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UFW selects Teresa Romero first Latina immigrant woman to replace Arturo Rodríguez who is stepping down as president of the union

United Farm Workers President Arturo S. Rodríguez, who has led the union since 1993, will leave his post in December. Here, he speaks at a 2015 immigration forum in Fresno.
United Farm Workers President Arturo S. Rodríguez, who has led the union since 1993, will leave his post in December. Here, he speaks at a 2015 immigration forum in Fresno. jesparza@vidaenelvalle.com

Teresa Romero is making history as the first Latina and first immigrant to become the president of the United Farm Workers, replacing Arturo S. Rodríguez who is stepping down following 25 years of a farmworker movement that sprouted in the table grape rich region of Central California.

The union’s executive board unanimously voted to select Romero, the union’s secretary-treasurer since 2016, to replace Rodríguez.

The UFW made the announcement in a press release on Aug. 28.

“Sometimes I still pinch myself. It’s incredible, it’s an honor, and it is something that I don’t think I ever imagined,” said Romero of the appointment. “I worked so hard to be here today and continue working, doing the work of people like César, Dolores Huerta, Arturo Rodríguez have done through out the years.

“And here at the union we all work for the benefit of farmworkers. And I, personally, I am committed to work, continue working for the benefit of farmworkers,” said Romero, who as secretary-treasurer and chief administrative officer has overseen the complex financial management, administrative, staff recruitment, personnel, fundraising, IT and social media operations of a far-flung organization involved in field organizing, contract bargaining and administration, legislative and legal affairs, and far-reaching international initiatives.

According to the media release, following meetings with elected farmworker leaders at unionized companies from three states, the board affirmed Romero to become president of the national union.

Rodríguez will step down on Dec. 20, after 45 years with the UFW, the last 25 leading the union and helping it survive and make meaningful progress for farm workers following César Chávez’s death in 1993.

Teresa Head Shot.jpg
Teresa Romero is making history as the first Latina and first immigrant woman to become the president of the U.S. national union UFW, replacing Arturo S. Rodríguez who is stepping down as UFW president after 25 years of fighting for farmworkers not only in California but nationwide. Special to Vida en el Valle

His decision to step down has been in the making for a few years.

Rodríguez said a couple of years ago he was in a meeting with farmworker leaders in Madera and one of them, Vicente Pisano, a mushroom worker out of Watsonville, told him they all remember when Chávez died and the union went through a crisis. He was asked if the union was thinking about succession.

“When he asked that question, it really made me start thinking about that fact throughout the years,” said Rodríguez, who will turn 70 years old next year. “His question really struck me and we had the responsibility and obligation to the membership, to the legacy of Cesar, to the work we have done over the last 56 years, to seriously think about and plan for the future and think through what is the next step forward and think about the future.”

Rodríguez said about a year ago, the union’s leadership team began thinking it through and what the process might be and how they would do that and do it in a way that it would not disrupt the work that the union has been doing.

“We also felt that the organization was at a good position right now,” Rodríguez said, adding that “we had some significant victories over the years.”

Rodríguez said some of those victories include overtime pay for farmworkers, as well as state regulations for heat stress and pesticide use. He also cited “some very good contracts” with growers and initiatives like the UFW Foundation and the Equitable Food Initiative.

“Now is the time to really, seriously consider this and figured out how to do this,” said Rodríguez of the succession plan.

We also felt that the organization was at a good position right now We had some significant victories over the years.

Arturo S. Rodríguez

Romero, a nine-year veteran of the UFW, is ready for the challenges that come with her new role in the union and as well as the challenges the union faces now.

And what are some of the challenges the UFW is facing right now?

“One of the challenges that we all have in this country is the current administration, and the fact that we have to fight to protect workers and immigrants in this country.”

“We come from a place of strength and at the union we are very dedicated. We have people here that are very committed to continue this work,” said Romero.

“And the challenges are always there,” said Romero, giving an example of some of those challenges such as the UFW filing a lawsuit against the state to get the protections for farmworkers passed last year. “Sometimes these fights take a long time but we don’t get to give up. We continue working until we prevail and that definitely is a ‘Si se Puede’ attitude.”

Rodríguez agrees.

“We have a good leadership team, we have excellent worker leaders that are very committed and believe in the organization and have a really ‘Si se Puede’ attitude, and we have a vision that you know the agriculture industry in order to survive cannot do so without valuing farmworkers” said Rodríguez. “What we are going to see is that we are going to be much more engage in working with other partners in the food supply chain to figure out and determine in this country how we ensure the survival of agriculture here in the United States today.”

“If we don’t deal with immigration reform, if we don’t lift up and change the conditions of farmworkers, and improve those and insure that farmworkers can make and survive off the wages that they make and the benefits that they receive, and ensure that we began attract folk to come back to work in agriculture,” Rodríguez said. “I think the UFW is going to be very much engaged in that and our farmworker movement and all the different organizations that we created over the years.”

And Romero will focus on the vision and direction of the union.

“We definitely want to continue improving the lives of farmworkers and one of the things that we need to do that is key so farmworkers and immigrants are not living in fear, is continue working on immigration reform.”

“We of course want to continue growing our memberships through collective bargaining,” said Romero, adding that the union has also have developed other programs that will help, or had helped immigrants here in California, in Arizona like the UFW Foundation.

“We want to continue develop this program so we continue to impact life of farmworkers not only through collective bargaining but throughout other programs and our legislative work,” said Romero, who has raised $1 million to build the UFW’s new state-of-the-art 10,294-square foot facility in Salinas serving the largest concentration of unionized farm workers in the nation.

“We have different programs that will continue to development we are working on programs collaborative through relationships with employers,” said Romero, adding that the UFW recently signed a contract with an employer in California where employees “have great benefits” and the union is working together with the employer to be able to resolve issues, explain the communication between management and workers.

We definitely want to continue improving the lives of farmworkers and one of the things that we need to do that is key so farmworkers and immigrants are not living in fear, is continue working on immigration reform.

Teresa Romero

“Nobody knows what is happening in the field better than farmworkers, and for them to be part of the solution,” Romero said. “Farmworkers are professionals. They are skilled, they are trained, they are experienced, and I want people outside of our community to really understand that. Farmworkers feed this nation and the world. Without farmworkers we would not eat.”

“And I want to make sure that people are understanding, that this work in a profession that not everybody can do,” said Romero, who before joining the UFW, managed a construction company and a law firm that helped workers with immigration and workers compensation claims.

Romero, who is an immigrant from México, came to the United States in her early 20 and is proud of her U.S. citizenship and Mexican and Zapotecan heritage. She was raised in Guadalajara, Jalisco and has a bachelor degree in business administration.

Romero doesn’t see herself as a role model for Latina women and hopes people would see her as a person who works hard, is dedicated, had proved herself and who has taken on responsibilities and has succeeded in whatever she wanted to accomplish.

“I want women and young women to see that working hard and being committed would get them far,” Romero said, adding that she wasn’t to “remind everybody that our work, our mission is to help farmworkers and improve their lives.”

After stepping down on Dec. 20, Rodríguez will continue working with the union as UFW president emeritus and help guide sister farmworker movement organizations as members of their boards of directors.

Rodríguez met with presidents, popes, governors and celebrities, but he was proudest meeting and working with local farm worker leaders at union companies as well as farm workers from across the U.S. and around the world.

Romero will stand for election as president at the UFW 21st Constitutional Convention in 2020.

María G. Ortiz-Briones: 559-441-6782, @TuValleTuSalud

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