Thursday, August 25, 2011

 13-Day, 200-Mile Pilgrimage to Sacramento Enters Second Day, With Marching Farm Workers United in Fight for Fair Treatment Now
By Edgar Sanchez
Special to the UFW 
The last time Odilia Chavez was in Sacramento, she endured the pain of a stunning setback: Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a bill that would have made it easier for farm workers like her to join unions.

That was 57 days ago. Today, Chavez, 39, of Madera, is marching back to Sacramento, along with other farm workers who want Gov. Brown to “do the right thing” by helping farm laborers.
Like Chavez, at least 20 other current or retired farm workers are marching the entire Madera-to-the-State Capitol route – a distance of 200 miles over 13 days, in “The Fair Treatment For Farm Workers Now” march.
Along the way, they are being joined by dozens of other farm workers or supporters for a day. When the marchers reach the State Capitol on Sept. 4, during Labor Day Weekend, thousands of people are expected to walk with them, carrying the red-and-black flag of the United Farm Workers.
The pilgrims want Gov. Brown to sign the bill he rejected on June 28- SB 104, which has been reintroduced in the Legislature in modified form. Besides making it easier for farm workers to join unions, the measure would allow them to enforce safety conditions on farms and to enjoy better working conditions.

The marchers also are supporting a separate bill that would allow California farm workers to receive overtime pay after eight hours.  Farm workers are currently excluded from federal overtime pay regulations.

“I’m marching all 13 days because I want to be part of the group taking our proposals to the governor,” said Chavez, who is currently between jobs.  “We farm workers have the hardest job of all.

“We work under the hot sun in places that a lot of times don’t provide shade,” she said.  “We are paid the minimum wage and we don’t get overtime.”

Chavez, who has never worked under a union contract, is feeling the heat again during the march.  After marching more than 15 miles on Tuesday, from Madera to Le Grand, southeast of Merced, her feet were already swollen when the march resumed early this morning.

But Chavez isn’t complaining.

“I’m very happy to be doing this, to be among my fellow farm workers,” she said.  “Every time a truck or car goes by and honks in support of our cause, I feel happy.”

In June, Chavez participated in half of a 12-day vigil that was held at the State Capitol while Gov. Brown deliberated whether to sign SB 104.

“I was with other farm workers outside the governor’s office the night of June 28, when we learned that he had vetoed SB 104,” Chavez said.  “For 10 minutes, I could do nothing but cry and hug other farm workers.   I felt very sad.  But then, after 10 minutes, I stopped crying.  I told myself our fight wasn’t over; it will continue until the governor signs our proposals.”

Chavez’s latest seasonal job in the fields ended recently.  She will start a new job picking grapes near Fresno after the pilgrimage.

UFW President Arturo Rodriguez is spending all 13 days on the pilgrimage.

“The governor has to do the right thing to help farm workers,” by signing the Fair Treatment for Farm Workers Act next time it reaches his desk and by supporting overtime pay for farm workers,  Rodriguez said. “The farm workers on this march want to demonstrate to the governor how important this is to them and to the Latino community.

“We’ve found a lot of support along the march,” 
Rodriguez added.  “On Tuesday, three people stopped us on a road in Madera. They were farm workers who said they couldn’t march with us because they were working. They gave us $29 in donations for food and water for the pilgrims.  We thanked them for helping us the best they could.

We have a great group of peregrinos. They are highly motivated.”

Late today the marchers will reach Merced, their second overnight stop. Tomorrow Thursday, Aug. 25th, the marchers will meet at the Gilbert Macias Park in Merced at 7 a.m. to continue the march and stop at the Our Redeemer Lutheran Church in Livingston.

Story by Edgar Sanchez is a former writer for The Sacramento Bee and The Palm Beach Post 

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