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Chavez holiday at risk

By Jessie Mangaliman and Laura Kurtzman
Mercury News

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 Nez, 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) 

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