Farm laborers march for benefits, health care in Merced

Scores march, waving flags and chanting
Health care, education and farmworkers’ rights were focus
March in solidarity with workers in San Quintín, Mexico

Health care, education and farmworkers’ rights took center stage during a march and celebration Sunday in Merced.
The second annual Cesar Chavez March carried on the legacy of the civil rights advocate, according to organizers, who said conditions for workers must still improve.
Crissy Gallardo, a member of the march’s committee, said local community organizers are pushing for legislation at the county level.
“We really want to make sure that undocumented workers and families are able to get health coverage,” she said.
Drums pounded and marchers chanted in Spanish as the procession left from M and 16th Streets, moved along 16th and turned on Martin Luther King Jr. Way en route to McNamara Park.
Nuvia Tinajero, 22, of Merced pushed a stroller carrying her son, 7-month-old Jacob. Next to her was her mother, Alma Tinajero, 45. Several members of their family are farm laborers.
“We’re supporting people who work in the fields,” she said. “They’re not getting paid overtime. That’s not fair.”


The threshold for overtime pay for farm workers is higher than for other Californians. While non-farm labor is paid overtime after more than eight hours in a day or 40 hours in a week, farmworkers are not paid more until after 10 hours in a day and 60 for a week.
Children as young as 12 can also work in the fields outside of school hours, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, another practice organizers said they wanted to highlight.
The march culminated in McNamara Park, where people could register to vote, buy artwork or speak to service providers. Jennifer Morales, 25, of Merced said the march was also a stand of solidarity with exploited farmworkers and a push for a better educational system.
“We’re here saying education should be free,” the graduate student said. “We want to make sure getting a degree is attainable.”
Some marchers held signs referencing a Driscoll’s berries boycott and strike that has carried on for more than a year. Thousands of workers walked out of the shipping facility in San Quintín, Mexico, about a year ago.

FEAR SEEMS TO BE BEHIND THE EXPLOITATION. Fatima Velasquez, 26, of Sacramento

Advocates said workers there are pushing for better wages, better controls on sexual harassment and a collective bargaining agreement.
Fatima Velasquez, 26, of Sacramento attended the Merced march. She also marched in a Driscoll’s protest last month to mark one year since the walkout in Mexico. She said farmworkers are too easily exploited.
“Fear seems to be behind the exploitation,” she said, noting undocumented workers in this country are also afraid.
Another speaker at the rally in the park was Dr. Salvador Sandoval, who works with Golden Valley Health Centers in Merced. He spoke on the plight of farmworkers in the Valley who are affected by the drought. He said he’s visited workers in the Porterville area who have to pay for drinking water and who can only use the contaminated water from their faucets to bathe.
“They’re paying for the water, and right across the street are beautiful, green orchards,” he said.