Speech at the National Press Club, (11 May 1973) Washington D.C.

Speech Text

[1] Chávez: Thank you everyone. Thank you very much Mr. Larrabee. I want to acknowledge some of the– my friends in the head table, brother Gilbert and Esther Padilla, who’ve been with us for a long time. My very close friend and someone who has taught me an awful lot about the labor movement, Bill Kircher the director of the Department of Organization for the AFL-CIO. Another person who has been very close to us, is a great friend of the movement, Monsignor Higgens. And we have a very special friend, with great and fond memories of her husband’s help for us, Ethel Kennedy. We’re happy that you’re here.

[2] At the executive council, we had many friends there, but we had two outstanding friends there Wednesday, Brother Joseph Keenan of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and Brother– wait, where’s Brother Keenan? Oh right here, yeah. And Brother Jerry Worth of the State County Municipal Employees Union. I also want to acknowledge the presence of Bishop Roach, the new general secretary of the National Council of Catholic Bishops. I understand he is in the audience. And then– and then to my fellow AFL-CIO trade unionists, the members of the Newspaper Guild, no longer the American’s Paper Guild, as I understand it.

[3] As you came in the door, you were given a book– a book entitled Little César. I like to warn you that Ralph de Toledano has his facts mixed because, you see, my birthday is incorrect in that book. And he must’ve had me confused with the real Little– Little César of that book.

[4] Friends, on April fourteenth of 1970 after five years of struggle, a boycott that many will remember as one of the greatest boycotts in the history of the labor movement in this country, after countless acts of heroism and dedication and sacrifice, we were able to get the table grape industry in California and Arizona to recognize our union, to sign contracts with us. And those contracts were for three years. And exactly three years after that date, on April fourteenth of 1973, on an unprecedented, vicious attack by the Teamsters Union, an irresponsible action that is going to be their eternal shame, they came in and made book with the employers in Coachella and signed up those– those– those growers whose workers we represent. Why the Teamsters came in, we don’t know. Why the growers invited the Teamsters to come in and choose to take that adventure is something we can’t understand.

[5] In 1969, at the height of the strike and the boycott, the Coachella Valley growers’ average FOB, in Coachella, three dollars and twenty-five cents for a box of Thompson seedless grapes. For the three harvest seasons under contract, ’70, ’71, and ’72, those same growers for the same grape averaged eight dollars and twenty-five cents.

[6] You see, the growers made a lot of money on grapes because of our union and the help of many people throughout the country because who had ever heard of a grape before the grape boycott? Well, we can only guess– we can only guess why the Teamsters came in. They say that they have the workers, that they represent the workers, that they have petitions signed. When we challenge the Teamsters and the employers and growers to elections, then all of the sudden they’re not too sure about whether they represent the workers or not because in the last almost three weeks we’ve not been able to get them to sit down and say, “Yes, we agree to elections.” It certainly isn’t because they are going to give the workers better contracts, because of all the years of struggle that we had with those table grape growers, the central issue was whether they were going to keep the old custom and tradition of having the labor contractors deal with those workers. Or whether it was going to be a new day and we were going to do away with the patron system and have those workers be hired through hiring halls with rules and regulations as to who gets hired and who gets promoted and so forth. And so, I’m sure that isn’t because the Teamsters are going to give them better representation. And sadly, it cannot be because the Teamsters are so concerned for the farmworkers. Farmworkers were there a good forty years and the Teamsters were there a good forty years and nothing happened. They didn’t show any interest in organizing them.

[7] It seems to me that the best guess we have is that this is a three-way deal. That the growers with the American Farm Bureau Federation, the Teamsters, and the Nixon administration got together to put our union out of business. A very disgusting and– and shameful act. We’re arguing with the growers over the whole question of a hiring hall. And we said, “It isn’t the hiring hall. The reason we want the hiring hall is because there’s a– an evil that we have got to do away with.” The whole question of a labor contractor has to be dealt with by any union if you ever hope to have a union that’s worth anything, if you ever hope to have the exploitation and the– the way that those labor contractors deal with our people. And so, the growers do not want the– the hiring hall. And they tell us that this was a strike issue. The Teamsters came in and bragged and boasted that they did not want hiring halls. And so, the labor contractors are right back in there in those fields. The labor contractor that– that’s despised and feared by the worker is now taking care of him.

