Testimony on Farm Workers
June 15, 1960 — Fact Finding Committee in Labor and Welfare, California State Legislature, Senate, Sacramento CA
My name is Dolores C. Huerta. I reside at 320 South Sutter Street in Stockton, California. I appear before you today on behalf of the Community Service Organization consisting of 29 chapters within the State of California, four in Arizona, and one new organized gr cup in Texas which has not yet been chartered. The CSO concerns itself with self-improvement among the Spanish-speaking people and encourages programs of education by active civic participation in citizenship, voter registration, voter education, labor relations, etc. Our most recent voter registration drive produced over 35,000 new voters in the State of California since January 1, 1960, and 60 in Texas. Hand in hand with the voter registration, chapters of CSO “Get out the Voters” in precincts where Spanish-speaking people and other minorities predominate.
Since a large percentage of our membership is directly employed in agricultural labor and as our Service Program handles individual problems without charging for them, the problems of the agricultural workers are becoming more and more a part of our working program. The CSO nationally has taken the position of being against the further importation of labor from other countries.
The complete lack of protection and vulnerability of farm workers should not be minimized. The recent recruitment of 474 laborers in Texas for the asparagus fields in San Joaquin County clearly points up the above statement. The men from Texas were recruited by means of radio announcements, television announcements, press releases and paid recruiters who were flown to Texas for that purpose by the San Joaquin Farm Production Association. The radio and television announcements promised $1.25 per hour and twelve to sixteen hours per day of work.
The first group of 35 men recruited individuals without the benefit of the following publicity were brought to Stockton in a semi truck without seats. The door was wired from the outside so they could not leave when the truck passed through various communities. They were told not to say that they were being charged for the trip which they later had to pay $22.00 for.
On arriving in Stockton in the first week of February, they found that the asparagus harvest had just started. The men were then put to do other tasks which were sorting asparagus roots, weeding, etc., at .90 cents per hour. The promise of $1.25 per hour in their case and subsequent arrivals pertained only to asparagus cutting, it appeared.
An interesting sidelight of the arrival of the first group of Texans was the dismissal of the local farm workers that had bene occupied doing asparagus sorting and cutting. The day the Texans arrived their jobs ended.
Senator Cobey: Would you say these are a Violation of Public Law 78, the Bracero Program, and were they reported to the United States Department of Labor?
Mrs. Huerta: Yes, these were reported. I do believe these are a violation of Public Law 67. The is interstate recruitment.
Senator Cobey: These are just the ones from Texas?
Mrs. Huerta: If they were a violation, I think they would be under interstate recruitment.
Senator Cobey: The regulation of the Secretary?
Mrs. Huerta: These were reported to the Department of Employment and the Department of Labor.
Another important consideration this case was the fact that no effort, ad I wish to emphasize this, no effort had been made to recruit local workers in San Joaquin County for this work, but rather those few workers that had been working were laid off.
Mr. Art Lang of the local Farm Placement Office in Stockton stated at a general membership meeting of the CSO in Stockton that his department was not in any way responsible for this situation, as not one order had been placed in the Stockton office for asparagus cutters. He stated, “Somebody in Sacramento goofed.” Our feelings are sympathetic with those of Mr Luis Verdugo of El Paso, Texas, who stated at the meeting to Mr. Lang — “I regret, sir, that your Department and the Department in Texas made that mistake. The miseries and suffering that your mistake has brought upon our families cannot be measured.”
On writing letters to the Department of Employment and Department of Labor, the Departments concerned with this situation, the answers received were that an “emergency situation” existed. An emergency situation? What type of emergency exists when local available farm workers are not being called to work by the Department of Employment and yet this same Department places an order — inTexas — with the Employment Commission for out-of-state labor?
Since the asparagus harvest was not yet ready, the hundreds of men recruited by the San Joaquin Farm Production Association son found themselves only partially employed — in one camp on Rindge Tract they worked seven out of seventeen days — they began to leave the camps in large groups. Testimony attached to this one will verify this, along with numerous complaints filled with the Labor Commissioner in Stockton.
Those men that chose to stay in the camps were soon encouraged to leave. Some were fired for talking on the job, but the larger majority were informed that they were now to be placed on a piece-rate basis of pay. If they did choose to work at the piece-rate, they were free to do so.
Some tried, but found they worked harder and averaged the same amount of pay. Bu they were not given a choice and had to leave the camps. To what agency do these laborers turn to in such apparent injustices? The level to which farm work has sunk leaves title room for human rights or dignity. I fate employer stays within limits of the existing laws, there is little recourse for the worker but to seek employment elsewhere. Growers themselves do not try to make conditions favorable so as to make their workers remain. The recent tiillustration above of the Texans clearly indicates this. These men came from thousands of miles to work and then found on arriving that there was not full complement and the deliberate efforts were made to make them leave by growers who were anticipating the certification fo Mexican Nationals. The question arises, do those governors who wish to be part of a Government subsidized program have a right to expect imported labor when they do not recruit and actually discourage local workers either by extremely low wages and adverse working conditions?
