organization.
Sept. 30, 1962–The first convention of the National Farm Workers Association (NFWA) is convened with hundreds of delegates assembled in an abandoned movie theater in Fresno. The group’s distinctive flag, a black eagle symbol on a white circle in a red field, is unveiled.
September 1965–The mostly Filipino American members of another union, the AFL-CIO-affiliated Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee (AWOC), walk out on strike against Delano-area grape growers on Sept. 8, and ask Cesar’s largely Latino NFWA to join the walkouts. On Sept. 16, Mexican Independence Day, the NFWA, with 1,200-member families, votes to join a strike. Thus begins the five-year Delano Grape Strike.
Fall, winter 1965-66–The strike continues through the fall and winter months. Chavez begins to attract support from outside the valley, from labor, church, student and civil rights activists. United Auto Workers President Walter Reuther comes to Delano to support the strikers. The strikers begin boycotting the assorted products of Schenley Industries, a major area wine grape grower.
March 1966–U.S. Sen. Robert F. Kennedy participates in hearings of the Senate Subcommittee on Migratory Labor. After listening to the Kern County Sheriff relate how his deputies arrested peaceful picketers because they were being threatened by struck growers, Kennedy suggests, ¡°that the sheriff and the district attorney read the Constitution of the United States.¡± Then the senator visits the union hall and picketlines, and supports the strikers.
March-April 1966–Chavez and a band of strikers embark upon a 340-mile peregrinacion (or pilgrimage) from Delano to the steps of the state Capitol in Sacramento to draw national attention to the plight of farm workers. During the march and after a four-month boycott, Schenley negotiates an agreement with NFWA–the union’s first contract. Thousands of supporters join the marchers on the steps of the Capitol in Sacramento on Easter Sunday.
Spring-summer 1966–A strike and boycott of the DiGiorgio Fruit Corp. (the fictional Gregorio Fruit Corp. in John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath) forces the grape grower to agree to an election among its workers. The company brings in the Teamsters union to oppose Chavez’s NFWA. Soon, NFWA and the Filipino American AWOC merge to form the United Farm Workers and the union affiliates with the AFL-CIO, the national labor federation. DiGiorgio workers vote for the UFW.
1966–Next, the UFW focuses on the Perelli-Minetti wine grape operation. Workers walk out on strike. The union succeeds through a boycott of its products. The UFW negotiates union contracts with the Christian Brothers and Almaden wineries. Also that year the UFW engages in farm worker walkouts in the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas, battling violent strikebreaking tactics by the Texas Rangers.
1967–The UFW strikes Giumarra Vineyards Corp., California’s largest table grape grower. In response to a UFW boycott, other table grape growers allow Giumarra to use their labels. So the UFW begins a boycott of all California table grapes. Meanwhile, strikes continue against other grape growers in the state.
1967-1970–Hundreds of grape strikers, union volunteers and supporters fan out across the U.S. and Canada to organize an international grape boycott. Millions of Americans rally to La Causa, the farm workers’ cause.
February-March 1968–Responding to growing talk by mostly male strikers about resorting to the use of violence, Chavez fasts for 25 days in Delano during the hungry winter of 1968 to rededicate his movement to the principals of nonviolence practiced by M.K. Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Just a month before he is assassinated, Dr. King sends a warm message expressing solidarity. Sen. Robert Kennedy joins 8,000 farm workers and supporters at a Catholic Mass where Chavez breaks his fast, calling the weakened farm labor leader “one of the heroic figures of our time.” There is no more talk of violence by the strikers, but Chavez spends more than a year recovering from painful back ailments aggravated by the fast.
Spring 1968–The UFW devotes full time efforts to Robert Kennedy’s California Democratic presidential primary campaign in Latino barrios across the state. Some East Los Angeles precincts vote for Kennedy by margins of 99% and 100%. It is the first of hundreds of UFW-organized political campaigns that would follow, up to the present day.
Spring-summer 1970–As the boycott continues picking up steam, most California table grape growers sign UFW contracts. On July 29, 1970, led by the Giumarras, Delano-area table grape growers file into the union hall at the UFW’s ¡°Forty Acres¡± headquarters in Delano to sign their first union contracts.
Summer 1970–To keep the UFW out of California lettuce and vegetable fields, most Salinas Valley growers sign ¡°sweetheart¡± contracts with the Teamsters Union. Some 10,000 Central Coast farm workers respond by walking out on strike. The UFW uses the boycott to convince some large vegetable companies to abandon their Teamster agreements and sign UFW contracts. Chavez calls for a nationwide boycott of non-union lettuce.
Dec. 10-24, 1970–Chavez is jailed in Salinas, Calif. for refusing to obey a court order to stop the boycott against Bud Antle lettuce. Coretta Scott King, widow of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Ethel Kennedy, widow of Robert Kennedy, visit Chavez in the Salinas jail.
1971–The UFW moves from Delano to its new headquarters at La Paz in Keene, Calif., southeast of Bakersfield. With table and wine grape contracts, and some agreements covering vegetable workers, UFW membership grows to around 70,000. Meanwhile, the union engages in a number of smaller organizing and boycott drives.
