Address by César Chávez, President United Farm Workers of America, AFL—CIO

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Address by César Chávez, President United Farm Workers of America, AFL—CIO

The Grape Boycott


By: César E. Chávez

Date: March 1989

Source: Chávez, César. "Address by César Chávez, President United Farm Workers of America, AFL—CIO." The César E. Chávez Foundation.

About the Author: César Estrada Chávez (1927–1993) was a Mexican-American labor leader and activist for civil and social rights. He gained international recognition for improving the working and living conditions of migrant farm workers, especially the elimination of harmful pesticides. With fellow activist Dolores Huerta, Chávez founded the National Farm Workers Association (NFWA)—now the United Farm Workers of America (UFW)—in 1962; they led a five-year grape boycott that eventually brought growers to the bargaining table. Chávez was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in August 1994. His birthday, March 31, became an official California state holiday in 2000.


In September 1965 César Chávez and 2,000 members of the National Farm Workers Association (NFWA) declared its first boycott of grapes. Putting the plight of farm workers in the national spotlight, and with support from political, religious, and student groups around the country, Chávez pressured growers to provide better wages and working conditions for their field workers. One year later, NFWA merged with an AFL—CIO union to become the United Farm Workers Organizing Committee (UFWOC). The strike, considered one of the most successful in American history, ended in 1970, when most California grape growers signed labor contracts.

In 1973 the UFWOC—now the United Farm Workers of America (UFW)—called a second grape boycott when the United Farm Workers of America (UFW) lost most of its labor agreements to the Teamsters. Gaining national attention, in part due to concurrent boycotts of nonunion lettuce and Gallo wine, the boycott ended four years later with the landmark California Agricultural Labor Relations Act.

In 1984 Chávez announced a third boycott called the "Wrath of Grapes" to protest the continuing use of toxic pesticides. At the same time, Chávez himself went on a thirty-six day hunger strike he dubbed the "fast for life." Chávez continued this third boycott until his death in 1993. Arturo Rodriquez succeeded him as president of the UFW.

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In November 2000, the UFW ended its sixteen-year boycott of California table grapes. UFW president Arturo Rodriquez noted that many of the union's goals—some originated by Chávez himself—had been fulfilled. One of the union's major goals had been to eliminate pesticides harmful to farm workers, especially Phosdrin, dinoseb, methyl parathion, methyl bromide, and Captan.

Dinoseb, a highly toxic herbicide, fungicide, and insecticide, was banned in 1986 due to the risk of potential adverse health effects such as sterility and birth defects. The insecticide methyl parathion (or Parathion) was severely restricted for most food crops and banned for indoor use in 1978 after the EPA determined that it had caused over 600 poisonings and about 100 farm worker deaths since 1966. Phosdrin, a pesticide, was banned in 1994 after farm workers Ricardo Guzman, Martin Martinez, and Miguel Farias, along with twenty-three other workers in Washington state, were poisoned. Methyl bromide, an agricultural soil fumigant, was finally phased out on January 1, 2005, (except for certain permissible exemptions). In 1989, the fungicide Captan was severely restricted in the United States for use on many food crops because it was shown to produce tumors in rats and mice.

In 1994, the UFW began to focus more on union organizing and contract negotiations than on boycotts. By 2000, it had won eighteen union elections and gained twenty-four new contracts with growers. Rodriquez also hoped to increase membership, which had dropped to 20,000 in 1994 after a peak of 80,000 in 1970–1971. In 2000, UFW membership stood at 27,000.

The cause that César Chávez spearheaded in the 1960s has strengthened the rights and protections of farm workers across the United States. Many local, state, and federal laws, regulations, and bans have been implemented due to the UFW. One of the most important of these is the California Agricultural Labor Relation Act, passed in June 1975. The act guarantees farm workers the right to join unions, organize, and bargain with their employers. It also protects them from unjust labor practices. Even with such laws, however, problems still occur: UFW spokespersons maintain that farm workers are still exposed to pesticides used by agribusinesses.

Chávez originally hoped to establish a labor union for farm workers that would represent them in their fight for better working and living conditions. He used nonviolent means to convince powerful grape growers and influential political groups that farm workers had the right to organize, and went on hunger strikes to bring national attention to the plight of his constituents. The UFW continues to organize and bargain for grape, lettuce, mushroom, rose, strawberry, and other vegetable and fruit workers in California, Florida, and Washington.



Bruns, Roger. César Chávez: A Biography. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2005.

La Botz, Dan. César Chávez and la Causa. New York: Pearson Longman, 2006.

Web sites

César E. Chávez Foundation. "An American Hero." <http://CháésareChávez.html> (accessed May 9, 2006).

Public Broadcasting Service. "The Fight in the Fields: César Chávez and the Farmworkers' Struggle." <> (accessed May 9, 2006).

United Farm Workers. "History." <> (accessed May 9, 2006).

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Address by César Chávez, President United Farm Workers of America, AFL—CIO

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Address by César Chávez, President United Farm Workers of America, AFL—CIO