A Personal Reflection: Honoring the Legacy of Cesar Chavez

In recognition of National Farmworker Awareness Week and in honor of the birthday of the great farmworker and civil rights advocate, the late Cesar Chavez, the Association of Farmworker Opportunity Programs is reposting a New American Media commentary by Elva Yañez. Her very personal remembrance of Chavez and the everlasting impact his work on laborers everywhere is well worth the read. To the Chavez family and all those who struggle to carry on his mission of justice, AFOP says, “Happy Birthday,” and thank you for all you do for farmworkers.

Daniel Sheehan
Executive Director
Association of Farmworker Opportunity Programs

A Personal Reflection: Honoring the Legacy of Cesar Chavez

New America Media, Commentary
Elva Yañez
March 25, 2016


I was fortunate to be a child of the civil rights era. I learned from and was shaped by the world around me. When I was five years old, my sisters, mother and I walked to the Golden Gate Theater on Whittier Blvd in East Los Angeles for a Saturday matinee. The theater was far but our steps were light; I was especially excited because the Golden Gate was a beautiful and elaborate movie palace from the 1920’s with a second floor balcony. Just as we reached the theater, my mother stopped near the ticket booth and told us we had to go home. There was a picket line of striking workers in front of the theater that she refused to cross. My disappointment was overwhelming as we climbed on the bus to head home but I learned a deep and long-lasting lesson from that experience—always honor a picket line.

I think about that incident and its lessons a lot as we approach the holiday honoring the legacy of Cesar Chavez.

My mother Angelina was the first of her family born in the U.S. My family, like many, had come to Los Angeles during the tumultuous Mexican revolution. She became a garment worker as a teenager during the Great Depression and witnessed a good deal of labor unrest. Later on, she became a great admirer of Cesar Chavez. Angelina respected him for his humility, his courage in acting on his moral convictions, and for embodying the values of justice, equality, and fairness. Co-founder of the United Farm Workers (UFW) union with Dolores Huerta, Cesar organized Mexican and Filipino farmworkers who labored under brutal conditions. Their struggles for fair contracts with growers won workplace protections, higher wages, and collective bargaining rights in a sector that much of organized labor thought was unwinnable. Chavez’ leadership helped transform the social justice landscape in the U.S. and around the world.

Cesar insisted that social justice transcended individual campaigns about labor law and fights over union contracts. He believed in the importance of empowering workers to fight for and claim their rights. The movement’s triumphs – led by Chavez and so many that followed in his footsteps – conveyed a powerful message that David could actually defeat Goliath. Workers with virtually no support and even less political power could defeat some of the nation’s most powerful industries by building strong grassroots movements, inspiring leadership among those most impacted by injustice, and waging strategic campaigns.

Like many children, I was heavily influenced by my mother, and her love and appreciation for Cesar became deeply ingrained in me. One of my first volunteer experiences was for the UFW union as a high school student. After school I rode my bike to the union’s headquarters, also on Whittier Blvd. in East L.A., where I typed, filed, and listened to the stories of Joe Serda, who traveled the country as an organizer for the grape boycott. In college, I continued to volunteer for UFW fundraising events and leafleted in front of stores that sold boycotted products.

These experiences shaped my career working with groups waging social justice campaigns, including community-driven policy initiatives. To this day, I still regularly consult a pocket-sized booklet called “Axioms for Organizers,” which was compiled by Cesar’s mentor, Fred Ross, Sr. “Axioms” is a collection of organizing wisdom— distilled to its essence— that builds upon generations of experience. It has served as both a reference point and a touchstone for my work on tobacco and alcohol policy, land use, urban park issues, and health equity. Many organizations, such as Prevention Institute, embody Chavez’s work for social change. By looking at the root causes across systems to address injustices, and working to change local conditions, we know that communities can become empowered to ensure safe and healthy lives for their children and families.

The story of Cesar’s influence on my life is not a unique one. His legacy as one of the greatest “activist incubators” of our times is well deserved, as he helped transform so many of the young activists that worked with and for him into veteran organizers and longtime strategic visionaries fighting for equality and justice. As a woman, Dolores Huerta has also been a source of inspiration for me; now in her mid-80s she is still fighting racism, discrimination, and other injustices. Early in her career, she left teaching, unable to tolerate seeing the hungry children of migrant workers— and dedicated her life to advocating for the rights of women, immigrants, and people of color.

