¡Sí Se Puede! Hispanic Heritage Month Spotlight on César Chávez & the UFW
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A transcript of, "A Dialogue with Congress" by César Chávez

Title: A transcript of, A Dialogue with Congress by César Chávez
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The following is the first part of transcript of a public Congressional hearing from October 1, 1969 with United Farm Workers (UFW) director César Chávez, members of his staff, and a bipartisan panel of members of the U.S. House of Representatives. The purpose of this hearing was for Chávez to report on the state of the farmworker movement amid its unionization efforts. Rep. James G. O'Hara (D-Mich.), presiding over the hearing, introduces Chávez. Chávez briefly highlights the efforts of the UFW in confronting growers, the Department of Defense (DOD), local and state courts, as well as issues dealing with pesticides and anti-union efforts at both the state and national levels. Chávez's remarks are followed by statements made by United Farm Workers Organizing Committee (UFWOC) vice president Andy Imutan, UFW organizer Mack Lyons, and UFWOC attorney Jerome Cohen. Rep. Ogden R. Reid (R-NY.) takes the floor with a question for Chávez on DOD purchases of boycotted grapes. Rep. Phillip Burton (D-Calif.) follows with praise for Chávez, the UFW, and bipartisanship in the House.


"Are the farm workers going to be able to walk out of their poverty and be accepted as true men by their employers?"





James G. O'Hara (Michigan), presiding
Joseph M. Gaydos (Pennsylvania)
George E. Brown, Jr. (California)
Orval Hansen (Idaho)
Phillip Burton (California)
Patsy Mink (Hawaii)
John Brademas (Indiana)
Roman C. Pucinski (Illinois)
William Clay (Missouri)
Ogden R. Reid (New York)
James M. Collins (Texas)
Edward R. Roybal (California)
John H. Dent (Pennsylvania)
William J. Scherle (Iowa)
John N. Erlenborn (Illinois)
William A. Steiger (Wisconsin)
William D. Ford (Michigan)
Frank Thompson, Jr. (New Jersey)
Michael A. Feighan (Ohio)
John V. Tunney (California)

A contribution of $1.00 is needed to pay for the cost of this transcript. Contributions above that amount are needed to help the United Farm Workers Organizing Committee continue its work.

This transcript was prepared and published by Mrs. Ann E. Wray, Administrative Assistant, for the National Campaign for Agricultural Democracy, Room 201, 110 Maryland Avenue, N. E., Washington, D.C., 20002. Phone: 547-4702.

She is a member opeiu-2, afl-cio



It is a rare occasion when a Member of Congress has the opportunity to introduce a public figure who has made a major contribution to the events of our times, and about whom there swirls no controversy. It is a rare event indeed when a man who has changed the face of his era is without enemies.

This is not such an occasion. Today we are host to a great American, a great labor leader, a truly good and gentle man--but a man who is as controversial as any figure to blaze across our skies in decades.

He has made bitter enemies, and some of us love him for the enemies he has made. He has made devoted friends and some of us are honored to be among those friends. One type of person is very rare around our guest today. There are very few neutrals where Cesar Chavez is concerned.

Cesar Chavez has given us all a profound challenge. To those of us who support his cause, he presents the challenge of rising to the level of leadership and sacrifice he has demonstrated in pursuing that cause.

To those who oppose it, he presents the challenge of demonstrating how the current system under which farm workers are employed can be made consistent with our society's claim to serve freedom and justice and equality.

This is not, I must emphasize, a hearing of any committee of the House. This is a public meeting to which a number of Members of the House have been invited because they share an interest in legislation dealing with the campesino and the harsh world in which he lives so poorly, works so hard, and dies so young.

This group cannot make decisions about legislation. It can serve as a forum in which these grave issues can be discussed and from which the members in attendance can go away with their individual commitments strengthened, or weakened or unchanged, but at least better informed.


MR. CHAVEZ: Thank you very much Congressman O'Hara. I want to thank you and the other Congressmen present for being here this morning to hear a report on the struggles of workers to organize farm workers.

With me this morning are three other people working in the Union--Jerry Cohen, to my right, who is the Legal Counsel, to my immediate left, Mack Lyon, an organizer for the Union, and Mr. Imutan, a Filipino-American who is a Vice President of the Union.

If we do nothing else today, we would like to make it very clear that in rural America today, when farm workers declare a strike, it is not only a strike that happens, but it is a whole revolution in that community. It becomes a civil liberties issue, it becomes a race issue, and it becomes a desperate struggle just to keep the movement going against such tremendous odds.

