Today we commemorate the life and achievements of Cesar Chavez – one of our country’s preeminent social justice champions. Born on March 31, 1927 in Yuma, Arizona, Chavez spent his life fighting for better treatment, fair pay and improved working conditions for farm workers. In 1962 Chavez founded the National Farm Workers Association – later known as United Farm Workers (UFW) – with fellow organizer Dolores Huerta.
In the 1970’s, Chavez successfully campaigned for collective bargaining rights for farm workers. Through a series of national boycotts and monumental marches, Chavez and the UFW achieved improved labor conditions and increased compensation for workers. This included required rest periods, medical benefits, access to clean drinking water and protective clothing. In 1979, Chavez won another important benefit for farm workers – a pension.
The Juan de la Cruz Farm Workers Pension Fund – named for a worker killed while picketing during a UFW grape strike in 1973 – is the first and only pension fund for American farm workers. Growers contribute to the pension fund for every hour worked by a UFW member. The vesting period for workers is 500 hours per year and benefits are calculated based on vesting credits, hours worked per year and grower contributions. Workers can retire as early as age 55 and the fund provides spousal and death benefits. The fund currently serves over 10,000 members.
With the average annual income of American farm workers ranging between $10,000 to $12,499, saving for retirement is exceptionally challenging. By establishing a pension fund, Chavez provided workers with an opportunity to provide for themselves and their families after they are no longer able to work the fields. In his pursuit for social justice, Chavez recognized the right of every worker to retire with security and dignity after a laborious career.
Pension funds like the Juan de la Cruz Farm Workers Pension have provided American workers with unrivaled retirement security for over 100 years. You can learn more about the history of pensions in America, why they were implemented in the first place – and why they matter today- in our latest report Why Pensions Matter.