|Full name||United Farm Workers of America (UFW)|
|Affiliation||Change to Win Federation|
|Key people||Arturo Rodriguez, president|
|Office location||Keene, California|
The United Farm Workers of America, or more commonly just United Farm Workers (UFW), is a labor union for farmworkers in the United States. It originated from the merger of two workers' rights organizations, the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee (AWOC) led by organizer Larry Itliong, and the National Farm Workers Association (NFWA) led by César Chávez and Dolores Huerta. They became allied and transformed from workers' rights organizations into a union as a result of a series of strikes in 1965, when the mostly Filipino farmworkers of the AWOC in Delano, California initiated a grape strike, and the NFWA went on strike in support. As a result of the commonality in goals and methods, the NFWA and the AWOC formed the United Farm Workers Organizing Committee on August 22, 1966. This organization was accepted into the AFL-CIO in 1972 and changed its name to the United Farm Workers Union.
Dolores Huerta grew up in Stockton, California, in the San Joaquin Valley, an area filled with farms. In the early 1950s, she completed a degree at Delta Community College, part of the University of the Pacific. She briefly worked as an elementary school teacher. Huerta saw that her students, many of them children of farm workers, were living in poverty without enough food to eat or other basic necessities. To help, she became one of the founders of the Stockton chapter of the Community Service Organization (CSO). The CSO worked to improve social and economic conditions for farm workers and to fight discrimination.
By 1959, César Chávez had already established professional relationships with local community organizations that aimed to empower the working class population by encouraging them to become more politically active. In 1952, Chávez met Fred Ross, who was a community organizer working on behalf of the Community Service Organization. This group was affiliated with the Industrial Areas Foundation, headed by Saul Alinsky.
To further her cause, Huerta created the Agricultural Workers Association (AWA) in 1960. Through the AWA, she lobbied politicians on many issues, including allowing migrant workers without U.S. citizenship to receive public assistance and pensions and creating Spanish-language voting ballots and driver's tests. In 1962, she co-founded a workers' union alongside community activists such as Larry Itliong and César Chávez, which was later known as the United Farm Workers (UFW). The UFW was created through the emergence of the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee (AWOC) which was mainly composed of Filipino migrant workers and the National Farm Workers Association (NFWA) which was mainly composed of Mexican migrant workers. Larry Itliong was a Filipino American labor organizer who fore-fronted the grape strike in Coachella Valley that spearheaded the Delano Grape Strike of 1965. He became assistant director of the UFW. Chávez was the dynamic leader and speaker and Huerta was a skilled organizer and tough negotiator. Huerta was instrumental in the union's many successes, including the strikes against California grape growers in the 1960s and 1970s.
During Chávez's participation in the Community Service Organization, Fred Ross trained César Chávez in the grassroots, door-to-door, house meeting tactic of organization, a tactic crucial to the UFW's recruiting methods. The house meeting tactic successfully established a broad base of local Community Service Organization chapters during Ross's era, and Chávez used this technique to extend the UFW's reach as well as to find up and coming organizers. During the 1950s, César Chávez and Fred Ross developed twenty-two new Community Service Organization chapters in the Mexican American neighborhoods of San Jose. In 1959, Chávez claimed the rank of executive director in the Community Service Organization. During this time, Chávez observed and adopted the notion of having the community become more politically involved to bring about social changes that the community sought. This was a vital tactic in Chávez's future struggles in fighting for immigrant rights.
César Chávez's ultimate goal in his participation with the Community Service Organization and the Industrial Areas Foundation was to eventually organize a union for the farm workers. Saul Alinsky did not share Chávez's sympathy for the farm workers struggle, claiming that organizing farm workers, "was like fighting on a constantly disintegrating bed of sand." (Alinsky, 1967) 
In March 1962, at the Community Service Organization convention, Chávez proposed a pilot project for organizing farm workers, which the organization's members rejected. Chávez responded by resigning from the organization to create the farm workers union that later became known as the National Farm Workers Association.
By 1965, the National Farm Workers Association had acquired twelve hundred members through Chávez's person-to-person recruitment efforts, which he had learned from Fred Ross just a decade earlier. Out of those twelve hundred, only about two hundred paid dues. Also in 1962, Richard Chavez, the brother of César Chávez, designed the black Aztec eagle insignia that became the symbol of the NFW and the UFW. César Chávez chose the red and black colors used by the organization.