The lessons from Cesar’s life and the farm worker movement translated for me into a career focused on improving the community conditions that influence health and wellbeing. As Director of Health Equity at Prevention Institute, I am able to act upon shared values of health equity and social justice while upholding a commitment to authentic engagement, rigorous policy development, and public health approaches.

This March 31st, we will proudly celebrate the legacy of Cesar on the holiday named for him, as I do every year. While we honor and celebrate his accomplishments and influence, we will also reflect on the work that remains. Ongoing exposure to racism, discrimination, and lack of opportunity continue to exert a toll on the quality of life of millions of Americans. The fight for social justice and equity rages on: we see it in the streets of Baltimore, Ferguson, and Flint; among California farm workers still exposed to pesticides and working in dangerous conditions; and in present day justice movements— including Black Lives Matter, Latino “Dreamers”, Muslim immigrants, and LGBT activists— that demand equal treatment and opportunity under the law.

Honoring Cesar’s legacy links us to both historic and contemporary struggles for justice and democracy, and emphasizes the fundamental importance of grassroots organizing in waging effective movements for change. Cesar Chavez Day reminds us of the importance of having humility, respect, and courage as we work to eliminate inequities and expand fairness and justice in our communities. ¡Si se puede!

Elva Yañez is Director of Prevention Institute.

Lifting Others Out of Poverty

By: Kathleen Nelson, Director of Workforce Development
March 30, 2016

AFOP WorkforceMany farmworkers cherish the role they play in bringing fresh food to tables in homes across the country. It’s not surprising that many of the farmworkers who qualify for National Farmworker Jobs Programs (NFJP) across the country, choose to pursue careers in the agricultural sector. Through NFJP training programs across the country, farmworkers can gain the skills they need to work year-round in the industry that they love.  AFOP member and NFJP Grantee MET, Inc. has helped many farmworkers take the next step in their agricultural careers with their Farm Labor Upgrade Program. People like Carmen Julia De La Garza, were able to receive skills training including computer application, CPR/First Aid, and OSHA Safety Training, as well as specialized agricultural skills training in farm contracting and tractor & forklift operation (including a Forklift License), which made her a valuable asset to her employer, who ultimately hired her full-time as their first female forklift operator.




A Small Act of Kindness Can Save A Farmworker’s Life

By: Melanie Forti, Director of Health & Safety Programs

Our lives are so busy now days that we forget to sit back, think, and be grateful for those hard working hands that harvest our food. Unfortunately, agricultural workers are one of the most forgotten and unacknowledged workers in the United States.  Every day over 2.5 million farmworkers harvests our nation food, but in order to do so they face many challenges – from health-related issues, poor living conditions,  and sexual abuse to wage theft, and limited access to health & human services.

Farmworkers put their health at risk each day by being exposed to toxic chemicals and working in oppressive weather conditions. Due to the vigorous physical labor, pesticide exposure, and dangerous equipment, agricultural workers rank among the three most hazardous jobs in the U.S. In addition, farmworkers are at great risk of respiratory and dermatological illnesses, dehydration, heat-related illnesses, accidents with dire physical impact, as well as chronic muscular-skeletal pain.

Thanks to their hard work, we are able to have food on our tables, when sometimes they cannot afford to. During the National Farmworker Awareness Week, we can all do a small act of kindness by donating a long-sleeve shirt that will help agricultural workers mitigate exposure to pesticides and reduce the risk of suffering from a heat-related illness.

This year, AFOP’s Health & Safety Programs is holding a National Long-Sleeve Shirt Drive with over fifty drop-off locations nationwide from March 26 – April 2nd. To learn more about this event and where to drop your spare shirt please visit: http://afop.org/health-safety/nfaw/ or contact AFOP’s Health & Safety Programs Director, Melanie Forti at forti@afop.org.

The donated long-sleeve shirts will be distributed among the farmworker community during pesticide safety trainings, heat stress prevention trainings, health fairs, clinics, and in non-profit organizations.