Would our govt by any stretch of the imagination furnish imported labor to any other occupation if the working conditions were anywhere near the condition of farm workers? Where do we begin to correct conditions? The present economic state of a large amount of our population is a disgrace to the American standard of living and our ideals. If we openly detest oppression as a nation, let us not condone it for just one group — the agricultural workers — and then do this with Government assistance.
If growers chose to recruit labor, their recruitment efforts are overly successful as can be illustrated by the recent efforts in Texas of the San Joaquin Farm Production Association and the recruitment effort of the Podesta Ranch in Linden. Workers came from Monterey and Santa Clara Counties to pick cherries in the Linden area only to be turned away because there was enough labor available.
These trips cost the people time and money. The is the same ranch you have been hearing about before. We are concerned about perishable crops. We should be more concerned about waste as it affects people in their labor, time and personal economy.
I have personal knowledge of growers in Stockton who have hired hundreds of people. Yet one grower’s office staff makes it a practice never to take names or addresses of people seeking employment, knowing full well that they are anticipating a harvest. One some occasions as many as fifty people in one day approached one office seeking employment in farm work. Some were local and some from other communities. Upon being told they would not be hired, they had to leave to some other place. Yet there growers are the largest employers of Mexican Nationals in San Joaquin County.
The above points out that growers themselves deliberately contribute to the chaotic disorganization in the labor field for reasons of their own convenience. If they do not list names of applicants for jobs, it would appear as if there is no labor available. Since growers create this disorganized situation that lends to the present state of the labor force, certainly, it is up to them to make recruitment efforts and better working conditions to keep local farm workers before they can declare an emergency situation in the press.
At the membership meeting last night I talked about today’s hearing and one of our members gave me a short statement. This is a sworn statement and she did want to say this. They had been working in onions in Linden, California, last week and they were being paid 12 cents a case or 100-pound sack for an eight-hour day, and this is the business of picking onions, and the sack, they averaged $3.75 for eight hours. Out of that $3.75 they had to ay 50 cents for the rude to work and they had no bathroom facilities in the field and no drinking water in the field. I would like to see this Committee make some type of recommendation. Whether this can e done through the Department of Employment or legislation, I do not know, but I think the recruitment effort as such should be spelled our and now jut recruitment efforts. We could have men downtown to work in asparagus but they cannot walk 10 blocks in Stockton and they will go down one mile to recruit those same people for the same asparagus fields. Something is wrong with this recruitment. I think this should be spelled out in detail. Certainly, some responsibility should be placed back on the growers. It’s not fair that they should declare a labor shortage when they make it impossible for people to continue working for them.
Thank you very much.
Senator Cory: Any questions? Has everybody testified from a written statement? If you don’t mind, we would appreciate having copies of those statements.
Mrs. Huerta: Mr. Chairman, I do want to say one more thing. I forgot to mention this point. This lady that gave me this little statement about the onions here, her husband is a foreman of the Mexican Nationals and he is presently employed as an arbitrator for a group of Nationals in one of the largest camps in Stockton that are averaging right now about $3.00 a day. They are being paid on a piece-rate basis. This is in the asparagus season and there is very little for them to pick; they went on strike three days ago and refused to work any more unless they gave them more time. The foreman told them that they would have to go back to work. He couldn’t get them to go back to work, so he sent for the owners to talk to the Nationals and the Nationals were told if they didn’t return to work the crop would be lost and would also be taken out of their pay checks.
Senator Cobey: Who told them this?
Mrs Huerta: The supervisor. Needless to say, they all went back to work. Anther thing, I remember last year at this time there were, later on in the year, there were Nationals taken from the Farm Production association and these men wanted a change of employer and they were not getting fill employment and only working four hours a day and they were told they’d either return to their employer where they were at or they could go back to Mexico and they chose to do the latter and were sent back.
I would also like to see the Senate Fact Finding Committee see what opportunities are offered the Mexican Nationals, what the rate is. I know at the De Waglio Ranch last October they were coming in 40 or 50 every two weeks. They’d have some come in two weeks and another batch leave and following two weeks a whole new bunch of people. This makes it hard on commissary facilities.
These Mexican Nationals and they do not have full employment. Also, it seems we have got to have some kind of answers on the labor problem. Labor is a part of the CSO problem. We do immigration work and it is sometimes impossible to immigrate someone’s relative from Mexico unless you get producers to fix their papers and we need supplemental labor. We should let these people come in as residents and be citizens instead of having a captive labor supply.
Source: California State Legislature, Senate, “Hearings of the Fact Finding Committee in Labor and Welfare,” June 15, 1960, pp. 117-122.
Also: A Dolores Huerta Reader, ed. Mario T. García (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press) 2008, pp. 187-192.