Washington governor’s office
Farm labor organizer Cesar Chavez is the fourth person honored by Washington state with a day of recognition, joining Christopher Columbus and two figures prominent in territorial history.
Gov. Jay Inslee signed legislation Saturday at the United Food and Commercial Workers office in Yakima designating March 31 as Cesar Chavez Day. He was joined by Chavez’s son, Paul Chavez, president of the Cesar Chavez Foundation.
The day will not be a paid holiday for public employees in Washington, as it is in California and several other states.
The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Zack Hudgins, D-Tukwila, credits students in his Seattle suburb district with giving him the idea to advocate a Cesar Chavez day beginning in 2014.
The legislation passed the House several times and was again approved this year on a 73-23 vote. Then for the first time the bill passed the Senate, 35-14.
In floor speeches, lawmakers compared Chavez to Martin Luther King Jr., Mahatma Gandhi and Catholic social activist Dorothy Day. Opposition was muted, though Senate Minority Leader Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, said he couldn’t agree with a fellow senator who called Chavez a great labor leader.
Chavez was born March 31, 1927, in Yuma, Ariz., and died in 1993. The following year, he posthumously received the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Chavez served for two years in the Navy, 1944-46, before he began his career as a labor organizer. He co-founded with Dolores Huerta the United Farm Workers.
President Barack Obama proclaimed March 31 as Cesar Chavez Day several times during his presidency. According to Obama’s 2014 proclamation, Chavez championed workers who toiled in “deplorable conditions ... exposed to dangerous pesticides and denied the most basic protections.” Chavez was an inspiration to “fight to raise the minimum wage,” according to the proclamation.
Chavez visited Washington in 1969 during the five-year boycott of California grape growers. He was welcomed to Seattle by Mayor Wes Ulhman, who proclaimed “Farm Worker Day.” On the same trip, Chavez received a 10-minute standing ovation at an appearance in the Yakima Valley, The Associated Press reported.
Chavez received another standing ovation in 1974 after a speech at the University of Washington. AP reported that Chavez accused U.S. immigration officials of letting workers into the country to “break strikes and take jobs away from us.”
Chavez said he had given immigration officials specific information about illegal aliens in Fresno and Los Angeles, but nothing was done, according to the press report. Chavez said federal officials had used the excuse that they had insufficient staff to pursue the information.
The state recognizes Oct. 12 as Columbus Day, though it’s not a legal holiday. The state also has honors Marcus Whitman on Sept. 4 and Mother Joseph on April 16.
Whitman established a mission near Walla Walla, led pioneers over the Oregon Trail and was killed in 1847 in the Whitman Massacre. Mother Joseph, born Esther Pariseau, supervised the construction of dozens of hospitals and schools over the last half of the 19th century.
The state has 15 days of recognition in all, including days to honor prisoners of war, and veterans of the Korean and Vietnam wars.