Once National Farmworker Awareness Week has ended, let’s not forget those that harvest our nation’s food. Happy #NFAW2016 #GotFoodThankAFarmworker

17th Annual National Farmworker Awareness Week

Washington, DC Each year, it is estimated that over 1 billion pounds of pesticides are applied to farms, forests, lawns, parks and golf courses in the United States.

With eighty percent of all U.S. pesticide use being in agriculture, farmworkers who pick the fruits and vegetables that end up on tables across America are exposed more than anyone else to the health hazards of pesticides. Annually, the Environmental Protection Agency estimates that 10,000–20,000 doctor diagnosed pesticide poisonings occur among the approximate 2 million U.S. agricultural workers. Pesticide applicators, farmers, farm workers, and communities near farms are often most at risk.

“Over 90% of all pesticide exposures are through the skin and may result in increased rates of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, various cancers and birth defects, among others” says Melanie Forti, Director, Health & Safety Programs at the Association of Farmworker Opportunity Programs (AFOP).  Forti continues, “as simple as it sounds, a long sleeve shirt can help mitigate a farm worker’s skin from pesticide exposure, and help prevent heat-related illnesses.”

During National Farmworker Awareness Week, AFOP’s Health & Safety Programs is sponsoring its Third Annual National Long Sleeve Shirt Drive, March 26–April 2. The goal is to collect over 2,000 long sleeve shirts nationwide. (During the 2015 National Farmworker Awareness Week, 7,505 new and gently used shirts were donated.)  This year, nineteen states, including Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C. are participating in this campaign.

To help protect farmworker health, long sleeve shirts will be distributed to workers at pesticide safety and heat stress prevention trainings conducted by AFOP’s Health & Safety trainers throughout the coming year.

There is always a need and plenty of ways to get involved. To find out more about farm workers and some of the health issues they face while working in the fields, or to find a long sleeve donation location, please visit www.afop.org.

“Individuals come together to help one another and by doing so realize they have more commonalities than differences creating stronger ties and healthier communities; ultimately equality is what we’re promoting” states Vashti Kelly, Program Manager, Health & Safety Programs at AFOP.

The Association of Farmworker Opportunity Programs is a non-profit, national federation of 52 non-profit and public agencies that provide training and employment services to migrant and seasonal farm workers. Our mission is to improve the quality of life for all farmworkers and their families through advocacy, education, and training. For additional comment or an interview, please contact Melanie Forti, Director of Health & Safety Programs at 202.828-6006 ext. 107 or forti@afop.org .

Contact:  Amber James
Tel. 202.384.1767
Email: james@afop.org

From the Desk of the Executive Director

Although the year has hardly begun, the script seems already written for a difficult year for the budget and subsequent appropriations bills.  If so, we can likely expect lawmakers to resort this fall to some form of a continuing resolution (CR) and/or a post-election omnibus spending package to complete the final business of the 114th Congress.

Washington calls each presidential election year the “silly season” for good reason.  It is a time when serious legislating slows as elected officials seek to make political statements at the expense of compromise in an attempt to help their own election chances and/or that of their political party’s nominee for president.

At the outset of the silly season, things looked to be rather less silly and more much substantive.  New House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) and his budget and appropriations leaders all said they would return House processes to “regular order,” in which legislation moves from subcommittee to full committee and to the House floor for open consideration of amendments and passage.  New Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) echoed that sentiment.  With that commitment in hand, the House and Senate Budget Committees began the process by drafting Congress’s spending blue print for the upcoming fiscal year 2017, set to begin October 1, 2016.

This optimism was understandable.  After all, Congress and the White House late last year agreed to a plan setting higher defense and non-defense spending limits for this year and next, partially offset by certain program cuts.

Trouble for leadership started in January, however, when House conservatives, the so-called “Freedom Caucus,” said they want an extra $30 billion in cuts to non-defense funding.  As a result of that call for cuts, budgeteers have slowed their work to a crawl as leadership decides how to overcome this divide.