[8] The labor contractor exists because the employer, the grower, does not want to handle, does not want to deal with the problems of the workers. It’s very easy and very simple for the grower to tell a labor contractor, “Here is so much money per worker. Here is so much money per every box that they pick. You take care of the workers, I don’t want to deal with those problems.” And then the labor contractor gets a tremendous power to hire and fire with no rules or regulations, with no one regulating him. And then does a hiring at will, and the firing at will. It’s beyond me to see– how do the Teamsters hope to administer the contracts? How are the workers going to file grievances, when they get fired? When a worker refuses to kickback money? When a worker speaks against a labor contractor? Or maybe he is not very nice to him in his response? The Teamsters claim to have a health and welfare program. I’d like to see them try to collect money from the labor contractors. The federal government can’t control the– can’t even collect the Social Security contributions. I can’t see how they hope to collect that money for that contribution.

[9] You see, already the ten-minute break that those workers got in the morning, mid-morning, and mid-afternoon is gone. The potable water that we fought so hard with individual cups, it’s gone. The– the tremendous fight that we had to have separate restroom facilities for men and women, it’s gone. Child labor, we fought so hard, it’s back in.

[10] You see, we know that the growers were misled. They were told that the boycott was not going to work. And possibly they were– they were told that the administration would take care of our– of our boycott and would do away with it, as they tried to last year. And I’m sure that they were told that– that they were also told that the workers would not fight for their union.

[11] And when they really, when they really misjudged is when they were told– the Teamsters told the growers, “The AFL-CIO and George Meany will not support the farmworkers.” We knew better. And they’re very surprised in Coachella now, those growers. The reports that I got back this morning is that when they heard the news, they said, “Oh no.”

[12] You see, our experience with the federation, with AFL-CIO has been a good experience. We’ve been able to get through to them when we needed help. George Meany’s experience in organizing farmworkers back in 1937 in the same spot where we’re organizing today gives him a very complete understanding of what we’re involved with. The support that they gave us in money and manpower, pledging four cents tax on every member throughout the federation is something– something very, very unique. And something I’m sure that those who know labor history and know the movement will have to agree with us that this is strong support.

[13] For the record, we want to say that since we became a part of the federation, we’ve experienced respect. You see, George Meany, Bill Kircher, the other members of the council understand what we’re trying to do and they said way back in 1966 that the farmworkers had a right to have a union, unlike the Teamsters. I remember President Meany saying, “These workers have a right to have a union” back in 1971 when we were given the charters as a national union. And you can trace back with what Eina Mohn and the Western Conference of Teamsters said a couple of weeks ago in an interview with the Los Angeles Times. He said, “We’re not sure that we’re going to have– that the farmworkers are going to be having meetings for the next two or three years.” These Mexicans don’t know—I’m not quoting him, but something to the effect—that these Mexicans don’t know how to– well they can’t run their union meetings. It will be a while before we can do that and he said, “Maybe by then the machines will come in,” and he said, “All these minority people, including the Chicanos, will probably go somewhere else. And those machines will be driven and operated by the white workers and then we can have meetings and have a– have a union.” It’s on the record.

[14] I was told that I had twenty minutes, and so I’m trying to restrict myself to twenty minutes. You know, we are confident in the future. We’re not afraid and we didn’t panic. Because you see we’ve been through this, our entire life has been one of struggle. In November– in the general elections in November last year in California, an attempt made to destroy our union by giving us a carrot and stick treatment, by giving us a piece of legislation that– that had so called free elections and then clobbering us on the other side by taking away our right to boycott and our right to strike at harvest time. And we went out to the people in California, and the other side committed perjury, falsified records, five of those men are in– in prison today, and spent reportedly over a million dollars by the American Farm Bureau Federation and we beat them at the polls almost sixty to forty percent. And we thought that this is a great victory, now we’ve gone the whole route with the workers all over the country, with the boycott. Now we’re having an election over a piece of legislation that’s going to determine how the people in California feel about us. That didn’t deter the opposition, they’ve got the same piece of legislation introduced in California right this minute. The Farm Bureau Federation in the last two years has gone to something like thirty-seven states and introduced legislation and we beat them in every single state except Kansas, Idaho, and Arizona. And in Arizona we told the Governor, “If you sign that piece of legislation without talking to us, without being– being able– the workers being able to be at these hearings,” they had secret meetings that we couldn’t testify, we told him we’d recall him, and we did. We needed 125,000 signatures–105,000 signatures. We went out and in the course of eight months collected 160,000 signatures and the recall is on, probably the first time in the history of the country.

