U.S.: Martin Sheen appeals for UFW support
Emmy award-winning actor Martin Sheen has called on the public to support a California farmworker union that has been steeped in controversy of late, honoring its founder and the people who will be picking the fruit eaten by U.S. consumers this Thanksgiving.
"I remember driving down the Pacific Coast Highway to Oxnard. I looked out of the window and saw men and women slowly going up and down rows picking vegetables that are served on our Thanksgiving table," Sheen said in an open letter.
"I remember noticing their stooped backs and how hard they labored. And again I appreciated the work of my dear friend, Cesar Chavez. A man I consider a true hero, who spent his life helping the most impoverished.
"I have been a supporter of the United Farm Workers since Cesar founded the union more than 50 years ago. My experiences with the UFW have been among the most exhilarating and meaningful of my life."
Sheen said he was with Chavez during the nonviolent advocate's fast in 1988.
"I prayed with him, marched with him, joined in the grape boycott that touched our nation's conscience. I've been arrested at farm worker protests both with Cesar and with his successor, Arturo [Rodriguez].
"Today, 21 years after Cesar's passing, I continue to be inspired by his legacy and all his union does to help farm workers. I am proud to help the UFW carry on the struggle to create a better life for low-paid agricultural workers and their families."
The actor said he was moved by farmworker stories told to him by Rodriguez recently.
"I feel for Maria, a hard working single mother of three. For the past 17 years she has labored in just about every possible seasonal job in the table grape industry," Sheen said, going on to cite a quote from the worker.
"I make $9 an hour working in the field and it is not enough to support myself and my family. Sometimes I don't have enough money to buy food for my daughters," Maria said.
"I have to limit them in what they eat. Some years during the winter I have not been able to buy them adequate clothing for the season...It saddens me that my daughters have to endure the cold because I do not earn a decent wage," she said.
Sheen highlighted there were so many farmworkers who endured similar situations.
"It's an uphill battle for the UFW. But I'm proud of the change they make in the lives of these hardworking people," he said.
"A union is a solution that can help these workers and so many more. It protects their rights. It guarantees them better wages. It keeps them from being ripped off and shorted hours."
Last month, Western Growers CEO Tom Nassif - who was "on the other side of the table" during Chavez's fight - told www.freshfruitportal.com the UFW was crippled financially during the late 1970s and early 1980s as the union "kept getting sued for violence and they kept losing".
The California Court of Appeal in Fresno recently granted a request from Gerawan Farming to contest the constitutionality of forced unionization that ties farmworkers to the UFW without their consent. The move came just months after Gerawan employees held an historic protest outside the California Agricultural Labor Relations Board (ALRB) calling for votes to be counted from a union decertification election.
A few weeks prior to the court consideration, ALRB General Counsel Sylvia Torres-Guillen had cited several allegations of unlawful support of decertification efforts from the company.