On Tuesday, March 28, the Claremont Colleges United Framer Workers (SFFW) hosted a dinner conversation with United Farm Workers (UFW) President Teresa Romero, the first Latina immigrant woman to lead a national labor union, at Pitzer College’s McConnell Founder’s room.
Founded in 1962, the UFW is the first and largest farm workers union in the United States, centering activism in and around the state of California. Under Romero, the union has implemented state standards to protect farm workers from extreme heat and successfully lobbied for the first state law in the country securing overtime pay after eight hours of work.
Romero’s presentation highlighted the regulations and labor laws that have saved farm workers’ lives, including the Half Moon Bay shooting, where a gunman killed seven agricultural workers and wounded several others at two agricultural sites on Jan. 23 in Northern California. She urged attendees to demand government officials combat such farmworker injustices with policy.
“The laws in the books are not the same as the laws on the fields,” she said. “We need to make sure that our farmworkers are properly protected as they are the ones who provided us the sustenance we need to live every day.”
Kenny Lê PZ ’25, operations lead of SFFW, felt grateful to organize this talk with Romero, especially during the week of César Chávez Day.
“Organizing this event was very complicated but extremely fulfilling,” he said. “Because our club is relatively new, we had to pull from other collegiate departments and affinity centers that have worked traditionally hosted events during César Chávez week to make this event a success.”
Lê appreciated that Romero highlighted injustices in current labor law legislation and provided anecdotes of the conditions faced by agricultural workers in the United States.
“I thought it was important that Romero talked about how labor laws were never made to fully support people like farmworkers,” he said. “There have always been gaps [and] inconsistencies with the implementation of the laws, with how it functions, with its mechanisms that are grounded in a history that has to do with neoliberalism, racial capitalism, and border violence.”
Organizer Leilani Filimaua PO ’23 found Romero’s presentation to be relevant to many members of the Claremont community, including herself.
“People don’t realize just how much pain people in the labor industry are facing beneath the surface. My grandfather was a Bracero, he came over from Mexico when he was 17 and was spraying DDT everyday,” she said. “These are stories that really affect us and our California population, [and] that’s why I think it’s especially important that Claremont students should be at least conscious of these issues happening around them.”
Filimaua added that more Claremont students should use their platform to speak about unjust labor laws and discrimination against farmers.
“We go to the dining halls every day, and some people don’t even think about where their food is coming from,” she said. “I think it’s important to put names and faces to those people and recognize that we have privilege and that we have a platform to make a difference in these issues.”
Lê and Filimaua acknowledged that there is a lot of work that still has to be done to achieve justice for farm workers.
“Like Romero said, only two congresspeople –– Alex Padilla and Cory Booker –– showed up to UFW marches of 100 that they asked, so I think that shows that even though UFW is very well respected in terms of government support, we’re still not there in achieving all our goals,” Filimaua said.
But Lê is optimistic that continuing to educate the public about the adversity present in the farming industry will eventually help those that suffer from it.
“Because of the political climate and divisive nature [of this issue], farmers are constantly facing oppression and discrimination,” he said. “We have a long work road ahead and I think Teresa did an amazing job of highlighting the different stories and the struggles.”