AFL-CIO Recognizes the United Farm Workers

The AFL-CIO’s formal recognition of the United Farm Workers as a labor union marked the rise of a major organization fighting for workers’ rights.

Summary of Event

The success of strikes and worker organization during the 1960’s in the San Joaquin Valley in Delano, California, inspired farmworkers to organize in the Salinas and Santa Maria valleys, where 70 percent of all the head lettuce harvested in the United States was grown. Many of the nation’s strawberries, broccoli, cauliflower, tomatoes, carrots, artichokes, celery, garlic, and other vegetables are also grown in this area. In 1970, after 140 grape growers signed contracts with the United Farm Workers Organizing Committee (UFWOC), lettuce growers were faced with demands for union recognition of elections, in which the UFWOC appeared to be the certain winner. Growers had to choose between signing the agreement and facing the same type of farmworker strategies that had proved successful in Delano. Growers elected to bypass the elections and negotiate with the Teamsters Union. Teamsters Union This strategy, utilized successfully in 1961 by one of Salinas’s largest lettuce growers, Bud Antle, when he signed a contract with the Teamsters, allowed growers to avoid the more stringent demands by the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee (AWOC). A 1972 agreement between the farmworkers and the AFL-CIO (American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations) provided members of UFWOC with official recognition and a crucial ally in their struggles with the Teamsters. AFL-CIO[Aflcio]
United Farm Workers
Labor unions;United Farm Workers
[kw]AFL-CIO Recognizes the United Farm Workers (1972)
[kw]United Farm Workers, AFL-CIO Recognizes the (1972)
[kw]Farm Workers, AFL-CIO Recognizes the United (1972)
[kw]Workers, AFL-CIO Recognizes the United Farm (1972)
United Farm Workers
Labor unions;United Farm Workers
[g]North America;1972: AFL-CIO Recognizes the United Farm Workers[00520]
[g]United States;1972: AFL-CIO Recognizes the United Farm Workers[00520]
[c]Business and labor;1972: AFL-CIO Recognizes the United Farm Workers[00520]
[c]Organizations and institutions;1972: AFL-CIO Recognizes the United Farm Workers[00520]
Chávez, César
Antle, Bud
Grami, Bill

By 1970, California field-workers were organized and threatening strikes and boycotts. This created an unstable flow of produce handled by truck drivers, cannery workers, and other Teamster members. At this point, Teamster officials wanted representation rights that would allow them to control the field-workers. Since the 1930’s, the Teamsters had had jurisdiction over those field-workers who drove trucks, operated field conveyors, and pulled shed trailers with tractors. The Teamsters were aware that UFWOC would protest any moves in this direction as a violation of the 1967 jurisdictional agreement made in Delano with UFWOC. The result would likely be demands for elections, and a vote in favor of UFWOC would demonstrate that the Teamsters did not represent the field-workers.

César Chávez.

(Library of Congress)

July, 1970, is a crucial date in the escalation of conflict between growers and the UFWOC. Several vegetable growers approached Western Conference of Teamsters official Bill Grami during new contract negotiations with Teamster truck drivers. The growers wanted Teamsters to expand their representation to include field-workers. When truckers called a strike, the Teamsters found a reason for expanding representation to include field-workers when truckers decided to remain off work until contracts were also granted to field-workers. Grami responded that Teamsters had received numerous informal requests from field-workers for Teamster representation.

Following grower ratification of a new truckers’ contract, it was also agreed that the Western Conference of Teamsters would be allowed and encouraged to recruit farmworkers. Shortly thereafter, nearly all of the 170 growers in the area announced that they had signed Teamster agreements. Under terms of the agreement between the Teamsters and growers, workers would be required to join the Teamsters and pay $1.25 a week in dues. The agreement included pay raises of ten to fifteen cents an hour and minimal health and welfare benefits. The union hiring hall, utilized by farmworkers to staff the fields, was eliminated by the agreement giving growers freedom to hire workers.

The grower-Teamster agreement came one day after UFWOC leader César Chávez announced an organizing drive aimed at the vegetable fields. Chávez reacted to the grower agreement and marched into Salinas with several hundred farmworkers and an AFL-CIO contingent headed by organizing director Bill Kircher. One grower was picketed after firing 250 workers for not joining the Teamsters. UFWOC also began preparing legal action and a nationwide lettuce boycott. Lettuce boycott (1970)

Teamsters at the national level favored conciliatory action. The Auto Workers Union, a close ally of UFWOC, pressured national Teamsters leaders to help resolve the conflict. The Western Conference of Teamsters was asked to arrange a treaty with UFWOC, with assistance from the bishops’ committee, which had been instrumental in the vineyard settlement. This settlement reallocated jurisdiction over field-workers to UFWOC and stipulated that the growers who had recently signed Teamster contracts could switch to UFWOC. However, growers refused to give up Teamster contracts, and Grami claimed that the treaty bound both unions to honor the growers’ wishes. After two weeks of attempts by UFWOC and the bishops’ committee to get the growers to relent, a strike was called. Hundreds of UFWOC members and supporters picketed in front of targeted farms around Salinas and held outdoor rallies highlighted by emotional speeches. Growers countered by going to court for a restraining order against picketing, while the Monterey County Board of Supervisors in Salinas adopted an antinoise ordinance that prohibited UFWOC from using any voice-amplifying equipment. Despite dozens of arrests, pickets ignored these orders.

