Cesar Chavez, president of the United Farm Workers union, tapes an interview at ABC affiliate radio station KLOS in Los Angeles on October 1, 1976. UPI File Photo | License Photo
March 31 (UPI) -- Americans honored the life of labor activist César Chávez on what would have been his 95th birthday with events and acts of service across the country Thursday.
Chávez, born March 31, 1927, in Yuma, Ariz., co-founded the National Farm Workers Association, an organization that would go on to become the United Farm Workers union. He became known for leading labor strikes, particularly among farm workers, to seek better wages and working conditions.
Though he died in 1993, Chávez is still celebrated by labor rights groups for his campaigns and environmentalism.
To mark César Chávez Day, the city of Phoenix closed its offices Thursday. Nick Valenzuela, who works for the city and serves on the board for the Phoenix Hispanic Network, encouraged residents to volunteer and "do something good for your community" in honor of the day.
"He was out there every day fighting to improve the lives of others and I think that's what we can do ourselves," he told KNXV-TV in Phoenix.
In California, San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo participated in a day of service, volunteering to make sandwiches at Martha's Kitchen, a soup kitchen. Liccardo drew a line between Chávez's work championing farm workers and current economic hardships facing Americans.
"It's painfully ironic because as we're seeing what we think is a growing economy, more jobs, unemployment rate close to 3%, what we know is the intensity in need has not abated, in fact, it's gotten worse," Liccardo told KTVU-TV in Oakland, Calif.
"It is the farm workers, ultimately, it is their labor that produce this critical resource for us all."
In San Rafael, Calif., students at Tamalpais High School marched Wednesday along the same route Chávez and others walked in 1970 to strike for typographers at the Marin Independent Journal.
And at the White House, President Joe Biden noted Chávez's birthday by posting a photo of a bust of the labor leader.
"When I became president, I proudly placed a bust of César Chávez in the Oval Office -- a constant reminder of the enduring values he embodied, the vision of freedom he fought for, and his commitment to social justice and equal dignity that we must uphold each and every day," Biden tweeted.
Former President Barack Obama designated March 31 as a national holiday -- César Chávez Day. It's also a state holiday in California.
The UFW marked César Chávez Day by gathering activists in 13 cities to ask why California Gov. Gavin Newsom won't meet with farm worker leaders on the holiday to discuss the Agricultural Labor Relations Voting Choice Act. A similar bill passed the state Legislature last year but Newsom vetoed it.
"Farm workers feed the nation, but we are denied basic rights other workers have. We deserve to vote where we don't have supervisors and labor contractors there pressuring us," said vineyard worker Vianey Enriquez. "It's impossible to have a free choice when you have the supervisor who threatened to fire anyone who voted for the union staring at you."