We have experienced things that we never dreamed we would be confronted with when we began the strike. These small communities are so well knit and the grower influence is so predominant that when we struck in Delano, we not only had the growers against us, but we had the other public bodies like the city council, the board of supervisors, the high school and elementary school districts, passing resolutions and propaganda against the strike and against the union. There was no voice whatsoever from the other side wanting to mediate or offering their services or their influence to find a solution to the problem. The community wanted to destroy us as soon as possible.

We want you to know that in America today, a vast majority of farm workers are poor, and the vast majority are from minority groups. We are brown and black. Also it is good to understand that a lot of the work force are recent immigrants, not only from Mexico, but from Asia, from Portugal, from Arabia, from other parts of the world where people are constantly being brought into work in agriculture.

We also want you to know that the employers have used--and I should say very well--the tactic of setting one racial group against the other. This has been a long-standing trick of theirs to break the unions.

Even today in negotiations we find that it takes a lot of time to get the employers to understand that the people should live together and that there should be no separation of workers in camps by racial groups. Today the employers that we're striking have a Filipino Camp, a Mexican Camp, a Negro Camp, and an Arab Camp in some cases.

We want you to know how hard it is for us to get justice because of the concentration of power in the hands of employers. The local authorities come into play immediately to try to destroy the efforts of organizing. At the beginning of the strike, there were mass arrests by the Delano Police Department and by the County Sheriff's Department. We found that the best counteraction was to let the public know what was happening in the valley.

We see the indifference of the local courts. We see how employers can come in and can get injunctions at will, and we see how the injunctions break our strikes. We have some very sad memories of these experiences.

We see that bringing the employers to court when they have broken the law is almost impossible.

The indifference of the federal agencies in regard to enforcement of those few regulations that apply to farm workers is also very bad. We have cases witch the Federal Food and Drug Administration going back two years. The celebrated case of the label switching is an example. We were boycotting the Giumarra Company and Giumarra was able to use over 100 different labels from other employers for his grapes. We had the proof in several cities. We could not get the FDA to take any actions against the growers for lying to the public about the source of their products.

As to the pesticides and their hazard to the workers, we can't do anything with the FDA. Instead of trying to intervene and to do something about the outrageous problem which has become a literal "walking death" for farm workers, the FDA is trying to hide it.

We have had for the last four years a most difflcult problem with the Justice Department. A year ago we assigned many of our organizers to do nothing but to check on the law violaters coming from Mexico to break our strikes. We gave the Immigration and Naturalization Services and the Border Patrol stacks and stacks of information. They did not pull workers out of struck fields. Today there are thousands of workers being imported in the strike scene. In fact. I would say the green carders and illegal entries make up ninety percent of he work force at the struck ranches. This is why we are forced to boycott: We have had no enforcement by the Border Patrol. We have been told that it is impossible, there are too many violaters, they do not have enough personnel.

I would like to remind the Congressmen present that in the last week and a half we have seen how effective the Border Patrol can be when they want to stop marijuana from being imported into the country. It seems to me it would be a lot less dlfficult to stop human beings coming across than to stop the weed coming across. It can be done.

We have a case of some of the biggest employers working together personally, Using their money, their offices, their duplicating equipment, meeting with other people, and settlng up a company union, well staffed, well financed. Information discovered by an investigation by the Department of Labor, plus signed statements from two of the officers of the Agricultural Workers Freedom to Work Association prove
what the growers were doing. Almost a year has passed since these facts were uncovered and the law-breaking phony union has not been brought to court. I might add here that there were four or five different attempts to establish company unions in the past. We spent a good part of our time trying to beat those attempts. One of them was called "Mothers Against Chavez."

We are subject to disclosure of all our income in the labor reports of the Landrum-Griffin law, and we will do this gladly. The sources of money, when we get the money, is public information. But we don't know where the employers are getting their outside money and we would very much like to know that. We don't know where they are getting $1 million to pay Whitaker and Baxter to set up the so-called Consumer Rights Committee here in Washington to propagandize against our strike and our boycott. We don't know where they are getting the money they are paying to the J. Walter Thompson firm, plus other huge sums of money that are being spent. I think it would be very interesting if we could get those figures.

We have a problem with the U.S. Public Health Service that is coming to be of great concern to a lot of people. In Delano we have the problem of nitrates in the water. This is a cause of concern to some of the experts. Because of large amounts of fertilizers being put in the grape fields, the nitrates find their way into the water table. As a consequence the city water in Delano is heavily polluted with nitrates. The Federal Department of Public Health established a maximum of 45 parts per million as a tolerance. The California Department of Public Health established the same figure.