Compounding matters is the fact that the Freedom Caucus is also demanding inclusion in the 12 yearly appropriations bills of several legislative riders that Democrats successfully turned back late last year as a part of the spending agreement.  These changes are outside the legislative jurisdiction of the House Appropriations Committee, meaning the authorizing committees with jurisdiction will insist that the bills clear their committees, which will delay action.  For their part, House Democrats will be unified in their opposition to these riders, and may attract sufficient Republican support to block the Freedom Caucus.

Thus, it seems likely that final resolution of the fiscal year 17 appropriations bills will occur during a lame duck session following the federal election in November.  Congress will likely adopt a CR sometime in September to continue funding into the new fiscal year until lawmakers can move an omnibus spending bill to fully fund the federal government.

Despite the gloomy outlook for regular order this year, AFOP has written to appropriations leaders in both the House and Senate in support of workforce development, explaining the need for and success of the National Farmworkers Jobs Program.

In addition, AFOP, as a member of the Coalition to Invest in America’s Workforce (CIAW) – a coalition of diverse national organizations dedicated to helping people of all ages and conditions improve their skills, gain employment, and improve the competitiveness of U.S. businesses in today’s rapidly restructuring global economy – wrote last week to the Appropriations Committees urging them to provide the highest possible allocation for the fiscal year 2017 Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies (Labor-HHS) appropriations bill.

In the letter, CIAW argues that, despite recent, modest funding increases, America’s education and workforce programs are still funded below their pre-recession levels.  This has hurt our nation’s workers and businesses.  Restoration of funding is necessary to sustain our economic competitiveness. Without meaningful investments in enhancing the skills of our workforce, skill gaps will stifle job growth and make a full economic recovery impossible.

According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the Labor-HHS Appropriations Subcommittee received an increase of 3.6 percent for fiscal year 2016 relative to its fiscal year 2015 funding level.  Other subcommittees received an average increase of 6.9 percent.  Accordingly, CIAW urged appropriators to ensure that the fiscal year 2017 allocation for Labor-HHS provides sufficient resources to achieve the following:

  • Fund WIOA Title I employment and training programs at statutorily authorized levels so states, local areas and other partners in the public workforce system can fully realize the bipartisan vision outlined in the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (Opportunity Act).
  • Fund adult education and literacy programs under Title II of the Opportunity Act at least at authorized levels to ensure that the 36 million Americans with low basic skills are able to strengthen their educational levels to take advantage of emerging economic opportunities.
  • Fund sufficiently Wagner/Peyser Employment Services (ES) activities under Title III of the Opportunity Act to give states the resources they need to provide intensive, in-person, reemployment services.
  • Fully fund the Vocational Rehabilitation program and other employment services authorized under the Opportunity Act’s Title IV for adults and students with disabilities.
  • Fund Opportunity Act youth programs to train the next generation of workers so they can become productive citizens, achieve their career goals, and contribute to their local communities.
  • Fund job training and employment services for older workers and veterans authorized through the Older Americans Act and other laws at no less than level funding.
  • Restore funding for the Perkins basic state grant program to pre-sequester levels to support our nation’s high schools, technical centers and community colleges in developing the highly skilled workforce demanded by employers.

You can be certain that AFOP is closely watching all appropriations developments in Washington, D.C. with the goal of seeing lawmakers approve robust funding for NFJP as well as make significant investments in America’s workers’ skills and education, so critical to businesses, workers, and the economy.

Come On! Migrant Worker Justice in the 21st Century

Seventeen-year-old Ana Flores has worked in the tobacco fields in North Carolina with her single mother for the past five years. Loopholes in US child labor laws and regulations have allowed Ana and other juvenile workers to endure brutal working hours and conditions cutting and spearing tobacco under the charge of unsympathetic farm labor contractors. Having long experienced symptoms consistent with heat exhaustion, pesticide poisoning, or “green tobacco sickness”, Ana has vowed that her younger brother and sister would never suffer such protracted feelings of hunger, exhaustion and illness as she has in those “suffocating” fields.

Last week, AFOP Executive Director Daniel Sheehan had the pleasure of meeting Ana at the Human Rights Watch and Child Labor Coalition’s special briefing “Too Young and Too Dangerous: The Hazards of Harvesting Tobacco and Other Crops for Farmworker Children” in honor of International Human Rights Day. When questioned how she would address opposition to reforms of US labor laws, Ana exclaimed: “It’s the 21st century! Come on!! Why are these tobacco companies being allowed to exploit us? Wasn’t child labor in factories banned in the 19th century?”


