Thousands Fill Yakima Streets

by News from the Farm Worker Movement Thursday, Aug. 09, 2001 at 6:50 AM

Shouting "It can be done," an estimated 4,000 farm workers and union supporters marched through Yakima to promote their campaign for immigrant amnesty and better working conditions.

errorAugust 6, 2001

Thousands Fill Yakima Streets
Published in the Yakima Herald-Republic on Monday, August 6, 2001

By MARK MOREY

YAKIMA HERALD-REPUBLIC

YAKIMA -- Shouting "It can be done," an estimated 4,000 farm workers and
union supporters marched through Yakima to promote their campaign for
immigrant amnesty and better working conditions.

"On this day all of you made history because this is the biggest march
ever in the state of Washington," said Arturo Rodriguez, national
president of the United Farm Workers of America and the son-in-law of
legendary labor leader Cesar Chavez.

The crowd -- estimated at between 3,000 and 4,000 marchers -- followed a
three-mile route from Miller Park, down Yakima Avenue and back to the
park. Along the way, a chorus of cheers arose in support of union
solidarity. A truckload of injured workers led the procession.

After the march, speakers at a rally in the park voiced their backing
for legislation introduced Thursday in both chambers of Congress to
allow widespread amnesty for undocumented workers and their families in
the United States.

For too long, speakers said, politicians have ignored working conditions
and the reality that illegal immigrants perform much of the field labor
in the country.

"It can't stay that way. We want change in the futures of our children,"
said Tereso Ramirez, a fruit packer from George in Grant County.

Hundreds of other workers traveled by bus, van and car to join the rally
from throughout Washington and Oregon. Labor leaders also attended from
Mexico, Canada and Brazil.

Rodriguez encouraged the workers to obtain associate memberships in the
United Farmworkers. Applications would give lawmakers a solid indication
of support for the amnesty bill, he said.

"They need to see your interest," Rodriguez said.

Mexico ranks as the No. 1 importer of Washington apples. Marketers
expect retailers there to buy 10 million boxes this year.

For that reason, Mexican unions plan to launch an information campaign
asking shoppers in that country to avoid U.S.-grown apples "so that they
don't buy apples that are grown in unfairness," said Marco Torres of
Mexico's Confederation of Democratic Workers.

Two leaders in the state Democratic party, Reps. Frank Chopp and Phyllis
Gutierrez Kenney, also recalled their connections to immigration and the
fields.

Chopp told the crowd in an interpreted speech that his uncle was an
undocumented coal miner in Roslyn, part of that town's early Croatian
community. Instead of resisting immigrants, lawmakers of the era changed
laws to accommodate the influx, Chopp noted.

Kenney recounted her childhood as a farm worker and mentioned that the
state Legislature had made $16 million available for improvements in
farm worker housing.

But that's not enough, Kenney said.

"It's been a long time and the struggle is the same. We can't go
backward anymore," she said.

The crowd kept a positive view of the chances for general amnesty. The
proposed law would allow workers in the country for at least 90 days
since 2000 to apply for residency and keep working. Their direct
families would also be eligible.

"I have a lot of hope that it will happen," Sunnyside resident Martin
Rios said. Rios is general secretary for the union that represents about
250 workers at the Chateau Ste. Michelle wineries in Central Washington.
It is the only United Farmworkers unit in Washington, Rodriguez said.

Organization radically improved wages and benefits at the wineries after
workers signed a contract following a contentious boycott, Rios said.
Both workers and the company wanted to keep themselves in business, Rios
said.

"I think it will happen this year, because so many people need it," said
Ramirez, the George worker.

Ignacia Diaz, another Yakima fruit worker, said she also thinks the bill
will pass soon. It would guarantee more job security for many whom she
knows, Diaz said.

But Antonio Balderas -- an announcer for Granger's KDNA-AM, "The Voice
of the Farmworker" -- offered a more moderate opinion of the amnesty
legislation's prospects in Congress.

"Immigration politics are a mess," Balderas said in a brief radio
interview at the park. He warned that some form of partial amnesty seems
more likely.

March organizers first estimated that between 5,000 and 6,000 would
attend. But they were pleased with the somewhat lower turnout, said
Guadalupe Gamboa, the United Farmworkers' regional leader in Sunnyside.

The rally only begins an effort to pass the legislation and improve
labor conditions, speakers said.

"We have to keep fighting for justice," Rodriguez said.




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Yakima Herald-Republic



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