On March 31st, we celebrate Cesar Chavez Day. Cesar Chavez is a hero to many Americans in the labor movement. But who is he outside these circles? And why does it matter?
Cesar Chavez is one of the only Hispanic/Latino people nominated for a holiday or observance. While it is less than desirable that he is the only Hispanic person so honored, perhaps it also reflects the magnitude of his achievements.
According to the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), the largest federation of unions in the United States, Chavez was born and died in the place he lived to serve, the Western United States–specifically, he was born in Arizona. Then he served as a labor leader to unionize thousands of farm workers to fight against employer oppression across the country and passed away while visiting Arizona to negotiate a labor deal. Unionization is when workers or professionals join forces in order to form a larger organization (called a union) which is thereby used as a collective vehicle to negotiate, confront and bargain with employers when necessary.
As a powerful union leader, he led the unionization of an immense number of farm laborers. He was the chief organizer of the United Farm Workers, which challenged powerful grape-producing companies that exploited the working poor, especially manual laborers.
Why does this matter to employers? It teaches them to respect their employees, especially those least likely to have a place at the table. That is because they will demand a place at the table if they are denied one, and perhaps will take it for themselves.
This is not a negative. Instead it is an inevitability that the vulnerable will seek out equality, including forms of equality related to the conditions that they live or work in.
At GHEP, we believe that everyone is worthy of equal treatment. Human rights are fundamental and cannot be challenged. Therefore, as part of the social determinants of health (SDOH), we support the best living and working conditions for all people, socially and economically.
We also support the rights of workers across the world in numerous ways. For example, in our Public Health 360 class and for our employees, we welcome feedback and encourage work-life balance. This demonstrates how much we value the lessons from workers across the world and here at home. That there is dignity in work and the economic self-sufficiency that comes with work is at the heart of GHEP’s efforts on social determinants of health.
Why does GHEP care about Chavez, specific to our organization? He is a BIPOC hero to us, someone bent on supporting the least advantaged and raising them up to the level of power they deserve. And why should you care about Chavez?
Chavez is an example of a BIPOC individual in the limelight who has made a palpably and intensely felt difference in the world. He made sure heinous treatment against workers did not go unnoticed and was corrected.
Celebrate Cesar Chavez Day this March through several possible ways. Explore relevant legislation, such as focusing on the minimum wage or protections for workers in dangerous industries, and see how you can provide support. Check out your local unions and see if your work is relevant. Finally, consider donating to GHEP so we can continue to provide programs that support the community and keep the fires burning after Cesar Chavez. Change is possible!