Washington became the 10th state to officially recognize Cesar Chavez when Gov. Jay Inslee signed a law creating Cesar Chavez Day on the Saturday, March 31 birthday of the iconic civil rights and farm labor leader. Joining the governor for the signing ceremony in the Yakima Valley were Paul F. Chavez, Chavez’s son and president of the Cesar Chavez Foundation, and United Farm Workers’ members protected by union contracts in Washington state.
Paul Chavez thanked the governor and authors of the bill—state Sen. Rebecca Saldana and Rep. Zach Hudgins—for honoring his father. But he said the new law also “honors the farm workers of Washington state who help produce the greatest abundance of food in our nation’s history—as well as all Latinos and immigrants to contribute so much to this state and country. And it reminds us of the great, unfinished work that remains, including ending the 80-yeaer exclusion of farm workers in Washington from overtime pay.”
He noted how Cesar Chavez “always felt uncomfortable being praised in public because he knew there were countless women and men in our movement who achieved great things and made tremendous sacrifices, but whose names are largely lost to history.” Paul Chavez also said the new law in Washington state “reminds us of the great, unfinished work that remains,” including the continuing labors of the UFW and the Chavez Foundation.
Cesar Chavez and other early organizers began building the nation’s first enduring farm worker union in 1962. His mostly Latino union joined a strike begun by Filipino grape workers around Delano, Calif., which lasted five years and rallied millions to their cause with an international boycott of table grapes. A second grape strike and boycott convinced then-Gov. Jerry Brown and lawmakers to pass the California Agricultural Labor Relations Act of 1975, the first law in the nation granting farm workers the right to organize and bargain. Chavez led numerous strikes, boycotts, marches and political campaigns during the 31 years he led the UFW and nonviolently fought for the rights of both documented and undocumented farm workers. In the process he also helped inspire generations of people from all walks of life to social and political activism, most of whom never worked on a farm.