[15] And so we’re confident of the future. Because you see, we have nowhere else to go. If we don’t fight for the union, what is there left for us to do? We don’t have to worry about investments. We don’t have to worry about pensions. We don’t have to worry about our home, or our car, or our airplane. Nothing but one thing, we’ve got only one thing, it’s the workers. And we are as dedicated as they are. And let me tell you, the Teamsters inherit a lot of headaches. Nonviolently, we’re going to move the consciousness and the hearts of the American people until they, with their help, we throw them out of the fields. Until we get those growers to understand that they’re not only fighting a union, they’re fighting an idea. Then understanding when they take the worker on, they’re taking the worker, they’re fighting the wife, the son, the grandfather, the grandmother, the first, second, and third cousins. Then understanding when they take our union on they have to– they’re going to have to fight a lot of people. Especially, in the kind of disgraceful, union busting activity that the Teamsters got themselves involved in this one.

[16] When we came into the labor picture in 1962, our people were getting eighty cents an hour. And through a lot of struggle and sacrifice, the minimum wage in the new contract that we just got is two-forty. And people working in lettuce are getting more and people working in the wine-grapes are getting more. We have now– people and workers that have no idea what healthcare was, got a small health and welfare program– have built since we won, in three years we’ve built five clinics. We’re now building a retirement center for workers. Let me tell you, all this without a cent from the– from the Nixon administration. Not that they’re offering it, if they did we wouldn’t take it.

[17] So friends, if it means that we have to fight again to establish an honest and a democratic union, and it means that the workers have the right to have their union, we accept– we accept the challenge. If it means that we have to fight to get what we– what’s ours, we accept– we accept the challenge. We’re not going to sit back, we’re not going to relax, and certainly we’re not going to die. We’re going to fight however long it takes because we have to understand that the other side has money and we have time.

[18] Friends, you see, the whole idea of a union has to be understood very well otherwise we will make the same mistakes that the growers are making and the Teamsters are making. It’s a union. But it’s a kind of union that it carries with it tremendous dedication. The kind of unions been able to arouse in the workers an awful lot of loyalties and willingness to sacrifice. You see, the workers don’t know any other union. And whomever deals with them, if the Teamsters keep the contracts, they’re going to have many headaches with them because they were– they were used to we– we structured a union with their help in a very special way. That every crew and every ranch had their own elections and their own, their own democratic group. Every worker can participate. The biggest criticisms that the– that the employers have against us, when you get them down to talking, besides all of the other stuff that they– all of the horror stories that they say about us, almost invariably they say, “Yeah the big problem with that union is that they’re too damn democratic.” And we don’t– we make no apologies for that.

[19] Friends, we’re going to win our fight. The workers are going to have their own union. The farmworkers deserve their own union. And we’re saying those of you who are here and agree with us, please don’t eat lettuce. Don’t eat grapes. Thank you very much.

[20] Moderator: … good many questions for you. First one, please be more specific on how the Nixon administration was or is involved in trying to put your union out of business.

[21] Chávez: It was the Nixon administration who first, as we understand, got Frank Fitzsimmons and the American Farm Bureau Federation together. It was the Nixon administration who played a part in having Fitzsimmons be invited to the Farm Bureau convention in Los Angeles last December. The Nixon administration has refused to investigate and to make public the charges that we’ve made that the lettuce growers pay money to the Teamsters to combat our union and money was given by the– by the growers to the Teamsters to hire goons to beat up our people. And we know that the information was gathered by the FBI but we have not been able to get that department, we have not been able to get the U.S. attorney in San Francisco, we have not been able to get the federal grand jury who investigated that out of San Francisco to give us any responses. All of– the most we’ve gotten is that, “Yes, there was an investi– an investigation.”

[22] Moderator: The last issue of business we reported that you did not want an election, is this true or is it a case of faulty reporting? If true, why?

