¡Sí Se Puede! Hispanic Heritage Month Spotlight on César Chávez & the UFW
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César Chávez Timeline

On March 31, César Chávez is born, the son of Librado Chávez and Juana Estrada Chávez in Yuma, Arizona, on the small farm that his grandfather homesteaded in the 1880s.

After César's father, Librado, is forced from his farm, the Chávez family becomes migrant workers in California.

After his father is hurt in a car accident and cannot work, Chávez quits school to work in the fields with his brother and sister.

Chávez is arrested in a segregated Delano, California, movie theater for sitting in the "whites only" section and held in custody for one hour. He joins the U.S. Navy.

Chávez is discharged from the navy and returns to his family in Delano; resumes work in the fields.

He marries Helen Fabela. The two have eight children: Fernando (1949), Silvia (1950), Linda (1951), Eloise (1952), Anna (1953), Paul (1957), Elizabeth (1958), and Anthony (1958).

Chávez moves to San Jose and works in a lumber mill. He meets Father Donald McDonnell, a Catholic priest from San Francisco sent to work with the farm laborers, and reads the papal encyclicals on labor, books on labor history, the teachings of St. Francis of Assisi, and Louis Fisher's The Life of Gandhi.

He is recruited by Fred Ross to be an organizer for the Community Service Organization (CSO).

Chávez is sent to Oxnard, California, by the Community Service Organization to confront the Bracero Program, a system used by the growers to depress wages and exploit the farm laborers. He organizes a boycott of local merchants, sit-down strikes in the fields to challenge the hiring of braceros, and protests against the lack of jobs for local residents.

Chávez resigns from the Community Service Organization and moves with his wife and eight small children to Delano, California, to start the National Farm Workers Association.

The first meeting of the National Farm Workers Association convenes in Fresno, California, on September 30. Chávez is elected president.

National Farm Workers Association has 1,000 dues-paying members and 50 locals. The newspaper El Malcriado is launched as the official voice of the organization.

On Mexican Independence Day, September 16, the National Farm Workers Association (NFWA) votes to join a strike against Delano-area grape growers already begun that month by the mostly Filipino American members of the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee (AWOC).

NBC screens A Harvest of Shame, a television special that depicts the tragic conditions of migrant laborers in the United States.

The NFWA, along with the AWOC, launches a boycott against the Schenley Vineyards Corporation, DiGiorgio Fruit Corporation, S&W Fine Foods, and TreeSweet.

On March 17, Chávez leads strikers on a 340-mile march from Delano to the steps of the state capitol in Sacramento; a rally in Sacramento on April 10 draws 10,000 people. During the march and after a four-month boycott, Schenley Vineyards negotiates an agreement with the National Farm Workers Association (NFWA), the first genuine union contract between a grower and farm workers' union in U.S. history.

The NFWA and the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee merge to form a united union within the AFL-CIO. The United Farm Workers Organizing Committee, later to become the United Farm Workers of America, is formed under the direction of Chávez.

The United Farm Workers Organizing Committee (UFWOC) strikes against the Giumarra Vineyards Corporation, California's largest table grape grower. In response to a UFWOC boycott, other grape growers allow Giumarra to use their labels. The UFWOC then begins a boycott of all California table grapes. DiGiorgio Fruit Corporation, a major grape grower, signs labor negotiation contract with UFWOC. Union moves from its cramped offices to a new complex of buildings called "The Forty Acres."


On February 14, Chávez begins a fast to encourage a stop to violence among picketers in the Giumarra strike. He fasts for 25 days to rededicate his movement to nonviolence. Sen. Robert F. Kennedy attends mass where Chávez breaks fast. Civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. sends a telegram of support.

On March 24, Chávez announces in Los Angeles plans for a "worldwide boycott" of California grapes.

The United Farm Workers turns its attention to pesticide problems facing workers in the field.

On May 10, International Grape Boycott Day is declared. Chávez organizes a march through the Coachella and Imperial valleys to the U.S.-Mexican border to protest grower use of undocumented immigrants from Mexico as strike breakers.

On May 29, the first table grape contract is signed with more than 20 California growers.

To keep the United Farm Workers Organizing Committee out of California lettuce and vegetable fields, most Salinas Valley growers sign contracts with the Teamsters Union. Some 10,000 Central Coast farm workers respond by walking out on strike. Chávez calls for a nationwide boycott of lettuce.

The National Chicano Moratorium rally is held in East Los Angeles to protest the Vietnam War. Chávez sends a strong letter of support to the organizers.

On December 10, Chávez is jailed in Salinas for refusing to obey a court order to stop the boycott against Bud Antle Company lettuce. Coretta Scott King, widow of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and Ethel Kennedy, widow of Robert F. Kennedy, visit Chávez in jail.

With its membership growing to around 80,000, Chávez union is chartered as an independent affiliate by the AFL-CIO; it becomes the United Farm Workers of America, AFL-CIO (UFW).

When the United Farm Workers' (UFW) three-year table grape contracts come up for renewal, owners instead sign contracts with the Teamsters, sparking a bitter three-month strike by grape workers. Thousands of strikers are arrested for violating anti-picketing injunctions, hundreds are beaten, dozens are shot, and two are murdered. Responding to the violence, Chávez calls off the strike and begins a second grape boycott.

On September 21, the UFW holds its first constitutional convention in Fresno, where 346 delegates representing 60,000 farm workers adopt a constitution.

The California Labor Relations Act is enacted. It is the first law governing farm labor organizing in the continental United States. It provides for secret ballot elections, the right to boycott, voting rights for migrant seasonal workers, and control over the timing of elections. Chávez leads a 1,000-mile march through the Imperial and San Joaquin Valleys to advertise upcoming union elections.

After years of lobbying by the United Farm Workers, a U.S. Supreme Court ruling (Sebastian Carmona et al. v. Division of Industrial Safety, 1975) and a California administrative ruling outlaw the use of el cortito, the short-handled hoe.

On July 31, Chávez leads members of the United Farm Workers (UFW) on a 12-day march from San Francisco to Salinas to dramatize the union's six-month strike against the state's lettuce growers. Calls for a boycott against Chiquita brand bananas, A&W root beer, and Morrell Meats, all subsidiaries of United Brands, which controls Sun Harvest. After a strike and boycott, the UFW wins its demands for a significant pay raise and other contract improvements from Sun Harvest.

Republican California governor George Deukmejian closes down enforcement of the state's historic farm labor law. Thousands of farm workers lose their United Farm Workers contracts. Many are fired and blacklisted.

Chávez announces that the United Farm Workers is embarking on a new grape boycott. To reach more people, he emphasizes the issue of pesticide residues on fruit.

The United Farm Workers produces The Wrath of Grapes, a movie in which graphic footage shows birth defects and high rates of cancer produced by pesticide poisoning among farm workers and consumers.

In August, at age 61, Chávez conducts his last public fast for 36 days in Delano to call attention to farm workers and their children stricken by pesticides.

In the spring, Chávez leads vineyard walkouts in the Coachella and San Joaquin Valleys and wins first industry-wide pay hike for workers in eight years. In the Salinas Valley, leads more than 10,000 workers in a protest march for better conditions in the field.

After fasting for a few days to gain moral strength, Chávez dies in his sleep on April 23.

At Chávez's funeral on April 29, more than 35,000 people follow his casket for three miles, from Delano to Keene, California.

In August, President Bill Clinton posthumously presents to Chávez the Medal of Freedom, America's highest civilian honor. His widow, Helen, receives the medal during a White House ceremony.

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