Although still in its infant stages, the organization lent its support to a strike by workers in the rose industry in 1965. This initial protest by the young organization resulted in a failed attempt to strike against the rose industry. That same year the farm workers who worked in the Delano fields of California wanted to strike against the growers in response to the grower's refusal to raise wages from $1.20 to $1.40 an hour, and they sought out Chávez and the National Farm Workers Association for support. The Delano agricultural workers were mostly Filipino workers affiliated with the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee, a charter of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations. The unification of these two organizations, in an attempt to boycott table grapes grown in the Delano fields, resulted in the creation of the United Farm Workers of America. The AFL-CIO chartered the United Farm Workers, officially combining the AWOC and the NFWA, in August 1966.
In the early history of American agriculture, farm workers experienced many failed attempts to organize agricultural laborers. In 1903, Japanese and Mexican farm workers attempted to come together to fight for better wages and better working conditions. This attempt to organize agricultural laborers was ignored and disbanded when organizations, such as the American Federation of Labor, neglected to support their efforts, often withholding assistance on the basis of race.
In 1913, the Industrial Workers of the World organized a rally of two thousand farm workers at a large ranch in a rural area of Northern California. This resulted in an attack by National Guardsmen against participants. As a result of the violence, the two lead organizers for the Industrial Workers of the World were arrested, convicted of murder, and sentenced to life imprisonment. Some believe the two people arrested were wrongly convicted.
In the later 1910s and the 1920s in the United States, further attempts to organize farm laborers were undertaken by spontaneous local efforts, and some by communist unions. These attempts also failed because, at that time, the law did not require employers to negotiate with workers. Employers at the time could legally fire employees for union activity.
In 1936, the National Labor Relations Act took effect. This legislation provided most American workers the right to join unions and bargain collectively. Agricultural workers were exempt from the protection of this law. Some believe that this labor category was excluded as a result of a political tactic to gain the support of Southern politicians in the passing of this law.
In 1941, the United States Government and the Mexican Government enacted the Bracero Program. Initially, the two governments established this joint project to address Second World War labor shortages by allowing "guest workers" from Mexico to work in the American agricultural industry until the end of the crop harvest. Thousands of Mexican Nationals came north to work in American fields, and growers used the opportunity to undercut domestic wages. They also used the Braceros to break strikes by resident farm workers. This government extended the program until 1964.
Many Mexican women in California who joined the UFW in the 1960s had been previously involved in community-based activism in the 1950s through the Community Service Organization for Latino civil rights. The racial discrimination and economic disadvantages they faced from a young age made it necessary to form networks of support like the CSO to empower Latinos in America with voter registration drives, citizenship classes, lawsuits and legislative campaigns, and political protests against police brutality and immigration policies.
While male activists held leadership roles and more authority, the women activists participated in volunteering and teaching valuable skills to individuals of the Latino community. By the 1960s, Huerta and others began to shift their attention to the labor exploitation of Latino farm workers in California and began to strike, demonstrate, and organize to fight for a myriad of issues that Mexican laborers faced. While many of the male leaders of the movement had the role of being dynamic, powerful speakers that inspired others to join the movement, the women devoted their efforts to negotiating better working contracts with companies, organizing boycotts, rallying for changes in immigration policies, registering Latinos to vote with Spanish language ballots, and increasing pressure on legislation to improve labor relations.
Among the women who engaged in activism for labor rights, traditional and non traditional patterns of activism existed. Mexican-American women like Dolores Huerta used their education and resources arrange programs at the grassroots level, sustaining and leading members it into the labor movement. As the sister-in-law of César Chávez, Huerta co-founded the National Farmworkers Association, which became the United Farm Workers. She had great influence over the direction that it took, breaking stereotypes of the Mexican woman in the 1960s. However, it was most common for Chicana activists and female labor union members to be involved in administrative tasks for the early stages of UFW. Women like Helen Chávez were important in responsibilities such as credit union bookkeeping and behind the scenes advising. Still, both women along with other Chicana activists participated in picketing with their families in the face of police intimidation and racial abuse. Keeping track of union services and membership were traditionally responsibilities given to female organizers and it was integral to the institutional survival of the UFW, but it has gone much less recognized throughout history due to the male led strikes receiving majority public attention.
In May 1966, California farm worker activist, Eugene Nelson, traveled to Texas to rally support for the Schenley Farms boycott. While in Houston, AFL-CIO state representatives suggested that he visit Rio Grande City on the Texas-Mexico border in the lower Rio Grande Valley. Seeing the possibilities for organizing workers in the impoverished region, he quickly set about recruiting volunteers for the United Farm Workers Organizing Committee (UFWOC) as both strikers and assistants. Other UFWOC activists joined Nelson in Rio Grande City, including Gilbert Padilla, Antonio Orendain, and Bill Chandler. At the time, some melon workers lacked access to fresh water while working in the fields, some lacked sanitary facilities for human waste, and some were present in the fields as crop dusters dropped pesticides on the crops.
