Washington officially recognizes Cesar Chavez Day

Gov. Jay Inslee alongside Paul Chavez and bill cosponsor State Rep. Rebecca Saldana, D-Seattle, signs HB 1939 which would officially recognized March 31 as Cesar Chavez day. (Photo courtesy of The Governor’s Office.)

Gov. Jay Inslee joined farm workers and labor advocates this weekend in the heart of Washington’s agricultural sector to sign a bill recognizing Cesar Chavez.

Washington will now officially observe March 31  — Cesar Chavez’s birthday — as Cesar Chavez Day. The day already was established as a federal commemorative holiday by President Barack Obama in 2014. Inslee signed House Bill 1939 at the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1439 union hall in Yakima.

For years the bill had stalled in the Republican-controlled Senate, but with Democrats in the majority in both chambers of the Legislature, the bill passed both the House and Senate earlier this year.

Chavez, a laborer, is best known for his grassroots organizing and activism as a civil rights leader for farm workers during the 1950s and 1960s. Chavez also founded the United Farm Workers in 1962 alongside labor activist Dolores Huerta.

Among those in attendance was Paul Chavez, the activist’s son and the president of the Cesar Chavez Foundation.

While the holiday aims to honor the work of Cesar Chavez, Paul stressed that his father was always uncomfortable with recognition and would have preferred that the day was dedicated to the sacrifices people make in the immigrant, labor and farm worker communities.

He added that the signing was especially fitting right now because of the aggressive political attacks on immigrants and the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals program.

“The struggle is back” he said.

Eric Gonzalez, the policy director of the Washington State Labor Council, agreed with Paul. The lobby group pushed for the bill during this year’s legislative session.

“We recognize we have more to do to extend social and economic parity to farmers,” Gonzalez said in a prepared statement.

Gonzalez cited the exclusion of farmworkers from receiving overtime in the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act.

Gonzalez said this gap stalls farmworkers’ upward mobility.

“This is what will help workers, who sustain our state’s $10 billion rural agricultural economy, but on average make about about $23,000 a year,” he said.

“This is what will help them save to buy a home, afford opportunities for their children to seek higher education, and save for retirement.”

During the ceremony Inslee doubled down on some of Chavez’s principles, reaffirming his administration’s commitment to protecting the rights of everyone regardless of background.

“Yes, we can work today to ensure tomorrow is better for all of our brothers and sisters, no matter where you come from, no matter how much you earn and no matter the color of your skin,” he said.