[23] Chávez: No, it’s not true. It’s a case of faulty reporting at the– at the very minimum. We do want the elections. We asked the– the growers and the Teamsters to have elections. And we tell– we– we will bind ourselves to abide by those elections and if we lose, we leave. Call off the boycott and the strike, you have the workers. If we win, we want the Teamsters out, we want the workers to negotiate in good faith. But while we’re on the subject of elections let me just give a little background. We’ve been accused by the opposition that we don’t want elections, and that’s not true. We’ve had elections. We’ve had three elections with the Teamsters in 1966. And we’ve beat them over– over two to one at the Sierra Vista Ranch in Delano, at the Borrego Springs Ranch in– in Northern San Diego County, and at the large Irvine Ranch– <inaudible> Irvine Ranch in Irvine, California. And we’ve had other elections. What we don’t want is the election with a carrot– the carrot and stick trick on us. We don’t want to have elections and then have the right to strike and the right to boycott taken away from us. We will accept elections that are fair and equitable. But we don’t want to be penalized and lose the right to strike in order to get elections.

[24] Moderator: Did the AFL-CIO ask you to skip the boycott before approving the 1.6 million strike benefit grant?

[25] Chávez: No, they did not. The boycott goes on, the lettuce boycott is going on very well, the grape boycott is about to start.

[26] Moderator: I have– I have several questions here about the present status of the lettuce boycott and someone asked are there not some grapes and lettuce we can buy? Are there– are not there some grapes and lettuce we can buy?

[27] Chávez: There is a few lettuce– a few heads of lettuce around you can buy, they– they– if you ask me, they have– they bare– they bare the union– the Farm Worker Union label. It’s a black eagle. There aren’t any grapes yet because the grape season hasn’t come, it will start around the twenty to twenty-fifth of this month in Coachella. The only grapes you can buy are grapes from South Africa and from Chile.

[28] Moderator: How do you– how do you plan to spend the 1.6 million dollars granted– granted by the AFL-CIO?

[29] Chávez: The money is going to be used exclusively for strike benefits, it’s going to go into a strike fund. See we’ve never had a strike fund because we’ve never been around long enough to be able to build one. So this will be our first strike fund.

[30] Moderator: Do you find your fundraising projects more successful on the East Coast and why?

[31] Chávez: The– the person asking the question knows, yes. Why? I don’t know. It’s– it’s– what we found is that there are certain cities that are very good to us. Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, now San Francisco. Los Angeles, if you call that a city, is different.

[32] Moderator: How many dollars have been collected by the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Health Plan and how many dollars have been paid out in worker benefits? There’s another question related to that, how much money is in the fund now? How much did you pay out last year and so forth? Do you have that information?

[33] Chávez: I don’t– I have to– I have very close figures– we have collected about six million dollars. This is the– the health and welfare fund that was named after, in memory of our good friend Senator Bobby Kennedy. It’s a fund that’s administered by the union, was administered by– by trustees. It’s– we’ve paid possibly around three and a half million. The first year– the first two years we did not pay any benefits, we were– we were collecting, we were– we were trying to get up a reserve. Now, in the last year, 1972, we’re now spending about eighty-five percent of the money coming in.

[34] Moderator: Someone asked, “Actually doesn’t the 1.6 million contribution from the AFL-CIO represent all parts of the country?”

[35] Chávez: Yes, it does. It represents members all across the land.

[36] Moderator: If the present trend continues of Teamsters signing contracts with growers, who will constitute your membership?

[37] Chávez: That depends how you define membership. The contracts were taken over by the Teamsters, but the workers are still paying dues to our Union, they’re not paying dues to the other union. If the trend were to continue, of course, we wouldn’t have any members. But it’s not going to continue.

[38] Moderator: Your critics say you aim to be dictator. Do you consider yourself a labor leader or a social leader?

[39] Chávez: Or a dictator? Or a dictator? You know, my grandfather used to tell me that—he used to work in the haciendas in Mexico before the Mexican revolution—that they were told by the Haciendalas—these are the hacienda owners– he was very small, “Don’t eat salt because salt is bad for you, it will make you dumb.” We found out later that the real reason was that salt was very hard to get. It was very expensive. Here today, when workers start getting together and building the power that they need to take care of themselves, they’re also told by establishment, “Power is bad.” And the ones that are saying it’s bad are the ones that have the power. And I wonder why?