1972–The UFW signs a contract with the Coca Cola Co. covering its Minute Maid citrus workers in Florida. The union defeats a Nixon administration bid to curb the UFW by placing the union under restrictions of federal labor statutes even though farm workers have been excluded from protections of the law since 1935; one million protest letters flood the National Republican Committee. The UFW is chartered as an independent affiliate by the AFL¡©CIO; it becomes the United Farm Workers of America.
May 11-June 4, 1972–Chavez fasts for 25 days in Phoenix over a just-passed Arizona law essentially banning the right of farm workers to strike, boycott or organize. The fast and resulting UFW-sponsored grass roots campaigns transform politics in the heavily Latino state where Chavez was born, leading to the election of Latino governors, including the current chief executive.
Spring-summer 1973–When the UFW’s three-year grape contracts come up for renewal, growers?including the E&J Gallo winery?sign sweetheart pacts with the Teamsters without an election or any representation procedure. That sparks a bitter months-long strike by grape workers in California’s Coachella and San Joaquin valleys. Some 3,500 nonviolent strikers are arrested for violating anti-picketing injunctions, many of which are later overturned as unconstitutional, hundreds of strikers are beaten, dozens are shot and two are murdered. In response to the violence, Chavez calls off the strike and begins a second grape boycott. Once again, strikers, union staff and volunteers spread out to cities across North America, organizing popular support for the boycotts of table grapes, lettuce and Gallo wine.
1973-1975–According to a nationwide 1975 Louis Harris poll, 17 million Americans are boycotting grapes. Many are also boycotting lettuce and Gallo wine.
June 1975–Jerry Brown becomes California governor. In response to the strikes and boycotts?as well as mounting pressure from the supermarket industry?growers agree to a state law guaranteeing California farm workers the right to organize, vote in state-supervised secret-ballot elections and bargain with their employers. With help from Gov. Brown, the UFW wins passage of the landmark Agricultural Labor Relations Act.
July-August 1975–To educate farm workers about their newly-won rights, Chavez embarks upon his longest, and least known, march, a 1,000-mile 59-day trek from the Mexican border at San Ysidro north along the coast to Salinas and then from Sacramento south down the Central Valley to the UFW’s La Paz headquarters at Keene, southeast of Bakersfield. Tens of thousands of farm workers march and attend evening rallies to hear Chavez and organize their ranches.
September 1975-January 1976–Hundreds of elections are held. The UFW wins the majority of the elections in which it participates despite the fact at most companies it confronts growers illegally supporting an incumbent union, the Teamsters, in what experts predict is an unbeatable combination. The Agricultural Labor Relations Board (ALRB), which enforces the law, briefly shuts down after running out of money because of the flood of election activity. Pro-grower lawmakers refuse to approve an emergency appropriation and push bills to weaken the law
Spring, summer, fall 1976–UFW organizers and volunteers collect hundreds of thousands of signatures to place their own initiative, Proposition 14, on the November ballot to restore the shut-down ALRB and prevent amendments weakening the farm labor law. Although a well-financed and deceptive grower TV ad campaign defeats the initiative, it forces the Legislature to restore funding for the ALRB.
Mid-to-late 1970s–The UFW continues winning elections and signing contracts with growers. The union establishes comprehensive schools at its La Paz headquarters to train farm workers and union staff to become negotiators and contract administrators. In 1977, the Teamsters union signs an historic “jurisdictional” agreement with the UFW and agrees to leave the fields. In 1978, the UFW calls off its boycotts of grapes, lettuce and Gallo wines as it appears the law is working.
1978–The union initiatives a comprehensive statewide drive aimed at convincing the University of California to earmark a fraction of the research and development resources it devotes for the promotion of agricultural mechanization to aid the tens of thousands of farm workers whose livelihoods are wiped out by the machines. The campaign includes multiple seminars attended by hundreds of farm workers and activists across California, appeals to Gov. Jerry Brown and the UC Board of Regents, and legislation introduced at the state Capitol.
January-October 1979–In a bid to improve wages and benefits, the UFW strikes a number of major lettuce and vegetable growers up and down the state. Grower foremen shoot to death Rufino Contreras, a 27-year old striker, in an Imperial Valley lettuce field.
September 1979–After a strike and boycott, the UFW wins its demands for a significant pay raise and other contract improvements from SunHarvest, the nation’s largest lettuce producer. Other growers also settle. The union begins a boycott of Bruce Church Inc. lettuce.
Summer 1980–Thousands of garlic workers in Santa Clara and San Benito counties join UFW strikes and vote for the union in state-conducted elections. Children as young as six years old qualify to vote in union elections. UFW demonstrators outside the Gilroy Garlic Festival include small children holding signs that read, ¡°Garlic worker.¡±
Early 1980s–With election victories and contract negotiations during the 1970s and early ¡®80s, the number of farm workers protected by UFW contracts grows to the mid-40,000s.
1982–Republican George Deukmejian is elected California governor with $1 million in grower campaign contributions.