Just recently, because of investigations, some suits were developing against the city of Delano because of the water. The city council sent out a mailer to all of the water users cautioning them not to use the water for babies under a year old. Then the California Department of Public Health just recently raised the nitrates tolerance to ninety parts per million, double the federal tolerance. The Federals took no action. It is very difficult for us to understand that.

The point we are trying to make here is that the federal agency I and the state agency are almost impossible to deal with. We cannot look to them for any real support and any real help. We don't expect them to take our side, but they ought to carry out the law.

There are other pressures that develop against farm workers isolated in those vast valleys. The Texaco Company locally refused to sell us gas for a couple of days for our picket line cars. We had an arrangement with them, but pressure from the employers forced them not to sell us gas. It was not until we were able to call Washington and New York and other places to try and develop concern that they were able to give us gas. The Aetna Insurance Company cancelled our car insurance. We had to go to the public assigned risk where we paid more money. It was not because we had a bad record. They just did not give us a reason but we were cancelled.

Then of course, we have trouble with the Defense Department, which think is the biggest reason why the growers broke off the negotiations in late June and early July, and why I think that although our boycott is very effective in most of the areas in the country, still we were not able to get the growers to negotiate with us. The Defense Department has increased the shipments of grapes in the last year or so to Vietnam by about 350 per cent. South Vietnam ranked 27th in the importation of grapes. Today South Vietnam is number 3 in importation. Canada is number 1, Venezuela 2, and little Vietnam is now rated the third largest importer of table grapes.

We have a report that some grapes were found in the Saigon black market selling for $42 a box. That is where the grapes are going.

Because of the pressure of the boycott and the strikes we were able to get 12 growers to negotiate with us. We negotiated for about three weeks. It was a difficult negotiation. We said we should be very careful not to permit the negotiations to develop into a name-calling contest. The first day of negotiations they took advantage of my not being present to unload everything that they had on their chests. Right from the beginning, they set an ultimatum. It seemed that every time we came to an issue they would say "either it is this way or we break off negotiations." It became apparent to us that they did not want to negotiate but they had accomplished what they wanted to, and that was that. They hurt the boycott immensely because people throughout the country began to think these were good faith negotiations, and that therefore the strike was about over.

I have no doubt that one or two men of those 12 wanted to negotiate. I think they wanted to negotiate. But as for the rest, they could not prove to us by their actions that they were sincere.

So at the very end it became very apparent they were not going to do anything about wages. We had a wage demand of $2 an hour minimum, plus 25 cents a box during the harvest time, and $2 minimum during the off season. We had what we considered to be a very important health and safety clause in the contract. That is what we need to deal effectively with the whole question of pesticide poisoning for workers. When the negotiations broke off, we understood that the two main points that were in conflict, and could not be resolved, were wages and health and safety. The negotiations broke off on the 3rd of July. Almost two weeks ago I called on the Federal Mediation Service, the agency that brought us together the first time. I told them to relay to the employers the desire on the part of the union to re-open negotiations and to tell them specifically that we were willing to reconsider the wage demand that we had made, but that in all good faith, we could not possibly give in on the whole question of pesticide poisoning of workers. It is almost two weeks and we have not heard from them.

There has been a lot said about the union not representing the workers--that we in fact do not represent the workers, but are just a group of outside agitators with radical ideas. We have had 8 union representation elections. We have won every single election that we have had, and some had to be fought and won at a great disadvantage to our union. Some were won with something like 98 per cent for the union. There is no question in my mind that the workers want a union. They know that the union is the best way out of their condition. But the same employers who claim that we don't represent the workers have steadfastly, since the beginning of the strike, refused to give us elections.

Since we are not covered by the National Labor Relations Act and there is no machinery for elections, the union and employers have to agree to set up some kind of procedure for the election. On eight different occasions we have been able to negotiate the procedure and have the election. Then we win and go into negotiations. The grape growers, the fresh grape growers, have been unwilling to do that.

We say that we are able to prove to them that the whole question of our representing the workers is not in issue. But the 12 growers who agreed to negotiate with us raised the issue. So we gave the Federal Mediation Service cards signed by ninety per cent of the strike-breakers working for the growers at that time. The card said "we support the union."

So the question of whether we represent the workers or not is a phony issue. But the real issue is that we don't think that the workers are going to quit trying to get a union. We are sure of this because not only of what they have done in the four years, but because it is the history of the working man in America.

The real question is "How is it going to be accomplished?" Are the workers, the farm workers, going to be suppressed and forced to go "underground"? Or are the farm workers going to be able to walk out of their poverty and be counted and accepted as true men by their employers? That is a real question, how is it going to be done? That fact that it is going to be done is accepted by all of us who are in the struggle.

