United Farm Workers


Legal apprentices mean more farm worker victories

Cesar Chavez started an apprenticeship program in 1979 for the sons and daughters of farm workers to become attorneys while training on the job without the expense of law school. California is one of the few states that permit this. Several of our farm worker lawyers have been graduates of this program. Now they are mentoring others. While working alongside their parents in the fields, the children of farm workers saw and experienced many injustices first-hand. Through our program, they are given the means to change the future to prevent others from suffering the way their family did.

Currently, we have 3 legal apprentices. With your help, we hope to increase this to 4 or 5. These dedicated students spend 15- 20 hours a week studying in addition to working full time with UFW attorneys while using and gaining knowledge to help workers. The cost for 5 apprentices for a year is around $166,500, not including health benefits, transportation, laptops and cell phones.

One of these apprentices, Brenda Rizo, is the eldest child of six, who had to care for her siblings while her parents worked 12 to 14 hour shifts. During the summers in high school, she toiled alongside her parents weeding endless fields. The intense labor, in summer temperatures over 100 degrees, made the work almost intolerable. Despite wearing gloves, her hands often blistered severely and would bleed at times. The pesticides caused her and her mother’s bodies to break out in rashes.

She realized she wanted to be an attorney following the 1999 van crash in Five Points that left 13 farm workers dead. Some workers were killed because farm labor vans were not required to have proper seats or seatbelts at the time. One of her mother’s closest friends was killed in the crash, a woman who worked hard to support her three children. She says since that time, “Being a lawyer has always been my aspiration, and I will not stop until I make my vision a reality.”

So what do we have Brenda doing? A year ago, with your help, we passed SB126 – Governor Brown’s bill to change the Agricultural Labor Relations Act and remove obstacles for farm workers who want to join a union. This bill came through a 13-day, 200 mile march to the California state capitol.

Now, if growers blatantly cheat during an election campaign, the Agricultural Labor Relations Board can certify the union as the winner. However, election objections have to be filed within 5 days accompanied with declarations detailing the evidence in addition to citing appropriate legal cases. This makes the election process much more legal intensive and bilingual staff who understand the fundamentals of law are needed.

We are now facing our first test of this new law at Corralitos Farms, where an alleged preponderance of violations caused us to lose an election by a mere 17 votes. The ALRB agreed to hear the case and the hearing is starting TODAY. There will be more than a score of witnesses testifying about more than a dozen different incidents.

Preparing for hearing is a new experience for Brenda and she is dedicated to her work here. Brenda charted out the objections and the witnesses whose declarations we are using. She helped work out the extra witnesses we need for each of the issues. She went over the witness list with the organizers and made sure they got the correct contact information for each one. She tells us, “I was nervous because I really had a chance to help people and wanted to do it right. Finally it was my turn to make a difference."

ALRA violations are an everyday occurrence. The legal system is our last line of defense. You can see how necessary these apprentices are to winning justice for farm workers. Won’t you help?

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