26 March 2012 - Washington, DC - Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis hosted the Induction of the Farm Worker Movement into the Labor Hall of Honor in the Great Hall and then proceeded to name and unveil the Cesar E. Chavez Memorial Auditorium. Family members from the Chavez family were on hand as well as Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack.US Department of Labor
Resolutions, which tend to be largely symbolic, often get the nod without much fanfare.
But in bitterly divided Congress, even resolutions can run into opposition and bickering between Republicans and Democrats.
So it was with a resolution pushed by Sen. Robert Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, honoring the late labor rights leader Cesar Chavez.
The proposed resolution noted that Chavez, who would have been 87 on March 31, started out in a poor farm worker family, had to leave school after the eighth grade to help his parents and rose to fame by fighting successfully for better farm working conditions, wages, housing and the elimination of child labor.
But Republicans blocked it after Democrats refused their demand that they also include in the resolution mention of how Chavez pushed for tighter border security and saw undocumented immigrants as detrimental to U.S. workers.
Menendez was a member of the so-called Gang of Eight’s comprehensive immigration bill, a bipartisan measure that passed in June and included stricter border security and expanded foreign worker visas.
“Had [the Senate Gang of Eight bill] passed, it would have been adverse to farmworkers who are in this country working hard, needs pay raises and need better job opportunities,” said Jeff Sessions, an Alabama Republican, as he blocked the resolution, according to Politico. “I think these are important parts of Mr. Chavez’s career.”
Menendez fired off an angry statement after the resolution failed.
“It’s really shameful that we can pass, you know, commemorative resolutions on some of the most insignificant things,” Menendez said. “But on the life of someone who changed the course of this country for millions of Latinos who understand that life and history and would want to see that life commemorated, that there can be continuing objections [for] eight years.”
It long has been known that Chavez, indeed, felt strong opposition to undocumented immigrants, believing that they undermined U.S. workers and labor strikes.
His cousin, Manuel Chavez, oversaw an effort called the “wet line,” which involved setting up dozens of tents along the U.S.-Mexico border and staffing them with about 300 members of the United Farm Workers, the union he helped found. The union workers stopped border crossers and tried to deter them from entering the U.S.
Other labor unions, at the time, typically also opposed illegal immigration, seeing it as competition.
But Chavez and other union officials later softened their stance – particularly as union membership declined – and backed amnesty programs and sought to recruit undocumented immigrants as union members.