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Voice: Honor farm workers Saturday

March 29, 2001

Californians will pay tribute to the late Cesar E. Chavez, a labor organizer and farmworker activist, by honoring his birthday as a state holiday Saturday.

Chavez was at the forefront of a movement that would change the lives of many agricultural workers in this country. With the emergence of the United Farm Workers, which he founded, a unified voice of agricultural workers was heard for the first time.

As we honor him, let us not forget what he fought for — livable wages, humane working conditions, agricultural workers' rights, access to health care and safe and decent housing.

Although many have fought for the cause and many injustices have been corrected, exploitation continues. Almost 40 years have passed, and the media is still covering the travesties of agricultural workers living in deplorable conditions in caves, parking lots and cars. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration ranks farm work as the most dangerous occupation in the United States.

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According to a recent poll commissioned by Rural Community Assistance Corp., 75 percent of registered California voters claim to know nothing or little about agricultural workers, despite the fact more workers are employed in agriculture than any other industry in the state. California is home to an estimated 1.3 million agricultural workers, whose output is consumed by every Californian, shipped to other states and exported across the globe.

Agricultural workers labor for extremely low wages under grueling conditions. As a result, Californians enjoy easily accessible, low-cost, high-quality produce.

No human being should risk his or her life in order to put food on our tables. We should take every precaution to ensure that agricultural workers have safe, decent housing and access to health care. The cost of fresh produce would rise only slightly if agricultural workers were paid a livable wage, enough to pay for rent, health care and other necessities.

According to a study done by professor Phil Martin at University of California, Davis, increasing agricultural workers' wages by 35 percent would result in only a $34 annual increase to consumers for all fresh fruits and vegetables.

On Saturday take time to recognize the many values that agricultural workers bestow upon our communities and our state. Celebrate their commitment to family as they struggle mightily to earn wages to feed their children and care for their elders. Let us not take just one day to honor a leader, but remember each day to appreciate where our food comes from.

I urge your readers, when lifting a glass to toast the chef, to recognize and thank the many people who work so hard for so little pay.

TERESA MOJADO

Rural Community Assistance Corp.

San Marcos

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