[40] Moderator: There are two questions on this subject. You have said that more than eighty farmworkers are killed every year by agricultural pesticides. That’s a serious charge. Have you documented it in a publicly available report to federal or state government agencies or to the AFL-CIO?

[41] Chávez: It is a serious charge and I’d like the federal government or anyone who doesn’t believe me, challenge me, take me to court so we can begin to get into it. You see, the whole– the whole idea to prove pesticide poisoning, and I’m not an expert, but as we see it and as we come to learn, you’ve got to have– you’ve got to run tests on those workers before– before they get poisoned, so when they get poisoned you can compare. And it will take millions of dollars, it will take all sorts of medical equipment and medical personnel to run tests, called necessary raised level tests, on every worker so that we can make the comparison. But we know, we know what the symptoms are. And when you see a man going into the field perfectly healthy and then at night he begins to bleed under the– under the fingernails, nose bleeds, cramps, begins to see double, and then dies at two or three o’clock in the morning while asleep and then the report comes out that he died of– usually it was a severe cold.

[42] Moderator: Do you object to legislation that would bring the farmworkers under the National Labor Relations Act? And there’s several other questions along this line, are you prepared to go along with the straight extension of the NLRB Act to agriculture?

[43] Chávez: Yes, we object strangely to being included under the National Labor Relations Act as it extends now, let me tell you why. Number one, we want to be treated like every other union, when the industrial unions got started, they did not get started under the– under the NLRA as it stands today. They got started as some– most of you will know, in nineteen– the mid-thirties under the very favorable Wagner Act. And after they had gone for twelve years, then– then Taft-Hartley came. But they had a start. They had a treasury, they had members, they had a research department, they had a whole– they had a legal department. They could withstand the Taft-Hartley. But if we were to put our union today under the National Labor Relations Act, with all of the amendments that has taken place since the thirties, we could not have a union. No more could we have a union than our brothers and sisters in the South, where the employer mentality—even though they’re covered under the NLRA—prevents them from having a union. To mention a few problems, how are you going to have elections when you go into a– say for instance, when you go into the border areas or to a large concentration area of farmworkers, where the farmworker gets picked up by a different employer every day? He goes to work, gets paid at the end of the– at the end of the workday, comes back, next day he goes to another employer. And it’s only a coincidence if he works more than once or twice in the same week for the same employer. How are you going to conduct elections there? What about the timeliness– the– the time of elections? If we ask for an election on a harvest the last three weeks or four weeks, if the employer doesn’t consent, when do we have an election? Six weeks, eight weeks, ten weeks later? When there’s nobody working there? We need legislation, we need special legislation. I’d say the Wagner Act with a few amendments would do very nicely for us for the first twelve years.

[44] Moderator: Will you explain the patron system and the Teamsters’ relation to it?

[45] Chávez: Yes, the patron system is the– the labor contractor system. He becomes the employer without having the responsibilities of an employer. All he does is– you see, maybe I can explain it better this way. When we talk of labor contractors, people think, “Well labor contractors, building contractors, they’re completely different.” A building contractor contracts commodities. He’s in fact the employer. A labor contractor contracts human beings and since he’s not the employer, he can afford to– to mess around with the workers, fool around with them, to exploit them because he’s not going to lose at the other end, the employer loses at the other end. If a labor contractor has a hundred workers, and if he submits to that employer 120 workers, who is there to say that there’s only a hundred there? If a labor contractor feels like they’re asking for a five or ten dollar kickback in order to have those jobs go around, who’s there to say you shouldn’t do it? If a labor contractor feels like employing this family as against that family because this family happens to have a nicer looking daughter, who’s there to say you can’t do it? It’s a vicious, degradable system. It’s got to end. And we’re– we’re pledged to ending that, even if it costs us all these headaches. It’s got to end. It’s got to terminate. It’s the only place where it exists in America today.

[46] Moderator: A Mrs. Mendoza just held a press conference claiming to speak for farmworkers, does she or is she a labor contractor as was charged at the press conference? And I gather she also– she charged that workers who do not support the UFW have been intimidated and physically abused, is this true?

