Federico Chavez knows the struggles of the field.
And while he gave up the prospect of long days and backbreaking work for a college education and a chance at a bright future, Chavez never forgot where he came from or the namesake that still rattles like a saber in certain pockets of California.
After all, his uncle was Cesar Chavez – the man that organized migrant farm workers across the country and represented the changing face of American labor.
It’s a name that means a lot to Jose Gonzalez. For the last seven months Gonzalez has himself been locked in to a contentious labor battle with his employer – Bay Area-based temporary labor provider SlingShot ConnectionS – and the factory in which he works over gaining union representation with Teamsters International.
Workers claim that management at Tracy’s Taylor Farms – one offshoot of the salad giant’s company that doesn’t currently have a collective bargaining agreement – have suffered unfair retaliation and work under a constant umbrella of fear.
Immigration raids. Deportation. An aggressive, professional anti-union campaign.
At times, Gonzalez said, it has become unbearable.
But knowing that somebody that was so instrumental to the struggle that still rages today was standing in their corner, Gonzalez said, was beyond important – it showed the rights of workers are still important today.
“All that we want to be able to do is organize and Taylor Farms is making that as difficult as possible,” he said. “We just there to be an opportunity for advancement – an opportunity for people who work hard to be able to support their families. That’s what this is all about – this is a company that could make a low-class family middle-class and not even think twice about it – give us a little bit of stability.”
So the organizers decided to turn to the one man they could all draw inspiration from.
With the sun providing balmy outdoor temperatures more than 100 Taylor Farms employees packed into the foyer in front of the AMC Showplace Manteca 16 Theaters for a special screening of Diego Luna’s “Cesar Chavez” – stopping in to meet administrative law judge Federico “Fred” Chavez and get reacquainted with the roots of their respective struggle.
Nearly five decades have passed since the United Farm Workers instituted a grape boycott and jumpstarted the migrant worker movement, but the history between the Chavez Family and Taylor Farms – Bruce Church, the grandfather of company CEO Bruce Taylor bought out the Chavez Farm from the family in Salinas and Taylor’s father Ted was locked in to a 17-year-old legal battle that ended when an accord was signed in 1996 – still stings.
At the end of the day, Fred Chavez said that it’s not only the right of the workers to assemble and organize, but it’s the only way that they’ll ever advance in a society with a middle class that is exceedingly shrinking.
“The only way that the individuals in our society are going to get a fair shake is if they organize,” Chavez said. “The individuals who make the decisions have their own agendas, and organizing helps overcome that.
“It used to be that credit cards and buying a home were the biggest sources of debt that you’d incur, but now our young people are starting off with mountains of it right out of school. They can’t overcome that.
“By organizing these workers can move towards a living wage and a life that’s better than what is being represented today.”