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By Al Rojas

Many times in our lives we come to some point in which our values and convictions are challenged and tested and in so doing we hope that we have learned from our mistakes and from our experiences in the decision's we make, but more importantly, the question that we ultimately need to ask of ourselves, is “Do we recognize our faults and accept our ultimate responsibility for those decision's which will severely affect others, especially when we have assumed that responsibility if in the end we become "Complicit  and a party in "Concert".

44 years ago I and others helped found the independent "United Farm Workers Union" (UFW) (1966) and worked closely with the then National Farm Workers Association (NFWA) founded by Cesar Chavez and the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee (AWOC AFL-CIO) and others and ultimately after several years we managed to merged the Labor organizations into one Union, for many of us this meant investing numerous years in building the union for well over 20 years with the union , we were determined to build a strong workers Union, that was led and represented by the workers and would defend a workers right to organize and now very disappointing for many of us to now see United Farm Workers (UFW) Union take a complete turnaround as to organizing workers and in being a strong presence and visible force in the fields,

Most recently, we have openly criticized the "Complicit relationship” of anti-union and anti-immigrant Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, Arturo Rodriquez, President of the United Farm Workers Union, Legislature and the Agricultural organizations, in which we consider culpable and responsible for their support of Federal and State legislative economic policies at both levels and for their continued support of the Government policies that have led to the exploitation and the forced "Expulsion" of millions of workers to this country in the last 14 years, because of their support and implementation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the cause for the forced migration and separation of millions of undocumented workers families and the UFW's support for and the sponsorship of a Federal legislation for a  "Guest worker Bracero program", where the UFW in the last few years has  signed Labor agreements with the Federal HR1"Guest worker Farm Labor Contractors", a captive workforce completly controled by the U.S. and the Mexican government and Corporate employers, in turn, neglecting in organizing workers in general..

Schwarzenegger’s vocal statements have also not helped with his anti-immigrant sentiment and antiunion positions regarding labor rights for workers, his vocal statements of racism against immigrant workers by encouraging the "Minutemen" in legitimizing their campaign of fear and hate in denying immigrant workers a right to work and State and Federal benefits and services for their families.

In addition, more importantly, our criticism of the United Farm Workers (UFW), for their failure to invest time and money in “organizing and mobilizing” the Farm Worker communities and being a visible presence in the Agricultural fields, and by doing so, the Union would become a visible presence and force in the Agricultural fields, further they would force the Agribusiness community to abide with the very laws that they, the UFW and the California State legislature and the antiunion Governor agreed to enforce in the protection of all workers, which in the end only protected Employers rather than workers, the real problem with the UFW is that they have become a weak and powerless Union, when they negotiate contracts and give away the workers benefits for a strong Union, such as Darrigo Bros, and the Sonoma Gallo Contracts for the sake of their having supported the "Growers and Republican and Democratic political support for their "Bracero Guest Worker program".

Which now brings us to the most recent tragic death's of farm worker, Maria Isabel Vasquez Jimenez, a 17 year old girl (pregnant at the time) as a “Heat-related fatality”, “Maria” became an “Occupational victim in violation of State regulations that were supported and lobbied heavily by the UFW and ultimately signed by the Republican Governor into law three (3) years ago.

In reading the News articles of the tragedy, we see the pictures of “Maria’s friend's painful grief and their support for the family's pain and anguish, I remember vividly those very same images in my mind of the many times during the UFW strikes of 1973 and the killings of Farm Workers during the strike activity, seeing the images of the UFW's “Black and White” flags in mourning for people like “Maria”, is to me a flash back to the past.

What’s very interesting is that “Schwarznegger and Rodriguez” who backed Legislative the very rules to prevent Farm  Worker deaths, both walk into the church together (one would say that was a very good gesture on part of the Governor) and "Rodriquez", president of the United farm Workers Union, who  conveniently stands alongside of the antiunion Republican Governor.

