The L.A. Times' Attack on the UFW: A Disservice to its Readers and the Farm Workers

02/10/2006 02:03 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The picture of the Farm Worker Movement painted by the Los Angeles Times in its recent series of articles is false.

The main premise of since-departed Times reporter Miriam Pawel -- that the United Farm Workers is "failing to organize California farm workers" -- is directly contradicted by reporting from 22 other L.A. Times reporters between 1994 and 2005. Their numerous articles chronicle substantial UFW organizing, election, strike and boycott activities plus new union contracts and legislative victories.

Either those L.A. Times reporters are wrong or Pawel's stories are wrong. They both can't be right. (See citations for just 48 of the L.A. Times news stories on UFW organizing.)

Among other things, the previous stories by L.A. Times reporters document:

-- Thousands of workers at 32 companies voted for the UFW in secret ballot elections.

-- Dozens of key UFW union contract successes, including the largest strawberry, rose, winery and mushroom firms in California and the nation.

-- Fierce grower resistance to farm worker organizing, including farm workers killed by grower agents during UFW organizing drives. One was Rene Lopez, 19, shot to death Sept. 21, 1983, at Sikkema Dairy near Fresno.

-- The UFW's major organizing campaign last summer among Central Valley table grape workers producing pay hikes and a near win in the largest private-sector union election in the nation during 2005, at Giumarra vineyards.

-- New laws and regulations aiding farm workers the UFW won since 1999, from seat belts in farm labor vehicles and fresh protections for workers cheated by farm labor contractors to an historic binding mediation law and new pesticide protections. The UFW even convinced Republican Gov. Schwarzenegger in 2005 to issue an emergency regulation preventing further heat deaths of farm workers and all outdoor employees. State Sen. Dean Florez played crucial roles in many of these
UFW victories.

The first three days of Pawel's L.A. Times stories contain 388 column inches of text. Just 23 of them -- roughly 5 percent--contain perspective from the Farm Worker Movement. Its voice is missing. So many
inaccuracies, distortions, omissions and falsehoods happened because Pawel never asked the movement -- so it couldn't respond. For detailed responses to the falsehoods, visit

Here are some highlights of other recent UFW activities left out of the L.A. Times stories:

- AgJobs, negotiated by the UFW and the nation's agricultural industry, would let hundreds of thousands of undocumented farm workers earn the permanent right to stay in the U.S. by continuing to labor on farms. AgJobs has won broad bipartisan support in Congress.

- The Farm Worker Movement continues the work of its founder, Cesar Chavez, who believed the movement must go beyond the work place through the good work of complimentary but distinct organizations.

• The eight-station, three-state Radio Campesina network mixes extensive educational programs for 300,000 daily listeners with popular Mexican music. Radio Campesina blankets the valley from Bakersfield to north of Fresno--as well as the Salinas and Yuma valleys, the nation's highest concentrations of farm workers.

• The majority of high-quality, amenity-intensive affordable housing units the Farm Worker Movement has built, serving about 10,000 people, are in farm worker communities in California's Central Valley, Arizona and Texas. Final construction is underway for 41 homes in Fresno owned by Mixteco farm worker families. They are moving from a dilapidated mobile home park next to a toxic waste site in Malaga.

• Farm Worker Movement community organizing efforts among farm workers and other Latinos are improving the lives of thousands in the Salinas and Central valleys and in South Texas' Rio Grande Valley.

• The Cesar E. Chavez Foundation empowers tens of thousands of young people who learn and are inspired by Chavez's life and values such as nonviolence and service to others.

• More than 6,000 farm workers in five years have taken classes to learn vocational English and improve their job skills through another Farm Worker Movement non-profit group.

The stories' claims about Farm Worker Movement "family businesses" are false. They are all annually audited non-profit organizations with distinct missions and budgets, and run by professional staffs.

Less than a dozen of 400 committed Farm Worker Movement employees are Chavez family members; just four hold policy-making positions. They are paid -- and live -- modestly. Many spent decades as full-time volunteers working for next to nothing. Elected UFW president directly by farm workers, Arturo Rodriguez is the lowest paid national union president in America.

Organizing farm workers has been called the toughest job in the America labor movement. Despite the obstacles, despite the odds, and despite The Times' misplaced blame and scorn, the UFW's commitment to organizing, empowering and serving farm workers is unwavering. It can be done. ¡Si se puede!