UFW President Teresa Romero leads the march as it heads out of Farmersville on the way to Visalia, on the sixth day of the march.

A March for Their Rights

A group of farmworkers marched 335 miles from the United Farm Workers’ (UFW) headquarters near Delano to the State Capitol in Sacramento. The three-week march was aimed at pressuring Governor Gavin Newsom to sign a bill that would allow farmworkers a choice, including vote-by-mail, in how elections are held in unionization drives.

Currently, farmworkers can vote to join the UFW only if they do so at a polling place designated by the Agricultural Relations Board, making them subject to retaliation, the union argues.

“When farmworkers vote they are subject to reprisals, and in some cases they lose their jobs just to practice their rights to vote like any citizen can do during a given election day,” said Eriberto Fernandez, a representative of the UFW Foundation.

“What we want is for farmworkers to be able to cast their ballots in secret, from their homes, like any voter.”

New ways of voting sanctioned by Assembly Bill 2183 would change that. Newsom vetoed a similar bill last year.

The UFW believes that if farmworkers are allowed to vote in secret, more will join the union and get representation.

“And this is what big agribusiness doesn’t want to happen,” said Fernandez. “If [farmworkers] have representation, they will have basic rights such as health benefits.”

The march started on Aug. 3 in Delano and ended on Aug. 26 in Sacramento.

As marchers and supporters gathered in front of the Capitol on Aug. 26, Governor Newsom released a statement explaining that he would not sign AB 2183 “in its current form.” However, he said that he is open to negotiate, meaning that if the bill is rewritten he would sign it.

Photos by David Bacon

A priest holds a short service with the marchers early in the morning before they start walking.
After a short service, marchers get ready to march. From left: UFW march captain Antonio Cortez, farmworker Lourdes Cardenas, UFW President Teresa Romero and an unidentified marcher.
A young marcher comes out with his family before going to the first day of school in Farmersville.
Marcher Yolanda Chacon Serna grew up in the union. Her father, Joe Serna, became the mayor of Sacramento.
Paul Boyer, mayor of Farmersville, marches with the workers as they leave town.
Lourdes Cardenas, a lifelong farmworker, leads one of the most frequent chants shouted by marchers to keep up spirits:  “¡Newsom, escucha, estamos en la lucha!” (Newsom, listen, we’re ready to fight!) and “Que queremos? ¡Que se firme la ley!” (What do we want? That he signs the bill!)
One supporter brings his children and a sign linking farmworkers’ efforts to win healthy living and working conditions with their right to vote for a union.
Veteran farmworker activist Yolanda Chacon Serna leads the marchers into Visalia.
A marcher carries the banner of the Virgin of Guadalupe.
  • David Bacon is a California journalist and photographer, and a former union organizer. His latest book is In the Fields of the North/En los campos del Norte (University of California/Colegio de la Frontera Norte, 2017).

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