[47] Chávez: Mrs. Mendoza is a member of our union. I– her dues are paid up until the last day of June. She’s always– never late with her dues. She enjoys benefits from the– from the Robert F. Kennedy program. Last year she got over three hundred dollars for illness. She was a labor contractor and we put her out of business. She is now a– she is now a foreman. And she doesn’t like us because we– we reduced that income as a labor contractor, an unlicensed labor contractor. She also works for the National Right to Work Committee. And her sole– her sole job is to come around and try to harass us. Let me tell you, last year the workers’ committee—the workers at the Lucas Ranch where she–where she works—voted to expel her from the union. And Gilbert Padilla and myself, Dolores Huerta and the other officers went to Delano and talked to the workers and said, “Let her speak. It’s healthy for us.” And we convinced them to–to–to reverse their decision. And she’s a member. And she was being– she was charged with conduct unbecoming of a member and a whole slew of interference with the– with the– with the contractual obligations that we have. Like refusing to go to the hiring hall, firing people because they spoke in defense of the union, and a whole bunch of other things and we said, “She has the right to speak if she wants. As long as she doesn’t interfere with the contractual relationships that we have and obligations of the contract, let her speak.” And we finally convinced those members– those members that work at the Lucas Ranch—about six hundred at the peak.

[48] Moderator: Secretary of Agriculture Butz has taken a lot of shots at you according to this questioner, what do you think of him?

[49] Chávez: Who is he?

[50] Moderator: Well he– well we’ve got another cabinet– we’ve got another cabinet officer in here in the picture, Secretary of Labor Brennan is, according to this question, is friendly with the Teamsters. Is he fair to you?

[51] Chávez: I don’t know, we haven’t had any dealings yet. You see, the administration comes down on it when they investigate us. They’ve never come down to say, “Well, you know, we’re the– we’re the labor department. You know you’re a labor union? You know we’d like to– what can we do, how can we–.” We’re not invited to participate in any of the things the Labor Department does: any committees, any studies, especially dealing with farm labor. To them we don’t exist. I don’t know about Secretary Brennan, I haven’t had any dealings with him yet. But when I do, I’ll let you know.

[52] Moderator: Alright, of the food chain stores: which are the major violators and which, if any, are sympathetic to you?

[53] Chávez: The food chain stores in America today are the real cathedral. More people go to supermarkets than to the restrooms these days. They have, all of the sudden, acquired tremendous power. That when they put all those little pop and mom stores out of– out of business, they took that power. But they forgot to take with that power the responsibility that comes. And we say that they have a responsibility. If they get plums and grapes and avocados and whatever it is that they sell in those super markets, if it gets there at the exploitation of the workers and they make tremendous profits, they have a responsibility to those people who are being exploited. And we’re saying– and the fight with them today is that they have got to assume their responsibility, they don’t want to and we want them to assume it and they have to because if– if they acquire that power they’ve got to take the responsibility that comes with it.

[54] Moderator: From another shopper, “Our local chain, Pantry Pride, displays a sign over lettuce that it is UFWO but no label on the head, is that correct? Firm is Interharvest I think.”

[55] Chávez: If it’s Interharvest, it’s good lettuce. Yes.

[56] Moderator: Here’s a chance for you to philosophize a little bit. Do you have a general prescription for promoting economic justice for all? If so, what is it?

[57] Chávez: I– first of all I couldn’t do it and if I did it would take about three hours, so let me just say that– you see, we’re very simple people. And we’re very plain people. But we’re not completely dumb, you know. We know that the best war on poverty for us is the labor union. All we want is, we want to have a labor union– we want our workers to enjoy the benefits that all– all other people in the unions have enjoyed. And that’s as far as I want to go today.

[58] Moderator: What support if any are you getting from the Roman Catholic archbishop in Southern California?

[59] Chávez: Very good support. You see, the– the California bishops repeatedly have asked for elections. But I have, just give me the chance to read the wires, it’s a very important wire that I just received. “The National Conference of Catholic Charities and affiliates around the United States support the United Farm Workers determination to extend collective bargaining contracts in grape industries and lettuce field. We are today, Friday, urging some sixteen hundred affiliated agencies and institutions to work locally and to support– in support of your current efforts to secure social justice and dignity for farmworkers. Reverend Monsignor Lawrence Jay Corcoran, Secretary, National Conference of Catholic Charities.” And let me add that, throughout the country we enjoy terrific support from all of the different denominations and all different– different faiths.