On June 1, Nelson led workers to strike demanding $1.25 as a minimum hourly wage, protesting La Casita Farms and others packing sheds. The activists also protested the hiring of "scab" labor, mostly those with green card visas from Mexico, who were allowed to cross the border as day workers. In the dispute, reports and allegations of vandalism to equipment, produce, and public property caused Starr County officials, along with the support of the growers, to call for additional law enforcement, which arrived in the form of the Texas Rangers. Both county officials and rangers arrested protestors for secondary picketing, standing within 50 feet of one another, a practice illegal at the time. Allegations of brutality and questions of jurisdictional limits created national headlines in what came to be known as La Huelga.
On July 4, members of UFWOC, strikers, and members of the clergy set out on a march to Austin to demand the $1.25 minimum wage and other improvements for farm workers. Press coverage intensified as the marchers made their way north in the summer heat. Politicians, members of the AFL-CIO, and the Texas Council of Churches accompanied the protestors. Gov. John Connally, who had refused to meet them in Austin, traveled to New Braunfels with then House Speaker Ben Barnes and Attorney General Waggoner Carr to intercept the march and inform strikers that their efforts would have no effect.
Protestors arrived in Austin in time for a Labor Day rally, but no changes in law resulted. Strikes and arrests continued in Rio Grande City through 1966 into 1967. Violence increased as the spring melon crop ripened and time neared for the May harvest. In June, when beatings of two UFWOC supporters by Texas rangers surfaced, tempers flared.
At the end of June as the harvest was ending, members of the Senate Subcommittee on Migratory Labor, including Senators Harrison Williams and Edward Kennedy, arrived in the lower Rio Grande Valley to hold hearings in Rio Grande City and Edinburg, Texas. The senators took their findings back to Washington as a report on pending legislation. Subsequently, the rangers left the area and the picketing ended. On September 20, Hurricane Beulah's devastations ruined the farming industry in the Valley for the following year. One major outcome of the strikes came in the form of a 1974 Supreme Court victory in Medrano v. Allee, limiting jurisdiction of Texas Rangers in labor disputes. Farm workers continued to organize through the 1970s on a smaller scale, under new leadership in San Juan, Texas, independent of César Chávez.
By mid-1971 the Texas campaign was well underway. In Sept. 1971, Thomas John Wakely, recent discharge from the United States Air Force joined the San Antonio office of the Texas campaign. His pay was room and board, $5.00 a week plus all of the menudo he could eat. The menudo was provided to the UFOC staff by the families of migrant workers working the Texas fields.
TJ worked for UFOC for about 2 years and his responsibilities included organizing the Grape Boycott in San Antonio. His primary target was the H-E-B grocery store chain. In addition, he attempted to organize Hispanic farm workers working the farmers market in San Antonio -- an institution at that time controlled by the corporate farms. Among his many organizing activities included an early 1972 episode where he and several other UFOC staff members who were attempting to organize warehouse workers in San Antonio were fired upon by security agents of the corporate farm owners.
In mid-1973 the San Antonio office of the UFOC was taken over by the Brown Berets. This radicalization of the San Antonio UFOC office led to the eventual collapse of the San Antonio UFOC organizing campaign.
In 1970, Chavez decided to move the union's headquarters from Delano to La Paz, California into a former sanatorium in the Tehachapi Mountains. Whereas Chavez thought this change would help create "a national union of the poor ... serving the needs of all who suffer," other union members objected to this distancing of the leadership away from the farmworkers.
The union was poised to launch its next major campaign in the lettuce fields in 1970 when a deal between the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and the growers nearly destroyed it. Initially the Teamsters signed contracts with lettuce growers in the Salinas Valley, who wanted to avoid recognizing the UFW. Then in 1973, when the three-year UFW grape contracts expired, the grape growers signed contracts giving the Teamsters the right to represent the workers who had been members of the UFW.
The UFW responded with strikes, lawsuits and boycotts, including secondary boycotts in the retail grocery industry. The union struggled to regain the members it had lost in the lettuce fields; it never fully recovered its strength in grapes, due in some part to incompetent management of the hiring halls it had established that seemed to favor some workers over others.
