Chavez holiday at risk
GOVERNOR'S PLAN IRKS CHAVEZ BACKERS
By Jessie Mangaliman and Laura Kurtzman
COUNTY AND STATE workers will have the day off on Thursday, in honor of
farm labor leader Cesar Chavez. But Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's idea of
a tribute to Chavez -- to work on Thursday -- is sending an uneasy
message to those who worked hard to secure the holiday in the first place.
"He doesn't see Cesar Chavez as worthy of having his own holiday,"
said Ray Baeza, chair of the Latino Caucus for the Service Employees
International Union, Local 715, in San Jose. "Perhaps he should go down
to the fields and honor farm workers and the great work they do."
At her weekly news briefing on Tuesday, Margita Thompson, the governor's
press secretary, said Schwarzenegger is not going to take Thursday off,
even though most state agencies will be closed. Legislators took Monday
off in Chavez's honor and will also work on Thursday.
When asked if the governor was going to do anything to commemorate the
labor leader's birthday, Thompson said, "Certainly there can be no
better homage to Cesar Chavez than working."
That reply was notable because Schwarzenegger has proposed eliminating
two of 13 state holidays to cut costs, although he has not said which
ones. Some suspect Cesar Chavez Day will be a target, because it is the
most recent state holiday, added by Gov. Gray Davis in 2000.
"They may be trying to eliminate it," said Steve Maviglio, spokesman
for Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez, D-Los Angeles. "The governor's
relationship with the Latino community is poor to begin with, and that's
probably another nail in that coffin."
In defense of the governor, Thompson pointed to more than a dozen bills
the governor signed in his first year to help migrant workers, including
proposals that help them find affordable housing. She later said
Schwarzenegger has "ultimate respect for working people."
Five years ago when Chavez's birthday became a paid holiday for state
workers, critics noted the day off would cost the state $46.5 million a
year. In addition, the law provides $5 million in grants to help public
schools develop community service projects in honor of Chavez. Today,
numerous California streets, schools and buildings are named in his honor.
Marc Grossman, spokesman for the United Farmworkers Union, which lobbied
for the holiday, said it was less important for state workers to observe
the holiday than it was for school children to learn about Chavez
through curriculum developed by the state board of education.
"For us, that was the most meaningful part of the law," said Grossman.
"We hope the governor finds some other way to honor Cesar Chavez, other
than taking the day off." But Hermelinda Sapien, who heads the San
Jose-based Center for Employment Training, which provides training to
minorities, said the governor should show more respect to Chavez, whom
she marched with and called "my hero."
"It is a state holiday," she said. "I think that since we honor other
leaders who have had a lasting impact on our lives that we should
respect that, and I'm disappointed. The farm workers are the most
neglected, the most underpaid, and he lifted them, and I think we should
continue that legacy."
Mercury News Staff Writer Dion Nissenbaum contributed to this story.
Contact Jessie Mangaliman at jmangaliman@ mercurynews.com or (408)