[60] Moderator: Would you like to comment on the current speculation that the parole of James Hoffa is all part of a deal between California’s agribusiness, Governor Reagan, President Nixon, to have the Teamsters eliminate the Farm Workers Union?

[61] Chávez: I would have to really go through an awful– I’m happy that Jimmy Hoffa is out of jail. The jail is not good for anyone, especially labor leaders.

[62] Moderator: In laying claim to having improved the lot of farmworkers, how many lost jobs will you claim by forcing farmers to mechanize and divert to less labor-intensive crops?

[63] Chávez: It hasn’t come yet. Although, some growers would like to—and some scientists. But, you see, there are more farmworkers in California today than there were five years ago. It’s strange and hard to believe, but that’s a fact. And the reason is that there are more acres being opened today– there are more acres under cultivation today than there were five and ten years ago. Now the machines are not being brought in because we’re organizing workers. Nothing to do with it. If that was the case, then why’d they put out the whole labor force—thousands and thousands of workers in the South, in the Midwest, in the Southwest rather—out of cotton? Not because the unions were around, no see the machines come when technology is ready, when they’ve got the whole thing worked out, machines come where there’s a union or not. Now we say that it’d be a little helpful if we had a union, by the time the machines get there we can negotiate a few benefits so that we, in keeping with our philosophy that technology should serve not only the worker– not only the employer, but also the worker. And that those scientists in those universities like Davis at California show a little concern about what happens to human beings. They’ll develop a machine, they’ll get the machine to displace the people, but what happens to those people that get displaced? No one has found the answer because money is being spent to develop machines, and it’s not being spent to see what can be done for those workers. And so– we– people say that– that we can’t hold progress, that we got to let the machines come in. And I may be out of step with many labor leaders, I say, progress is not to put people out of work. Progress is to keep people working. If an employer has to mechanize because he doesn’t have money because financially, economically he’s got to have machines, it’s one story. But if that– if that grower wants to mechanize because he wants to be a hog and make more money, at the expense of putting people out of work, we say nothing– no– nothing doing. We don’t stand for that.

[64] Moderator: We have three questions on one sheet here. How many paid-up memberships do you have? Without Teamster money, how much do you have? Do you report fully– I don’t know what that means– do you report fully to the Labor Department?

[65] Chávez: Let me last– answer the last one. If we didn’t, we’d be in jail. The– how much money do we– do we have without the Teamster money. We don’t have any money so we have the same money. I think that was– the question was how much money we have without the– the AFL-CIO money.

[66] Moderator: Yeah.

[67] Chávez: We have about enough to operate for about sixty days. Our budget runs about two hundred thousand a month. And so we have twice that. Now with this money that we now got, that goes to the– doesn’t go to the operating budget but goes to the special strike fund. So, we’re not a rich union. Not by a long shot.

[68] Moderator: There are other states: New York, Ohio, Michigan, and others which grow grapes, lettuce, and other products. How are their labor people taken care of for their benefits?

[69] Chávez: They’re not. There’s no– there aren’t any unions there. And we still have the miserable conditions of– the migratory workers have to go through. People coming from Florida, from Texas, people from Florida migrating up the– the East Coast into this part of the United States. We have people coming from Texas going into the Midwest. We have Puerto Ricans coming from the islands into the– into the New York-Connecticut area. They’re not being taken care of. Nor are the people coming into the Midwestern states. Organizing is just beginning.

[70] Moderator: Someone wants to know, having mentioned everything that you– everyone you want to benefit except the consumer, what have you done for the consumer lately? What do you have in mind for the consumer?

[71] Chávez: That’s a– this is a friendly question. If anything, we’ve done– I think we’ve done one very big thing. We have fought the whole question of contamination of– of– of food products, especially lettuce and grapes and other things like tomatoes. Our union has taken the lead in this kind of work. And because of us, you see, a good three years before DDT was banned, in our contracts, we had it banned. And we even– we even beat the– the– the government of Great Britain in this one. Soon after that, of course, it was banned. And we had a lot to do with that we think– we’d like to think we did. In our– in our contracts, we not only banned DDT, we have a whole slew of injurious pesticides that are injurious to the workers but also the consumers. And we know that we cannot say alright, we don’t want the workers poisoned and the heck with the rest of the world. We know that we’ve got to protect– in order to protect ourselves, we’ve got to protect the public because we need the public support to get– to get the job done. And so we have– we have things like DDT and DBE and– and malathion and parathion and on down the line banned from the– because we, through our– through our– through our studies and through the people that help us, we were able to prove to the growers that they don’t need that. Sure people like to use DDT because it’s very inexpensive. And so we say spend a little more– a little bit more money and get something that’s not as inclusive, as all inclusive and as permanent as DDT, as an example. So, I think if nothing else, we’ve done that for the consumer.