The California Supreme Court overturned rulings by the Monterey County Superior Court and ruled that there could be one informational picket at each of twenty-two of the Salinas Valley farms that constituted the strikers’ prime targets. UFWOC was refused the right to call a boycott against any of the 170 growers holding Teamster contracts. UFWOC ignored the ruling and called a boycott that focused on food markets in sixty-four U.S. cities. This boycott was difficult, because lettuce is a staple and growers waged a strong counterattack. Antle, for example, persuaded another superior court judge that UFWOC’s actions against his firm violated the state’s Jurisdictional Strike Act and UFWOC’s treaty with the Teamsters. In a favorable ruling for the growers, Judge Gordon Campbell ordered the arrest of Chávez. This event intensified support for UFWOC and Chávez. More than two thousand UFWOC members and supporters, including Ethel Kennedy and Coretta Scott King, accompanied Chávez to the jailhouse. They initiated prayer vigils and highly publicized demonstrations. Three days before Christmas, the judge ordered the release of Chávez.

The boycott continued into the early months of 1971, while national Teamster leaders and a bishops’ committee continued unsuccessful attempts to persuade growers to sign UFWOC contracts. The greatest conflict was over the hiring hall, which was a crucial method for granting the union the authority promised by the vineyard contracts. Growers did not like the workers sent out by the halls, complaining that dispatchers sent out older workers, whose seniority gave them priority, rather than the faster young workers requested by the growers.

AFL-CIO leaders agreed in 1972 to grant Chávez a charter that formally recognized the Organizing Committee as a union. UFWOC became a full-fledged affiliate of the AFL-CIO and was renamed the United Farm Workers of America (UFW).


This agreement gave the organization official standing, a role in AFL-CIO decisions and operations, and a sense of stability, but it did not abate the conflict between the grower-Teamster coalition and the UFW. In January, 1973, the Teamsters went after the UFW’s grape contracts. Teamster organizers went through the fields to get signatures on petitions asking the growers to sign up with their union. Nine hours after the UFW contract expired, Teamster and grower representatives announced they had negotiated contracts covering virtually all of the Coachella Valley’s vineyards. The Teamsters would eliminate the union hiring hall through the contracts and sign agreements with labor contractors to help supply workers.

The conflict between farmworkers and growers increased during the early 1970’s. This period was characterized by increasingly violent strikes among Teamsters and UFW supporters. California’s efforts at legislating a solution to the conflict were largely unsuccessful. The UFW was able to survive in part because of their formal agreement with the AFL-CIO, which continued to support them with financing and staff. From 1975 to 1980, more than five hundred elections were held in the fields of California, the majority won by the UFW. Finally, in March, 1977, Chávez and the Teamsters president Frank Fitzsimmons agreed that UFW would represent all farmworkers. AFL-CIO[Aflcio]
United Farm Workers
Labor unions;United Farm Workers

Further Reading

  • Dalton, Frederick John. The Moral Vision of César Chávez. Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 2003. This biography examines the union activist’s spiritual motivation for social justice.
  • Edid, Maralyn. Farm Labor Organizing: Trends and Prospects. Ithaca, N.Y.: ILR Press, 1994. A brief examination of farmworker labor organizing that discusses the farmworkers’ situation in the 1980’s and early 1990’s.
  • Fuller, Varden, and John Mamer. “Constraints on California Farm Worker Unionization.” Industrial Relations 17 (May, 1978): 143-155. Includes an examination of policies of resistance to farmworker organizing.
  • Martin, Philip L. Promise Unfulfilled: Unions, Immigration, and the Farm Workers. Ithaca, N.Y.: ILR Press, 2003. The Agricultural Labor Relations Act (ALRA), passed in 1975, granted farmworkers the right to organize into unions. However, twenty-five years later, only a small percentage of farmworkers belonged to unions. Martin examines why the ALRA failed.
  • Meister, Dick, and Anne Loftis. A Long Time Coming: The Struggle to Unionize America’s Farm Workers. New York: Macmillan, 1977. A clear, concise discussion of the farmworkers’ movement and negotiations between workers, Teamsters, and growers.
  • Segur, W. H., and Varden Fuller. “California’s Farm Labor Elections: An Analysis of the Initial Results.” Monthly Labor Review 99 (December): 25-30. A useful analysis of voting patterns in crucial farmworker elections.
  • Taylor, Ronald. Chávez and the Farm Workers. Boston: Beacon Press, 1975. A clear description of César Chávez and the movement for farmworker rights.

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