My Time with the Farmworkers Union

From 1968 to 1973 I was Executive Assistant to Cesar Chavez charged with computerizing the United Farm Workers Union. Starting in Delano, we soon moved the Union headquarters to Keene, California, located in the hills east of Bakersfield near the town of Tehachapi. 

It was a former Tuberculosis Sanitarium given to the Union by a Hollywood movie producer. Cesar named it La Paz. This time period followed the Union's march on Sacramento and encompassed the Union's grape and lettuce boycotts, its greatest membership growth, and Cesar's famous fasts, culminating in the Teamster's Union barging in to challenge the UFW in the fields. Rapid loss of members and insider fighting soon reduced the Union's power and visibility. 

We all lived on room and board and $5 a week. I remember when Cesar asked me to ride with him from Delano up to see La Paz. I picked out the building for the computer department. I hired 4 programmers to come and develop the computer system that a group of graduate students in the business school of Stanford University had developed for us to handle the membership, medical plan, and credit union so that we could service the members, in Spanish and English, wherever they showed up on their seasonal treks from Arizona/California, through Oregon to Washington. 

When the Union was threatened by Proposition 22 in 1972, the computer department dropped everything and moved to San Francisco to help defeat it. And again we dropped everything and helped the McGovern Presidential campaign. 

The UFW struggled on for many years until Cesar's death in San Luis, Arizona in 1993. The obvious replacement in leadership was Dolores Huerta, co-founder of the Union, negotiator of the labor contracts and as responsible, if not more responsible, for the Union's successes as Cesar. But "machismo" prevented the only chance that I believe the Union had to regain its former visibility and power, and Dolores was passed over for the husband of a Chavez daughter to become President.

La Paz was established as the Cesar E. Chavez National Monument by President Obama in October 2012, and it is the memorial garden and grave site for Cesar and his wife Helen, as well as the location of the Cesar Chavez Foundation run by the Chavez family.

On a recent trip I stopped by to visit La Paz. In the former Administration building is a beautiful photo presentation of the Union's history along with the usual t-shirts and coffee mugs for sale. The rest of the grounds are a ghost town of memories for those of us who once lived there. Shown in the photographs provided are the grave site, the building that housed my computer department, the one-room shack my family lived in, and a gathering of the children who lived there, including my son Josh, born in Tehachapi… with Cesar and his dogs, Huelga and Boycott. I cherish those memories.

2 Responses to "My Time with the Farmworkers Union"

  1. Jesse Rojas   June 17, 2019 at 7:32 pm

    Cesar Chavez would be turning in his grave in view of today’s United Farm Workers union (UFW). Today’s UFW bosses are known for bullying its members and suppressing its own workers. Gerawan farmworkers won an overwhelming vote to exit the UFW, after the UFW abandoned them for over two decades. As for its own organizers, the UFW was court ordered to pay almost $2 million in unpaid wages and penalties! Shame on the UFW! To learn more about who the UFW is today visit: http://pickjustice.com

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  2. Jaime Esquivel   June 21, 2019 at 4:01 pm

    Dolores Huerta would not have been the appropriate successor. She has bullied Farmworkers. Farmworkers for years have been taken advantage of, especially by those who claim that they have their best interest in mind, the UFW & Dolores Huerta. The following video shows Dolores Huerta in action, silencing a Farmworker. The hypocrisy of Dolores Huerta doesn’t end there as she brazenly gains medallions in her name and not that of farmworkers who made all happen. And I don’t know of any civil rights leader that would physically block a female farmworker and stop her from expressing grievances to a governor, on the contrary, speaking with a governor should be encouraged.
    https://www.sacbee.com/news/politics-government/capitol-alert/article27549184.html
    http://www.pickjustice.com

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