[72] Moderator: Press, radio, and television are on the pan these days, how do you feel the media has treated you?

[73] Chávez: We have no complaints. We’ve been treated very well by the media, we’ve learned not to lie to them and they learned not to try to trick us. And we’re in good shape.

[74] Moderator: That sounds like a prescription for almost everybody. Should Elliot Richardson appoint an independent special prosecutor to investigate– You know, we haven’t been able to get by without a Watergate question all year. Should Elliot Richardson appoint an independent special prosecutor to investigate your complaints?

[75] Chávez: Oh my complaints, I thought Watergate. No I don’t think it has to go that far, we’d just like to get these– we can let the administration run their show, we’d like to have our friends, the Democrats, if they really are friends, to go out and have the Senate Labor and Education Committee conduct a little old investigation about the charges we’re making. And I think they’re going to find a lot under those– under those growers. I think there’s a lot of things that are going to come up. We’d just like that, the little old investigation. Not by the administration, Richardson and the boys can have their show, we’d like to have a little old separate show on the other side.

[76] Moderator: It’s the next to the last question. What problems have you had with the growers bringing workers from Mexico?

[77] Chávez: Well, you see, when they’re not breaking our strikes, we don’t have any problems because they don’t have to bring workers from Mexico. Now when we begin to strike, then we have many problems because they go to Mexico and they import the– the illegals—the men and women who don’t have any legal status—they go and– they go across the border because, you see, recruiting illegals across the border has become a very large racket. Probably almost as large as dope but less– less risky. Because you see, on a dope charge you go up for so many years but on a– on a– on a rap on importing human beings, it’s not that– it’s not that– that risky. And so they bring them by the truck loads. There’s a ring over– there’s a ring here, they contract them, they bring them across, they sell them and when after the moment the jobs are over, they throw them right back—many times without getting their pay. It’s a miserable, miserable condition that exists. And not only that, but today since the Nixon administration came into power, in fact let me go back. The only time that we got any help was when– when– when President Kennedy was there. When– when Johnson was president, the first two or three years okay, later on it was very bad. Today with Nixon is horribly bad, we have people in Fresno County, as an example. People right now in the strawberry strike in Salinas where they brought in a couple hundred illegals to break our strikes. People in the– in the Porterville, in the Citrus Belt that runs from the eastern part of Tulare and Fresno counties. We have fifty percent of our people can’t work there because the illegals are working right now. We have the same situation in Texas, in Colorado, in Wyoming, in Washington, and in Oregon. It– it’s a very difficult problem for us. They’re there, taking our jobs away from us and getting work. While we get them to contract two dollars in the valley, they’re getting a dollar sixty, a dollar forty, sometimes less than that.

[78] Moderator: Mr. Chávez, thank you very much for coming. On behalf of the National Press Club, I’d like to present to you our certificate of appreciation. This recognizes all the times you have dealt with us in truth and I hope that we’ve dealt with you without being too tricky. And, I’ve got something else for you, although I know you don’t wear a necktie, this is our summer necktie at the Press Club. And my question to you is, what are you going to do with it?

[79] Chávez: We, Mr. Larrabee, want to thank you very much for the– for the certificate. When I was invited here, I asked some of our friends in the office, I said, “Should I go to this, what is the National Press Club?” No offense. And they said, “Oh it’s a very prestigious place, you should go.” And I said, “Well if I go I’m going to have butterflies in my stomach from the moment I said I’m going until I get through with the speech.” I’m almost through now. The tie is going to go into– we have a collection of gifts and so it will be taken care of. We’re going to– we’re going to have a sign under it, we’re going to identify it and we appreciate it very much. Thank you, thank you, thank you.