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Saturday is César Chávez Day. Below is some information on one of the true giants of the labor movement in America.

“Once social change begins, it cannot be reversed. You cannot uneducate the person who has learned to read. You cannot humiliate the person who feels pride. You cannot oppress the people who are not afraid anymore. We have seen the future, and the future is ours.”

César Chávez

César Estrada Chávez was an American farm worker, labor leader, and civil rights activist who, with Dolores Huerta, co-founded the National Farm Workers Association, which later became the United Farm Workers (UFW). By the late 1970s, his tactics had forced growers to recognize the UFW as the bargaining agent for 50,000 field workers in California and Florida. His birthday, March 31, has become César Chávez Day, a state holiday in three US states.

Over four decades, César saw his share of defeats, but also historic victories. Under César, the UFW achieved unprecedented gains for farm workers, establishing it as the first successful farm workers union in American history. Among them were:

• The first genuine collective bargaining agreements between farm workers and growers in American history.

• The first union contracts requiring rest periods, toilets in the fields, clean drinking water, hand washing facilities, banning discrimination in employment and sexual harassment of women workers, requiring protective clothing against pesticide exposure, prohibiting pesticide spraying while workers are in the fields and outlawing DDT and other dangerous pesticides (years before the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency acted).

• The first comprehensive union medical (and later dental and vision) benefits for farm workers and their families through a joint union-employer health and welfare fund, the Robert F. Kennedy Medical Plan, which has paid out more than $250 million in benefits.

• The first and only functioning pension plan for retired farm workers, the Juan de la Cruz Pension Plan, with present assets of more than $100 million.

• The first union contracts providing for profit sharing and parental leave.

• Abolishment of the infamous short-handled hoe that crippled generations of farm workers.

• Extending to farm workers state coverage under unemployment insurance, disability and workers' compensation, as well as federal amnesty rights for immigrants.

Because of César and millions of Americans who supported farm workers by boycotting grapes and other products, under then-Gov. Jerry Brown California passed the landmark Agricultural Labor Relations Act of 1975, the nation's first, and still the only, law guaranteeing farm workers the right to organize, choose their own union representative and negotiate with their employers.

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