When the Governor pays his condolences at Maria’s Funeral, he makes a statement, released Wednesday afternoon, stating “Maria’s death should have been prevented”. A very profound statement when both men who were responsible for the very legislation that “Gov. Schwarzenegger” signed and approved by the United Farm Workers Union, legislation which is hampered by small fines and the lack workers death defined as on “the job violations and punishable by long prison terms “, while relying less on CAL-OSHA's  “Voluntary industry cooperation", in the protection of Workers from abusive working conditions, the fact is that the law failed to protect “Maria’s death and the question now is why was this allowed to happen and why after the fact are they doing everything they can to look at someone else other than themselves, rather than Looking at why there are no real deterrents in the law, in other words hear we are talking about a death (s) that was as the Governor stated  “Preventable” if in fact the law would have had “Strict enforcement Liabilities as to heavier fines and Criminal Prosecution and a required mandated Safety training "Employer Training Certification" procedure, which was not the case with the law that the UFW supported and the Governor ultimately signed, who in reality were the parties that approved of and signed into law and yet no one sees the “Complicity of the  partnership ”, one wonders  when the Governor appears to pay his respects and  condolences what  he would say to Maria’s Fiancé, Florentino Bautista, ”Florentino why did you not drive Maria to the hospital?" and Florentino’s reply would have been, "because you denied my having a drivers license! That's why!”and because you should have had your CALOSHA and the Division of labor law Enforcement's field Division enforcing the laws, when all along all you had was 17 inspectors to supervise and monitor the 1,400 subcontracting agencies, that you promised you  would enforce and protect us and you did nothing for Maria, Gracias de nada!!”

Note: According to a just-released report by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the death rate highest for Hispanic workers in the United States in the last decade and a half has tracked higher than for any other ethnic group. And more recently, California has experienced a significant percentage of these fatalities. In an analysis of workplace fatality statistics from 1992-2006, CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) found that 11,303 Hispanic workers died from work-related injuries during the 15-year period. MMWR says the death rate for this group of workers decreased in rate over that time, but at 5.0 per 100,000 workers, was still "consistently higher" than the rate for all U.S. workers (4.0).

In the five-year period from 2003-2006, the highest number of Hispanic fatalities in any state was in California, at 713, followed by Texas, at 687. The California rate for that period was 3.7 and most common "fatal event" was a fall to a lower level. The construction industry experienced the highest percentage of fatalities, at 27%. Foreign-born Hispanic workers comprised 71% of the California Hispanic workforce during that period. (Source CAL-OSHA)

The other question is why the UFW approved and supported a law that has no serious consequences considered as “Willful Violations” of law with criminal prosecutions, is so meaningless in the protections of workers that this tragedy points to some very serious intentional flaws in the law, or that the law's real intentions were much more in protecting the employer than the workers and not withstanding the Governors responsibility in enforcement procedures, one can almost say that both the Governor and the UFW and the Agribusiness community can and should be held responsible in Maria’s’ death, the other big question is why has the UFW not openly and publicly criticized Governor   Schwarzenegger’s lack of enforcement ?,who dose the UFW blame ?

 No sooner than after the UFW and the Governor appear at their funeral and he states that he will conduct an “Investigation”, states that he is sorry that but he’s flying to meet with the “Illegitimate President of Mexico, Felipe Calderon”, the very person responsible for the “Expulsion of Millions of Mexican workers, question is  why is he meeting with “Calderon” ?,  is very clear that they are partnering in the continuation of the Export of $19.5 billion dollars in goods to Mexico and in partnership with the UFW in the “Export of more Guest workers”(Braceros”). Calderon’s Governments response regarding “Maria’s death,was while standing alongside the California Governor , was that “even though this death could have been prevented if the employers would have enforced the applicable laws", as stated by the office of the Secretary of State for “Calderon’s” government,in other words they did  not care nos accept any  responsibility for the “Expulsion of millions Mexican workers” and the only thing they cared about was that the Mexican workers continue to send the $29.5 Billion dollars per year  in Remittances to support their families in Mexico and the equivalent in taxes to the Federal IRS and  State taxes paid to the State of California and the Governor's failure to apologize to “Maria’s grandmother in Oaxaca, Mexico,

The Mexican Government made known that they had incurred all the costs of the transfer of Maria’s remains to her home-town of “Putla” Oaxaca and not the UFW.

The UFW has erred when chosen to organize Legislators rather than workers and in so doing has invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in organizing "Politicians" rather than workers, as in the most recent example of " Fabian Nunez's introduction of more legislation that in the end dose nothing in organizing workers in building a strong Union, the UFW needs to go back to the fields and organizing workers at the grassroots, by allowing workers to take control of their Union under their leadership and fighting for Union representation and stronger union contracts with a stronger voice for the workers.

The UFW must break from the close relationship they have established with the Republican Antiunion Governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Growers and go back to the very principals in the beginning as to why we founded the United Farm Workers Union in the first place and organize workers and become a real visible presence in the Fields and not be a party to token legislation that only protects "Employers" rather than "Workers" and return to the very foundation as to why we founded the Farm workers union and that was to build a strong Union for and by the workers themselves. 

Al Rojas.
Former UFW Founder and organizerand Former State Deputy Labor Commisioner