May 12, 1993
By Yolanda Reynolds
In honor of César Chávez, several hundred union, community and religious people gathered last Saturday for a personal afternoon of remembrance for his lifetime of work that was devoted towards bringing justice to ﬁeld workers. There were estimated to be between 200 and 300 people throughout the assembly at Plaza Park, the march and the mass.
The ceremony began at Plaza Park in the early afternoon. The gathering was marked by an energy that left no doubt that César Chávez’ work has and will continue to inspire others to struggle for economic, social and environmental justice.
Chávez’ inspiration to others to follow his example of non-violent but persistent pressure for change has been reflected in the recent successful demand for improved conditions for janitors working in Silicon Valley.
The campaign has been marked by determination and non-violence. The Justice for Janitors campaign, led the SEIU (Service Employees International Union Local 877), revealed to the community at large of a heartless, greedy and stunning disregard for the honorable work of the janitors who work in many of the Valley’s leading electronic companies.
These high-tech companies, like Apple, were proud of their image as companies that “cared” about their employees. The CEO’s and top executives were paid multi-million dollar salaries annually, while the janitors were barely paid a minimum wage and had to work long hours without overtime or health beneﬁts. Most of the janitors were people of color, of whom the majority are Latinos.
César Chávez came to San Jose and attended a rally for janitors at the Sacred Heart Hall. His attendance at that rally helped to spur the determination of the janitors to stand firm in their walkout and continue the picketing and fasting that eventually won them concessions from the largest of the offending companies.
This writer from La Oferta Review was present that day. It was a memorable day when numerous union members and sympathizers lined up to pledge themselves to a fast until the offending companies would relent and bargain with the unions, especially since it was not certain at all how long the companies would balk at the demands of the janitors.
SEIU 1877 was successful in bringing the Iarge targeted companies to the bargaining table. The group was also able to convince the city of San Jose that developers doing business with the City should pay union scale to their janitorial workers.
That union scale salaries are paid to workers in Santa Clara Valley is very important because living costs are very high here. Even commuting costs could devour the low salaries that, until then, were prevalent for janitors. Too many families of these workers were forced to live in very unsafe conditions – some even had to live in the homeless encampments that existed along the Guadalupe River.
Also at the memorial were Juan Haro, spokesperson and a leader of the Direct Action Alliance (a San Jose University based organization) and many of the other group members who are ﬁghting against police misconduct and are asking the formation of a community review board to monitor police behavior.
Haro spoke of the inspiration that César Chávez’ work has been to his group and, in conclusion, minced no words in expressing the disappointment that he and his group felt regarding the votes by and the position taken by San Jose City Council representatives, Blanca Alvarado and George I. Shirakawa against their request.
The City Council, to the dismay, of many, unanimously voted for a police auditor who reports to and is hired by the City Council under whom the police department also works.
The decision for a city auditor instead of a civilian review board instead of a civilian review board is also opposed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Santa Clara County branch of the American Bar Association.
Catholic priests, Father Bill Leninger and Father Mateo Sheedy, spoke of the spirituality in César Chávez’ life and the meaning it had for the work of the United Farm Work campaign which Chávez led.
Union leaders Mike Garcia of SEIU 1877 and Ray Baeza of SElU 1815 also spoke. Baeza spoke on the impacts that the likely County budget cuts in social services and medical services will have on the most needy of the Counties residents and asked for support to help in minimizing those service cuts.
Voice of the Homeless, a San Jose group co-founded by Wilfred Haylett and Sandy Perry, that works hard to ensure that the needs of the homeless people are not neglected were also there. The Voice of the Homeless hopes to establish a multi-service center that will house homeless persons, as well as provide help to those who desire counseling and job “replacements.” Their task is increasing as more and more people are finding themselves impoverished while more and more jobs leave the valley.
As the recession drags on the stress and agony of joblessness increases especially for those who become homeless.
The Teatro Familia Aztlan, directed by Adrian Vargas, represented a riveting dramatization of the plight of farm workers who, besides working for substandard pay are subjected to extremely hazardous working conditions from exposure from exposure to toxic chemicals. The UFW has led a multi-year boycott of table grapes (beginning in California) by targeting Safeway stores that sell grapes produced by growers who refuse to discontinue the use of toxic pesticides.
Though the dramatization of the farm workers portrayed how farm owning growers directly disregarded and abused the welfare of their farm workers; that detail appeared somewhat dated, since now those growers and others who exploit low skilled workers such as farm workers, janitors, electronic workers in manufacturing and garment workers, often subcontracting that work to others (who many times, are persons of color) who can be ruthless, or worse, in their treatment of the workers than the growers themselves.
Unfortunate, greed is a disease that afflicts all ethnicities, races and even all income levels.
After heartfelt statements from many others, Alex Garcia, President of the Alum Rock School Board District spoke regarding his and the Board majorities’ concerns for the educational experience of the Alum Rock Districts students whose boundaries encompasses the San Jose site of Chávez’ home. García expressed confidence that he, Félix Álvarez and Juanita Ramírez would be retained as Board members and that the recall effort against them led by their bellow Board members, Gary Serda and Essau Herrera, would fail. He felt that they could come together and work effectively in looking after the educational needs of the Alum Rock District’ students.
The long march, of approximately five miles, began strongly and gathered others as it went along. The long procession was led by six men bearing a pine box. Many were carrying the red flag of the United Farm Workers bearing the image of an eagle in black.
The march was colorful, not only for the Aztec styled garb of the drummers in feathered head dress, but also for the banners of the various organizations gathered for the memorial ceremony, march and mass. A mass offered at Our Lady of Guadalupe ended the memorial ceremony. The church, located on San Antonio Street in East San Jose, was the parish church which Chávez began his lifelong career in union organizing.
Chávez’ brother and sister and their families were present at the memorial. His nephew, Rudy Medina, read a letter from Chávez’ widow. They are San Jose residents.
As the procession proceeded many came to their doorways to wave or slowed their cars with salutes of solidarity for the marchers in their grief and for many causes and concern the workers, the homeless, the youth and the civic minded.
Though some elected officials held a ceremony last week honoring Chávez, San Jose City Councilman George Shirakawa and County Board Supervisor, Mike Honda also attended this ceremony that was planned by and for the community.
Councilwoman Blanca Alvarado and others in the community have expressed a desire to honor Chávez with a lasting memorial, Chávez is regarded by many to be the most highly regarded and widely recognized resident that the city has produced.
There are several plans for renaming parks, establishing a scholarship in Chávez’ memory and for constructing a monument or sculpture in his memory. But his most important and enduring legacy is in the hearts and memories of the people that he dedicated his life to helping. © La Oferta Newspaper.