1983-1990–Deukmejian’s political appointees shut down enforcement of the state farm labor law. Thousands of farm workers lose their UFW contracts. Many are fired and blacklisted. Grower agents shoot Fresno-area dairy worker Rene Lopez, 19, to death just after he votes in a 1983 union election. Chavez declares a third grape boycott in 1984.
1986–Chavez kicks off the “Wrath of Grapes” campaign to draw public attention to the pesticide poisoning of grape workers and their children.
July-August 1988–At age 61, Chavez conducts his last, and longest, public fast of 36 days in Delano to call attention to farm workers and their children stricken by pesticides.
Late 1980s-early 1990s–After recovering from his fast, Chavez continues pressing the grape boycott and aiding farm workers who wish to organize. The UFW wins elections to represent tomato workers in San Joaquin County. Workers at the state’s largest tree fruit company vote for the UFW.
Spring-summer 1992–Working with UFW First Vice President Arturo Rodriguez, Chavez leads vineyard walkouts in the Coachella and San Joaquin valleys. As a result, grape workers win their first industry-wide pay hike in eight years.
April 23, 1993–Cesar Chavez dies at the modest home of a retired San Luis, Ariz. farm worker while defending the UFW against a multi-million dollar lawsuit brought against the union by the large vegetable grower Bruce Church Inc.
April 29, 1993–Some 40,000 mourners march behind Chavez’s plain pine casket during funeral services in Delano.
May 1993–Veteran UFW organizer Arturo Rodriguez succeeds Chavez as union president.
March-April 1994–On the first anniversary of Chavez’s passing, Arturo Rodriguez leads a 343-mile march retracing the UFW founder’s historic 1966 route from Delano to Sacramento. Some 17,000 farm workers and supporters gather on the state Capitol steps to help kick off a new UFW field organizing and contract negotiating campaign.
August 8, 1994–President Bill Clinton posthumously presents the Medal of Freedom, America’s highest civilian honor, to Cesar Chavez. His widow, Helen, receives the medal during a White House ceremony.
1994-2005–Since the new UFW organizing drive began in 1994, farm workers vote for the UFW in union elections and the UFW signs many new, or first-time, agreements with growers. UFW membership rises from around 20,000 in 1993 to 27,000 individuals working at least one day out of the year under union contract. The union organizes and bargains on behalf of major rose, mushroom, strawberry, wine grape and lettuce and vegetable workers in California, Florida and Washington state, as well as some non-agricultural workers in California and Texas. The UFW also continues its tradition of mobilizing mass grass roots support for pro-farm worker political candidates in California, Arizona and Texas.
Mid- to late-1990s–Despite intense industry resistance, the UFW mounts a major organizing campaign in the Central Coast strawberry industry. It results in two union contracts, including Coastal Berry Co., the nation’s largest direct employer of strawberry workers.
1999-2005–The UFW wins enactment of key laws and regulations benefiting farm workers, from seat belts in farm labor vehicles and fresh protections for workers cheated by farm labor contractors to an historic binding mediation law and new pesticide protections. The UFW convinces Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2005 to issue an emergency regulation preventing further heat deaths of farm workers and all outdoor employees.
2000-2005–With government statistics showing most farm workers are undocumented, over a three year period the UFW and the nation’s agricultural industry negotiate the historic AgJobs bill, compromise federal legislation that would allow undocumented farm workers in this country now to earn the legal right to permanently stay in the U.S. by continuing to work in agriculture. Introduced in 2003, it wins broad, bipartisan support from more than 500 organizations, including labor, business, Latino, immigrant rights and clergy groups. In April 2005, AgJobs becomes the first major immigration reform bill in nearly 20 years to win support from a majority of U.S. senators, many of them Republicans, on a upper-house floor vote, although it doesn’t muster the ¡°supermajority¡± required to overcome a filibuster. AgJobs’ principal Senate sponsors, Larry Craig (R-Idaho) and Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) pledge to bring it up the measure again.
2000-2005–The UFW increasingly makes use of the Internet to solicit mass grass-roots participation in union organizing, boycott, legislative and political campaigns by tens of thousands of farm workers and supporters across North America. The UFW’s own list serve reaches 50,000 active members. Hundreds of thousands of supporters are involved through UFW appeals forwarded by allied and sympathetic organizations.
Summer, fall 2002–The UFW organizes massive public support, including a much-publicized 150-mile march from Merced to Sacramento, to convince then Gov. Gray Davis to sign the UFW-sponsored binding mediation law, the first time the Agricultural Labor Relations Act has been amended since its passage in 1975.
2005–The latest UFW organizing drives include a successful 22-month legal and contract campaign?and a three-month boycott?that produces a new contract with Gallo winery in Sonoma. The union mounts a major organizing drive among Central Valley table grape workers resulting in a summer election at Giumarra vineyards, America’s largest table grape producer. Labor observers say it is one of the largest private sector union election campaigns in the nation in 2005. In November 2005, the state farm labor board rules the UFW has established a prima facie case that the election should be thrown out because of numerous violations of the law by Giumarra.