I want to have Brother Imutan, who is a Filipino-American, tell you a little bit about the history of the Filipino worker.

Perhaps some of you may not know that the Filipino workers have been subjected to things that even the black Americans have not been subjected to in America. There is very little known about them. But it is a fact that they have been mistreated considerably. I want Brother Imutan to tell you about that.


MR. IMUTAN: When the Delano strike began, September 8, 1965, the Filipino workers in the different camps in Delano walked out from the fields that they were working in, and those that were living in the camps decided to stay in the camps.

The grower-owners of those different camps warned our workers that they would do something to make us either work or not stay in those camps. Although they were told that, the workers thought that the only way probably that they could solve their problems was to stick it out with the rest of the workers.

And what happened was that the light and the water were cut off so that the workers could not cook their food. And-when they cooked outside, the security guards of the growers kicked their food to the ground. And when it became time to eat, the guards came back and threw the workers' belongings to the ground and padlocked their rooms.

Because of that the workers were forced to stay in their cars. As the strike went on, a lot of them were staying in the cars and some of them were sleeping in the Filipino Hall and some of them were staying with their friends.

The growers claim that they are paying so much, but the people that are staying in the camps, although they are supposed to have camps housing accomodations free, actually it is not so. Those that are staying in the camps are receiving ten cents less per hour than those that are not living in the camps.

Think about life in the camps. There are no health examinations or anything of that sort. You would see camps during the peak of harvest crowded with people who are side by side. You will see the tubercular worker side by side with the healthy one.

It is not a well known fact to a lot of people that the Filipino workers who were recruited and encouraged to come to this country were deprived of family life. For several decades they were not allowed by the immigration laws to bring in their wives, or women from the Philippines for marriage. Nor were they allowed by the state laws in the West to marry white women. This was done so we would live in the camps and do whatever we were told.

There is a whole race of workers here that 35 years ago were brought here to work, that had no generation after them. Since the war some young people have come. I would say that 85 per cent of the Filipino farm workers are bachelors living in the camps. If the intent of the growers then was to wipe out the workers forever, I think they have succeeded in that.

There is a great concern to the Filipino communities in California: What will happen to Filipinos who are now old and are only receiving $40 from Social Security? Mules and horses are well provided for when they are no longer able to work. For human beings in the farm areas there is no such thing. What is going to happen?

Because of the lack of coverage under the National Labor Relations Act, the farm workers were not able to form a union like other workers in other industries. As you know, in other industries provisions for retirement and other fringe benefits have been provided for to these workers through the unions that have represented them.

MR. CHAVEZ: We have next Mr. Mack Lyons, who came out of the DiGiorgio-Arvin farm, one of the biggest farms in the country. He became the ranch committee chairman. He would like to tell you about the experience that will clearly reflect to you that whether we represent the workers or not has no meaning to the employers.


MR. LYONS: Through the strike and the boycott against DiGiorgio about three years ago, we gained the right to have an election at this particular ranch. We gave up the boycott for an election. All we had was the right to have the election. If we lost, we did not have anything. If we won, well, then we would go on to negotiate a contract. After we won the election we had no power for the negotiations. The negotiations lasted for weeks and weeks because we had no power left, since we had to call off the strike and the boycott against this particular place. The majority of the contract went to arbitration.

From the arbitrator we did not get everything that we wanted. One of the main things we wanted was a "successor clause." He did not give us that. A successor clause means that if the ranch is sold, the labor contract obligates the buyer. But what we got out of the arbitrator, we were happy with and we accepted it, and we made it work, and everybody worked together.

We eliminated a lot of the problems that we had before the contract. Then the problems started again when the DiGiorgio man told us he sold his ranch to S.A. Camp, another one of the growers in that county.

As soon as he bought the ranch, this grower laid off all the workers that were working there. He fired all of the people that were active members of the union, and all the stewards, all of the people that he knew had fought for the union, that spoke out for the union.

The new owner started the same practices that had been used before. He separated people by race and by favorites and all of the rights that we had under the contract, that we had negotiated for, and that we had gotten out of arbitration, were completely discarded. Because we did not get a successor clause, we were right back where we started. Right now we are on strike again. Some of us are working on the boycott.

The contract lasted for two years and in those two years, people really saw a change in their daily lives. The workers were starting to have a little hope. But when the ranch was sold we saw that we really did not have anything. Because of the lack of concern by the laws, and the arbitrators that have power to give you what they think you should have and some of the things that you need they don't give you, we found ourselves back where we started, in the same boat as the people who had been on strike for four years trying to gain something that we had had. What makes it worse is that we had a contract. Now we don't have anything. We had experienced what the union really stands for, what the union is trying to get for all of the farm workers, but the company sold all of our rights. These are the kind of problems we are having right now because of the lack of power, and organization, and law.


