Can the United Farm Workers of California rise again?
While the law’s implications remain unclear, it has lifted the spirits of some farm workers.
Asuncion Ponce began harvesting grapes along the rolling green hills of the Central Valley in the late 1980s. Over the decades, Mr. Ponce has worked on several farms under UFW contracts. Bosses on those farms, he said, seemed aware that if they harassed or abused workers, the union would step in.
“They don’t mess with you anymore,” he said, “because they think there might be trouble.”
Despite this, he has seen his financial security diminish. He made an average of $20,000 a year in the 1990s and 2000s, he said, but these days he brings in about $10,000 a year by picking grapes and pruning pistachio trees. His eight-hour shifts are no longer supplemented with overtime as growers have slashed hours – partly as a result of overtime bills supported by UFW executives.
On occasion, Mr. Ponce said, he relied on outside contractors, sometimes employed by growers, to find available work for him. But he said he was optimistic the new legislation would give him a full-time job on a union farm.
On a recent evening, the 66-year-old was sipping coffee and relaxing after a shift at a farm outside of Fresno. His feet ached and his flannel shirt was soiled with manure, but he’s happy that his job allows him to spend all day outdoors – a passion born in his hometown in Mexico’s Puebla state, where he harvested corn and aniseed.
He smiled softly from under his white mustache as he spoke about Mr. Chavez’s legacy, which inspired him to join several stages of the pilgrimage last summer.
“I marched for many reasons,” he said in Spanish. “So that we don’t get bullied and mistreated like we do in the fields now, we get benefits and better treatment.”