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Morgan Hill
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October 16, 2021

Honor Chavez’s memory with other than a day off

Santa Clara County supervisors have just chosen to give their
16,000 county employees another day off – 12 now with with pay – to
honor Cesar Chavez on March 31. Morgan Hill
’s City Hall – with 12 holidays also – will be shut down that
day, too, for the first time.
Santa Clara County supervisors have just chosen to give their 16,000 county employees another day off – 12 now with with pay – to honor Cesar Chavez on March 31. Morgan Hill’s City Hall – with 12 holidays also – will be shut down that day, too, for the first time.

The holiday – which Supervisors Don Gage and Jim Beall voted against – will cost the county an estimated $650,000, during a time when the county and city are facing substantial budget shortfalls. Naturally, some county workers will be on the job but they will be paid double time. Even federal employees only get 10 paid holidays a year.

“It has nothing to do with the individual and whether he’s deserving or not, it’s the wrong time to do it,” Gage, who represents South Valley, said of his decision to vote against the holiday proposal.

“We’re trying to tell people about our woes in county government and that they have to believe us when we have to cut services to them, and then we give a county holiday at the cost of a million dollars … I just have a difficult time trying to rationalize that at this time.”

It’s not that we don’t think Chavez was an important man – we do. It’s not that we don’t appreciate the many battles he fought on behalf of farm workers – we do.

But we are pretty sure that this is not how Chavez would want his life’s work remembered – by reducing government services to the people. It’s ironic that the people whose welfare he championed – farm workers – won’t benefit a whit from the fact that county workers will have a paid holiday in his name.

Chavez labored for decades to bring fair and just treatment to thousands of farmworkers. He went to jail to gain recognition for their labor providing our food. He fought for their protection from pesticides, for a reasonable rate of pay and for humane living conditions.

He did not labor so thousands of people have one day less access to the courts, to social workers, public health nurses and free legal representation.

He did not labor so some government employees can have yet another day to play golf or shop or go to the beach – especially while everybody else is hard at work.

He did not labor so working people – including many of his Latino constituents – have to find alternative child care for yet another school day.

Instead of celebrating his life by reducing services, how about increasing awareness of his concerns in his name? Even in this time of economic trouble, there are ways of getting us all to think about who Chavez was and what he stood for without spending the county’s disappearing funds.

A Cesar Chavez Day is a fine idea if we all celebrate it by going about our business, running into thought-provoking Chavez posters at every turn, for the power of graphic art is real.

If the schools focus their diversity components on Chavez for the day; if libraries circle the wagons around Cesar’s history and bring it out for us all to see, perhaps we could all gain some understanding of the lives farm workers lived.

If county and city workers use their day off to volunteer for projects near and dear to Chavez’ heart. A few more parks, schools or public buildings bearing the Chavez name wouldn’t be a bad idea either.

What about Saturday or Sunday for Cesar Chavez Day? Then the churches also could pay tribute and the economic and social impact would be less huge.

Instead, county supervisors gave a gift to their employees without those workers even having to bargain. The City Council unanimously approved the holiday for city employees in June 2001 as part of contract negotiations, to be effective in 2003. In stark contrast, according to 1996 statistics from the US Department of Labor, the average employee of a small private establishment had between 7 and 8.5 paid holidays per year.

Given that Chavez was a labor organizer, surely he would have appreciated the irony in that.

Think about how Chavez would really want to be honored. We can do better than another day off.

Morgan Hill residents have an opportunity to hear about the farmworker experience – in English and Spanish – from Francisco Jiménez, author of “Breaking Through”, Saturday, Feb. 22, 10 a.m. to noon at the Morgan Hill Community Center, Monterey Road and East Dunne Avenue.

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