MR. COHEN: I would just give you one example of the caliber of justice we get in the Kern County Superior Court. Last August 22nd I went to the Kern County Agricultural Commissioner, who keeps records of commercial pesticide applicators, the accounts of poisons that they use and when they use them. I went to the Commissioner to see these reports. He told me to come back the next day. Two hours after I left the office, the Kern County Superior Court issued an injunction forbidding me to see the records. We have been engaged in a battle for over a year to see those records.

We are concerned about the issue of health and safety of farm workers. A recent survey in Tulare County shows that about eighty per cent of the workers are suffering from various symptoms of organic phosphate and other pesticide poisoning. The state of California has some of these statistics but they have decided that they are going to study them for five years. We think the problem is right now.

It is hard for us to understand how the administration could have an Occupational Health and Safety Bill that exempts farm workers, especially in light of the fact that in the state of California agriculture has the highest occupational disease rate, three times higher than the next industry there.

In the battle for the pesticides records, we presented an extensive hearing in January. In the course of that hearing it became apparent that the Judge was weighing the profits that the agricultural industry makes against the health of farm workers, and he continued the injunction. As it stands today, we still can't see the records.

MR. CHAVEZ: If you have any questions we would be happy to try to answer them.

MR. O'HARA: Thank you, Mr. Chavez. I think several of us have questions.

CONGRESSMAN OGDEN REID (R-NY.): I wanted to welcome Cesar Chavez here very warmly, and also his colleagues. Is my understanding correct that recently the Department of Defense has increased the purchase of grapes by fifty per cent and the shipment of grapes to Vietnam has increased by 350 per cent to the current rate of about 8 pounds per man? If this is correct, are there not the implications of strike breaking in the purchases of the Department of Defense of these grapes?

As the gentlemen may know, I have written the Department of Defense to ascertain their views on this, and asked for a personal review by the Secretary, and expressed the hope that the Department of Defense would not purchase grapes pending the recognition of the farm workers.

Would you care to comment on that?

MR. CHAVEZ: That reflects very accurately the information that we have. It is difficult for us to understand how the Defense Department could do this in light of the fact that here are a group of dispossessed and poor and powerless workers trying to organize without any rules or regulations. It is a very difficult thing to understand.

MR. REID: Mr. Chavez, if the Department of Defense ceased this practice, is it your view that the negotiations would go forward, that the growers would come back to the bargaining table?

MR. CHAVEZ: I am sure they would, because the Defense Department buys enough grapes to supply two large American cities. The ten largest cities in the United States buy about fifty per cent of the grapes.

MR. REID: It is my understanding that you have called on the Federal Mediation Service and asked them to facilitate reopening of the negotiations, and that you have even gone to the point of saying that the question of wages would be secondary to the question of health and safety, but you think the vital matter is that the negotiations proceed, and that the one step that would facilitate this is the action of the Department of Defense not to purchase grapes.


MR. REID: I thank you. It is my hope that the Education and Labor Committee will act with appropriate legislation. Mr. O'Hara is quite eloquent on this point. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

MR. O'HARA: Thank you, Mr. Reid. Mr. Dent, do you and Mr. Burton have questions?

CONGRESSMAN JOHN H. DENT (D-PA.): Yes, thank you, Mr. Chairman. I would yield to the gentleman from California.

CONGRESSMAN PHILLIP BURTON (D-CALIF.): Cesar, it is a delight to have you back here. I am pleased that so many Members of the Committee on both sides have attended this hearing and had the opportunity to listen to you first hand.

I would like to say to the audience that which I have told some of my colleagues privately. It is my view that Cesar Chavez is beyond any doubt the most outstanding indigenous leader in the country. His commitment to non-violence, which I think is very important, almost cost him his life when he fasted in order to put back into clear focus the real problems confronting the men and women working in the fields of California.

If ever a cause was just, it is this one. Lord only knows that the time is right for us to mount the necessary political support. It is vital, particularly because of the nature of this gathering of Congressmen, Republicans as well as Democrats, that we enlist all the good will we can, because we obviously don't have the votes without a coalition such as that which made civil rights legislation possible.

We have many thoughtful members of the Republican side of this committee, and I sincerely hope that one of the results of your appearance today will be to sharpen the interest that they already have shown towards this very vital problem.

Courtesy of the Farmworker Movement Documentation Project


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