Washington state celebrates its first Cesar Chavez Day

YAKIMA (April 2, 2018) — Hundreds showed up for a celebration at the UFCW Local 1439 union hall on Saturday to watch Gov. Jay Inslee sign a bill into law recognizing Cesar Chavez Day as an official Washington state holiday. Chavez, the legendary farm worker advocate and social justice defender, fought for justice and representation during his career as an organizer in California from the 1950s onward.

“This recognition is meaningful for the community and us in the labor movement, as it not only recognizes Cesar E. Chavez, the late president of the United Farm Workers union he co-founded with Dolores Huerta, but it reaffirms our commitment to fighting for justice, fair wages, better working conditions, dignity and respect for farm workers,” said Eric Gonzalez, Legislative and Policy Director of the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO.

“The work that Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta spent their lives on is still important today,” said Rep. Zack Hudgins (D-Tukwila), the prime sponsor of HB 1939, the legislation designating March 31 as Cesar Chavez Day in Washington. “We still need safe work places, fair pay, and good working conditions. The dignity of the people that produce the food we eat is as important now, as it ever was. Those values might even be more important now, as we must compete against a global economy while holding off bigoted attacks at home. The passage of this bill represents that work, and those values.”

Joining Inslee and Hudgins at the event were Sen. Rebecca Saldaña, who sponsored the Senate version of the bill, Sen. Sam Hunt and Rep. Javier Valdez; Yakima City Councilmembers Dulce Gutiérrez and Carmen Mendez and Yakima City Manager Cliff Moore; and the guest of honor, Paul Chavez, Cesar’s son and president of the Cesar Chavez Foundation. The audience was filled with members of the UFW, MEChA, AFT Washington, OPEIU 8, SEIU HealthCare 1199NW, SEIU 775, Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, Latino Civic Alliance, Columbia Legal Services, Northwest Justice Project, CIERTO, Commission on Hispanic Affairs, Catholic Community Services, OneAmerica, Planned Parenthood, KDNA, La Campesina, City of Yakima, City of Wapato, and supporters of farm worker justice.

“We recognize that we have more to do to extend social and economic parity to farm workers,” Gonzalez said. “That is why we must remove the overtime exclusion of farm workers and domestic workers from the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938. This is what will help workers, who sustain our state’s $10 billion rural agricultural economy but on average make about $23,000 a year. This is what will help them save to buy a home, afford opportunities for their children to seek higher education, and save for retirement. We need to right this wrong — the legacy of Jim Crow must end.”

In 2014, a high school student asked Rep. Hudgins why Washington does not have a day celebrating civil rights icon Cesar Chavez, which prompted the lawmaker to introduce the bill the following year. He has sponsored the bill every year since. While it passed the House every time, it hadn’t made it out of the Republican-controlled Senate until this session, when Democrats gained a majority in that body. It passed with bipartisan majorities in the House (73-23) and the Senate (35-14).

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