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UFW’s Arturo Rodriguez stepping down, replaced by first Latina & immigrant woman president of a U.S. national union

Arturo Rodriguez stepping down as UFW president after 25 years of raising pay and making progress for farm workers; replaced by Teresa Romero, first Latina and immigrant woman president of a U.S. national union

Keene, Calif.—The United Farm Workers National Executive Board unanimously voted to put forward union Secretary-Treasurer Teresa Romero to replace Arturo S. Rodriguez as UFW president. Following meetings with elected farm worker leaders at unionized companies from three states, they affirmed Romero as the first Latina and first immigrant woman to become president of a national union in the United States. Rodriguez is stepping down on December 20, 2018, after 45 years with the UFW, the last 25 leading the union and helping it survive and make meaningful progress for farm workers following Cesar Chavez’s death in 1993.

(Both Rodriguez and Romero are available for interviews as are elected farm worker leaders at major companies under union contract.)

As secretary-treasurer and chief administrative officer, Romero, a nine-year veteran of the UFW, has overseen the complex financial management, administrative, staff recruitment, personnel, fundraising, IT and social media operations of a far-flung organization involved in field organizing, contract bargaining and administration, legislative and legal affairs, and far-reaching international initiatives. She ran fundraising that collected $1 million to build the UFW’s new state-of-the-art 10,294-square foot facility in Salinas serving the largest concentration of unionized farm workers in the nation. Before joining the UFW, she managed a construction company and a law firm that helped workers with immigration and workers compensation claims. Teresa Romero is an immigrant from Mexico who is proud of her U.S. citizenship and Mexican and Zapotecan heritage. She played an important part in many recent successful union efforts.

Achievement of notable milestones led union leaders to feel confident with Romero’s transition to the presidency. They include:

  • Farm workers for years only received pay raises when the minimum wage increased. Federal data for California shows farm workers in 2018 earn an average of $13.18 an hour, which is $2.18 above today’s state minimum wage. The UFW helped pull the wages of many farm workers up above the minimum wage in the state’s largest agricultural regions through pressure on non-union employers from union organizing and contract gains. Next year workers will begin benefiting from passage in 2016 of the UFW-sponsored law granting California farm workers overtime pay after eight hours a day, ending the race-based exclusion of state field laborers from the federal Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938.
  • Farm worker pay has also risen directly from dozens of negotiated and re-negotiated union contracts covering vegetable, berry, mushroom, wine grape, tomato, dairy, citrus and poultry workers in three states. The great majority of the California mushroom industry is unionized, with mushroom pickers averaging more than $40,000 a year plus full benefits. Salinas-based D’Arrigo Bros, one of the country’s largest vegetable producers, signed a new union contract in June 2018 for its 1,500 workers with significant pay and benefit increases, including the employer covering 100 percent of the $612 per month cost of complete family medical, dental and vision coverage. The UFW represents 30 percent of California’s fresh tomato industry at companies boasting the highest paid U.S. tomato workers who average $29.50 per hour. The union won historic first contracts in Oregon and Washington state. Most of the $500 million in health and pension benefits paid out over the years to farm workers and their families under the joint union-management Robert F. Kennedy Medical Plan and Juan De La Cruz Pension Plan came during the last 25 years.
  • UFW legislative and regulatory victories protect both union and non-union farm workers, including the 2016 overtime law and the union-sponsored 2002 statute letting farm workers use neutral state mediators to win union contracts when growers won’t negotiate them. The UFW convinced then-Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to issue the first state regulations in the nation in 2005 to prevent the heat deaths and illnesses of farm and other outdoor workers, and worked with the Jerry Brown administration to strengthen the rules in 2015. The UFW worked with the Obama administration’s Environmental Protection Agency in 2015, winning equality for farm workers by providing them with the same pesticide protections most other American workers enjoyed for decades.
  • The union negotiated with national grower groups to craft the agricultural provisions of the bipartisan 2013 comprehensive immigration reform bill letting immigrant farm workers earn permanent legal status by continuing to work in agriculture. The measure passed the U.S. Senate with 68 Democratic and Republican votes but died when House GOP leaders refused to allow a floor vote. Worked with President Obama and top White House officials to include many U.S. farm workers in the president’s 2015 executive order protecting immigrants from deportation. The UFW has become a leader in the national fight for immigrant rights.
  • The union has pioneered bold new initiatives, most notably the UFW Foundation and the Equitable Food Initiative. UFW Foundation, a sister organization in the farm worker movement, is now the largest provider of immigration legal services in rural California and assists tens of thousands of farm workers and other low-income Latinos on a host of issues. As globalization transforms agriculture, Equitable Food Initiative, which the UFW helped found in 2008 and chairs, is a consortium of unions, consumer and environmental groups, growers and major retailers collaborating to produce safer food in compliance with strict standards while meaningfully improving wages and protections nationally and internationally. It has already impacted the lives of nearly 30,000 women and men in four countries through EFI’s unique training and accountability program ensuring safety and higher pay by having farm workers, growers and retailers work together.

Arturo Rodriguez met with presidents, popes, governors and celebrities, but he was proudest meeting and working with local farm worker leaders at union companies as well as farm workers from across the U.S. and around the world.

After stepping down on December 20, Rodriguez will continue working with the union as UFW president emeritus and help guide sister farm worker movement organizations as a member of their board of directors. Romero will stand for election as president at the UFW 21st Constitutional Convention in 2020.