The battles in the fields became violent, with a number of UFW members killed on the picket line. The violence led the state in 1975 to enact the California Agricultural Labor Relations Act, creating an administrative agency, the ALRB, that oversaw secret ballot elections and resolved charges of unfair labor practices, like failing to bargain in good faith, or discrimination against activists. The UFW won the majority of secret ballot elections in which it participated.
In the late 1970s, the leadership of the UFW was wracked by a series of conflicts, as differences emerged between Chavez and some of his former colleagues. In 1977, the Teamsters signed an agreement with the UFW promising to end their efforts to represent farm workers. 
In the 1980s, the membership of the UFW shrank, as did its national prominence. After taking office in the 1980s, California Governor George Deukmejian stopped enforcement of the state's farm labor laws, resulting in farm workers losing their UFW contracts, being fired, and blacklisted. Due to internal squabbles, most of the union's original leadership left or were forced out, except for Chavez and Huerta. By 1986, the union had been reduced to 75 contracts and had stopped organizing.
In the 1980s, the UFW joined with the AFL-CIO and other organizations for the national Wrath of Grapes campaign, re-instituting the grape boycott.
In the early 1980s, Tomas Villanueva, a well-known organizer who had a reputation for his activism for farm workers, agreed to help the UFW when they were in need of a leader for their march in Washington state. Villanueva joined Cesar Chavez in organizing the boycotts and strikes that occurred in Washington state.
On September 21, 1986, Villanueva became the first president of the Washington state UFW. He was a great leader for the UFW activists in Washington since he led many strikes and influenced people to join the United Farm Workers movement. People who were against the movement started threatening leaders of the group such as Villanueva, but he continued organizing rallies. Even though there was some success in Washington state, the overall UFW membership started decreasing towards the end of the 1980s.
Additionally, there was a major scare over pesticides in California at the time; watermelons would make the farm workers and consumers very ill. The UFW was outraged to hear about the use of illegal pesticides, and Chavez decided to fast for 36 days to protest the dangers pesticides had on farm workers and their community. This influenced the legislature in California to create more food testing programs, resulting in pesticide-free produce, and to encourage organic farming.
In July 2008 the farm worker Ramiro Carrillo Rodriguez, 48, died of a heat stroke. According to United Farm Workers, he was the "13th farm worker heat death since CA Governor Schwarzenegger took office" in 2003. In 2006 California's first permanent heat regulations were enacted but these regulations were not strictly enforced, the union contended.
In 2013, farm workers working at a Fresno facility, for California's largest peach producer, voted to de-certify the United Farm Workers. News of this decertification was released to the public in 2018.
César Chávez is a film released in March 2014, directed by Diego Luna about the life of the Mexican-American labor leader who co-founded the United Farm Workers. The film stars Michael Peña as Chávez. Co-producer John Malkovich also co-stars in the role of an owner of a large industrial grape farm who leads the sometimes violent opposition to Chávez's organizing efforts.
The United Farm Workers of America's work is dedicated to helping farm workers have the proper conditions in the work field and stand with them in the fight for equality. One of the issues that the UFW is constantly fighting for is the ongoing abuse that dairy workers at Darigold farms are facing. Darigold farms workers are known to have dealt with issues such as sexual harassment and wage theft. The UFW has taken an active role in a particular case called the "Darigold Dozen".
The Darigold Dozen are 12 dairy farm workers from Washington who filed a lawsuit against the dairy farm they are employed by for wage theft. The UFW held a 5 day Fast on September 20th, 2018 outside the Darigold headquarters to protest the poor work condition and treatments the Darigold farmers face and to bring attention to the Darigold Dozen. On May 8th, 2019 the employers of the Darigold Dozen dropped their countersuit against their former employees and dropped a lawsuit that they had filed against the UFW.
The UFW continues to raise awareness on the treatment of Darigold farm workers and speaks out against Starbucks who buy their milk from the Darigold company. On the UFW website, they have flyers and videos about the conditions dairy farmers face, which they encourage people to share with others. Lastly, they have also emailed the CEO of Starbucks asking him to cut ties with Darigold company.
The grape strike officially began in Delano in September 1965. In December, union representatives traveled from California to New York, Washington, D.C., Pittsburgh, Detroit, and other large cities to encourage a boycott of grapes grown at ranches without UFW contracts.
In the summer of 1966, unions and religious groups from Seattle and Portland endorsed the boycott. Supporters formed a boycott committee in Vancouver, prompting an outpouring of support from Canadians that continued throughout the following years.
