Hundreds of people marched from Roseland to downtown Santa Rosa Sunday afternoon to celebrate the birthday of Cesar Chavez, protest the immigration policies of Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump and push for overtime pay for farmworkers.
The boisterous parade — complete with traditional Mexican dancers, lively brass bands and organizers with megaphones urging on supporters waving red United Farm Workers flags — kicked off around 2 p.m. with fiery speeches demanding justice for immigrants.
Alicia Sanchez, a longtime labor and Latino community activist in Sonoma County, stood on a flatbed trailer and urged the crowd to demand their state legislators support a bill to increase overtime pay for farmworkers.
“In 2016, for us to still say that he or she has to work more than 10 hours in order to qualify for overtime, that is an injustice,” Sanchez said. “We have to say, Enough!' "
State Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, has introduced legislation to require farmworkers to be paid overtime just like other workers in the state. Her Assembly Bill 2757 would gradually reduce the standard work day for farmworkers from 10 hours to 8 hours and set a 40-hour work week by 2020.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1938 excluded the nation’s farmworkers from the federal Fair Labor Standards Act to gain the votes needed in Congress to pass the landmark job protections. At the time, most of the nation’s farmworkers were black.
The agricultural industry has opposed such bills on grounds that growers need flexibility with scheduling and the ability to have employees work longer hours at certain times because of changing weather patterns and the seasonality of the growing season.
Armando Elenas, national vice president for the UFW, acknowledged workers from several North Coast wineries taking part in the march. He said local legislators have not yet taken on a position on Gonzalez’s bill.
“They’re not committing yet. They’re listening to the growers,” Elenas said. “We want them to commit and say, ‘We’re going to be with the farmworkers.’”
Elenas also blasted controversial comments by Trump that some have called were racist and anti-immigrant. That included Trump’s widely reported claims last year that the Mexican government was “sending” people to the U.S. who were criminals, rapists and involved in the drug trade.
“We are workers!” Elenas said. “All we’re trying to do is provide for our families.”
Marchers carried signs that read “Chavez Si! Trump No!” and “We Feed You!”
Similar marches took place Sunday in Salinas and Merced.
Lizbeth Valdez, an organizer for the UFW, said the union co-founded by Chavez in 1962 represents workers at four wineries on the North Coast — Gallo Vineyards and Balleto Vineyards in Sonoma County and CK Mondavi and St. Supery in Napa. She said several workers came from Napa to participate in the event.
Chavez, who was born on March 31, 1927, died at the age of 66 after decades as a civil rights leader and labor activist for field workers in the U.S.
“This march was the best way to celebrate Cesar Chavez’s birthday because it helped people keep going and keep doing his legacy,” Valdez said.
You can reach Staff Writer Kevin McCallum at 521-5207 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @srcitybeat.