US Representative Lucille Roybal-Allard (CA) speaks on her CARE Act as U.S. Representative David Cicilline (RI), Ana Flores, and Human Rights Watch’s Margaret Wurth look on.

U.S. Representative Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA), author of the Children’s Act for Responsible Employment (CARE Act of 2015), Virginia State Delegate Alfonso Lopez, and U.S. Representative David Cicilline (D-RI), lead sponsor of the Children Don’t Belong on Tobacco Farms Act (H.R. 1848), echoed these sentiments during the briefing as each narrated their struggles to pass legislation that would lead to stronger labor protections and ban child work on tobacco farms.

Fortunately, after more than a decade of advocacy, proponents of legislation reform won a major victory this September with the passing of the EPA’s Agricultural Worker Protection Standard, which bans children under the age of 18 from handling pesticides and limits individuals from re-entering fields where pesticides have been recently sprayed.

As AFOP commemorates this 67th anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, we also seize this moment to reiterate the urgency to eliminate all unjust labor standards in the United States and around the world that deprive children of their dignity, their childhood, their potential, and their physical and mental health. Again, we say “Come On!” Children are not small adults. They have a right to a childhood. These changes are long overdue.

AFOP Weighs in as Congress Works on Omnibus Appropriations Package

Now that the budget deal dontpayfull.com finalized late last month has given them revised spending totals for fiscal year 2016, the House and Senate Appropriations Committees are quietly working towards finalizing an omnibus appropriations bill for fiscal year 2016. To facilitate its adoption, the Senate last week approved the House-passed Military Construction/VA appropriations bill (MilCon/VA)(H. R. 2029) to serve as the legislative vehicle for a House-Senate conference on all twelve of the yearly appropriations bills, to be reported in one omnibus package and signed into law by December 11.

MilCon/VA is the first fiscal year 2016 appropriations bill that the Senate has been able to take to the floor. Prior to its passage, Democrats had successfully filibustered several earlier attempts to bring up appropriations bills because they were backing the White House’s strategy to force Republicans to negotiate on the overall spending caps under which they originally wrote this year’s spending bills. This strategy was successful, and the budget deal recently signed into law adds a total of $50 billion to those discretionary spending caps for fiscal year 2016: $25 billion each in the defense and non-defense categories.

The Appropriations chairmen have tentatively decided on how to divide up that $50 billion among subcommittees and have told their subcommittee chairmen to work towards those targets, although the final numbers will not be nailed down until later and will not be made public until the last minute. Some bills, like the Labor-HHS-Education bill that funds the National Farmworker Jobs Program (NFJP), were originally given allocations so low that many seriously doubted the legislation could ever go to the floor at those amounts. Indeed, some experts are now saying that, because of those initial low spending levels, those bills are likely to get a greater share of the extra money.

To that end, the Coalition to Invest in America’s Workforce (CIAW), a group of collegial workforce system and anti-poverty organizations to which AFOP belongs, has written in recent days to Appropriations leaders in Congress to press for adequate funding. The November 13 CIAW calls for the following:

As you work to finalize allocations to annual appropriations bills under the revised budget caps, we urge you to ensure that the Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies appropriations bill includes sufficient funding to support key workforce and education programs at FY 2016 authorized levels. Severe cuts to vital education and workforce programs over the past few years have hurt our nation’s workers and businesses and restoration of funding is necessary to sustain our economic competitiveness. Without meaningful investments in a skilled workforce, skill gaps will stifle job growth and slow our nation’s economic recovery.

Additionally, AFOP itself has directly contacted the chairmen and ranking minority members of the Senate Appropriations Committee and Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations Subcommittee to urge continued federal support for the National Farmworker Jobs Program, specifically:

To sustain this wise and safe investment in the needs of our nation’s businesses and workforce, it is essential that Congress preserve NFJP funding at fiscal year 2015 levels, as provided in the House Labor-Health and Human Services-Education spending bill. Doing so will allow agencies to continue using their special expertise to serve effectively and efficiently this exceptionally vulnerable farmworker population. Their success in this work is integral to the nation’s food chain, its industry, and, subsequently, its pursuit of job creation and economic stability.