In 1967, UFW supporters in Oregon began picketing stores in Eugene, Salem, and Portland. After melon workers went on strike in Texas, growers held the first union representation elections in the region, and the UFW became the first union to ever sign a contract with a grower in Texas.
National support for the UFW continued to grow in 1968, and hundreds of UFW members and supporters were arrested. Picketing continued throughout the country, including in Massachusetts, New Jersey, Ohio, Oklahoma, and Florida. The mayors of New York, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Buffalo, Detroit, and other cities pledged their support, and many of them altered their cities' grape purchases to support the boycott.
In 1969, support for farm workers increased throughout North America. The grape boycott spread into the South as civil rights groups pressured grocery stores in Atlanta, Miami, New Orleans, Nashville, and Louisville to remove non-union grapes. Student groups in New York protested the Department of Defense and accused them of deliberately purchasing boycotted grapes. On May 10, UFW supporters picketed Safeway stores throughout the U.S. and Canada in celebration of International Grape Boycott Day. Cesar Chavez also went on a speaking tour along the East Coast to ask for support from labor groups, religious groups, and universities.
Mapping UFW Strikes, Boycotts, and Farm Worker Actions 1965-1975 shows over 1,000 farm worker strikes, boycotts, protests, and other actions as collected by El Macriado, Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Seattle Times, etc.
Between 1965 and 1975 the United Farm Workers activism throughout the United States saw a tremendous increase, starting with just 7 states such as California, New York, Washington D.C., Mississippi, Arizona, Illinois, and Texas. This movement and fight for change have expanded to a total of 42 states in the span of 10 years.
Other organizations that followed in the United Farm Workers fight to empower and seek justice for farm workers are Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC) - 1967,Treeplanters & Farmworkers United of the Northwest (PCUN) - 1985, and Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW)- 1993
The UFW during Chavez's tenure was committed to restricting immigration. With the introduction of new laws restricting immigration like the Alien Contract Labor Act of 1885, Chavez and other like-minded individuals fought the influx of people that could hurt their cause. Chavez and Dolores Huerta, co-founder and president of the UFW, fought the Bracero Program that existed from 1942 to 1964. Their opposition stemmed from their belief that the program undermined U.S. workers and exploited the migrant workers. Since the Bracero Program ensured a constant supply of cheap immigrant labor for growers, immigrants could not protest any infringement of their rights, lest they be fired and replaced. Their efforts contributed to Congress ending the Bracero Program in 1964. In 1973, the UFW was one of the first labor unions to oppose proposed employer sanctions that would have prohibited hiring illegal immigrants.
On a few occasions, concerns that illegal immigrant labor would undermine UFW strike campaigns led to controversial events, The UFW describes these as anti-strikebreaking events, but some have also interpreted them as anti-immigrant. In 1969, Chavez and members of the UFW marched through the Imperial and Coachella Valleys to the border of Mexico to protest growers' use of illegal immigrants as strikebreakers. In its early years, the UFW and Chavez went so far as to report illegal immigrants who served as strikebreaking replacement workers (as well as those who refused to unionize) to the Immigration and Naturalization Service.
In 1973, the United Farm Workers set up a "wet line" along the United States-Mexico border to prevent Mexican immigrants from entering the United States illegally and potentially undermining the UFW's unionization efforts. During one such event, in which Chavez was not involved, some UFW members, under the guidance of Chavez's cousin Manuel, physically attacked the strikebreakers after peaceful attempts to persuade them not to cross the border failed.
The United Farm Workers, a working class movement, had received substantial support from the middle class, causing problems of power and control within the union. The UFW gave no structural power to farm workers, as there were no locals elected as staff. The survival of the staff wasn't linked directly to membership, since they made more money from outside sources than union dues. Today, the UFW only consists of five thousand members who work in very similar low conditions as they did 40 years ago. UFW includes undocumented farmworkers as well.
The role of Cesar Chavez, the founder of UFW, was to frame his campaigns in terms of consumer safety and involving social justice, bringing benefits to the farmworker unions. One of UFW's, along with Cesar Chavez's, important aspects that has been overlooked is building coalitions.
The United Farm Workers allows farmworkers to help improve their working conditions and wages. The UFW embraces nonviolence in its attempt to cultivate members on political and social issues.
On July 22, 2005, the UFW announced that it was joining the Change to Win Federation, a coalition of labor unions functioning as an alternative to the AFL-CIO. On January 13, 2006, the union officially disaffiliated from the AFL-CIO. In contrast to other Change to Win-affiliated unions, the AFL-CIO neglected to offer the right of affiliation to regional bodies to the UFW.