Both the House and Senate Appropriations Committees have approved their versions of all twelve FY 2016 appropriations bills, but the House has only passed six: Commerce-Justice-Science, Defense, Energy and Water Development, Legislative Branch, Military Construction/VA, and Transportation-HUD. As for the other six bills, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) recently announced that the subcommittee chairmen in charge of each of those six bills would be holding closed-door listening sessions with all House members who wish to attend so that the chairmen can learn of planned amendments and the sentiment of rank-and-file lawmakers. The idea is to let the subcommittee chairmen know which provisions are most important to insist on (and which Senate provisions should be fought the hardest) in the upcoming House-Senate talks on those bills.

Meanwhile, the current continuing resolution (CR) expires December 11, which is the current deadline for action. A short-term CR or two may be necessary to finish up fiscal year 2016 appropriations, so we may not see things finalized here in Washington, D.C. until just lawmakers leave town for the holiday recess.

Hispanic Labor Force Outpaces All Others in Growth

A recent Monthly Labor Review article reports that the Hispanic labor force in the United States more than doubled from 1990 to 2014, dwarfing the growth of the next fastest growing group, women. The 137 percent increase in Hispanic workers, from 10.7 million to 25.4 million workers between 1990 and 2014, surpasses the 29.0 percent growth of women and the 21.4 percent of men in the labor force, to say nothing of the 13 percent increase in the number of non-Hispanic civilian workers. Indeed, the representation of Hispanics among all civilian workers has nearly doubled, from 8.5 percent to 16 percent of the workforce, states a separate article by Marie Mora, professor of economics at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley.

“The growth rate of the number of Hispanic civilian women in the labor force was particularly acute (157 percent) compared with their male counterparts (124 percent) in the past quarter century,” states Mora. “The population growth rates of female and male civilian non-Hispanic workers rose by 18 percent and 9 percent, respectively, during this time.”

As a result, the share of Hispanic women among female workers doubled from 7.3 percent to 14.7 percent) and that of Hispanic men among male workers, from 9.5 percent to 17.7 percent, nearly doubled. Mora notes that the growth pattern was already observable almost 30 years ago, when a pattern from the 1980s was then observed. At that time, Hispanic workers had grown 44 percent to 7.7 million between 1980 and 1987, representing a fifth of the workforce growth in that period.

“One additional shift in just the past decade worth highlighting is that U.S.-born Hispanics have been driving population growth more than immigrants,” writes Mora, noting that by 2050, Hispanics will represent nearly 30 percent of the U.S. population. “If Hispanic women continue to disproportionately enter the workforce, gender-related differences in labor market outcomes (including earnings, self-employment, labor force participation, and occupations) as well as in family/societal factors (such as fertility rates, maternity/parental leave, and access to childcare, healthcare, and schools) will become increasingly important.”

AFOP Member Organizations Mark “Golden” Milestones

United Migrant Opportunity Services (UMOS)
AFOP was happy to be in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in July as United Migrant Opportunity Services (UMOS) marked its 50th anniversary. With the theme “Celebrating the Past and Present” the event included a gala dinner and annual corporation luncheon during which UMOS recognized staff and community partners. Said Lupe Martinez, UMOS President and Chief Executive Officer, “We are also proud of our many friends and supporters, corporate and community partners, past and present board and staff, clients served, as well as elected officials and sister agencies and organizations with similar missions. All are considered part of the UMOS family.”

White House Congrats Letter


HELP-New Mexico
Help-NMHELP-New Mexico also celebrated its 50th milestone with its 50th Anniversary Golden Gala & Golf Tournament last month in Albuquerque. HELP-New Mexico was created and incorporated as Home Education Livelihood Program, Inc. in 1965 by the interdenominational New Mexico Council of Churches and its successor, the New Mexico Conference of Churches and Church Women United. The founders included pastors, ranchers, farmworkers, housewives, businessmen, and government workers. The HELP-New Mexico organization is governed by a board of directors representing sectors including public, business, low income, Native American, parents, and other community members.