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City Council approves Cesar Chavez holiday

The Tucson City Council approved giving municipal workers a paid holiday to honor labor leader César Chávez. Tuesday's unanimous vote means the birthday of the civil-rights leader will be added to Tucson's list of holidays starting next year.

Under the proposal by Councilwoman Regina Romero, Tucson will celebrate César E. Chávez Day as a paid holiday for city workers, while asking Tucsonans to consider the new holiday a day of service.

The vote drew cheers from the audience in the crowded Council chambers.

"I want to call attention to an amazing leader who left a lasting legacy in my life and the lives of thousands of working families in Arizona and across the country," Romero said in a memo to other councilmembers. "César E. Chávez was an American hero and an Arizona native."

Chávez worked for access to safe drinking water for farmworkers, to end sexual harassment of women in the fields, for medical benefits and a union contract that banned pesticide exposure, Romero said, telling the crowd that she is the daughter of farmworkers herself.

The labor leader "worked tirelessly for 40 years," she said.

Speaking to the Council before the vote, a co-founder of the United Farmworkers spoke about Chávez's importance.

"We need to have César's legacy be known," said Dolores Huerta.

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Phoenix political activist Alexjandro Chávez recalled his grandfather's work "empowering children," pointing to Romero and other daughters and sons of farmworkers who have entered public life.

Chávez "gave our nation and each of us a  unique example to live our lives by," said Councilman Richard Fimbres before the vote. "We need to remember those people that struggled to improve the quality of all lives in our community."

The Monday closest to March 31 will become the official holiday; it will fall on March 30 in 2015.

Adding César Chávez Day gives city employees 11 paid holidays, adding an estimated cost of $503,000 to the city budget each year, according to an evaluation from the city manager’s office.

Just prior to calling the vote, Mayor Jonathan Rothschild addressed the issue.

"I need everyone in this room to understand, this ordinance is not without a cost," he said, asking City Manager Richard Miranda to detail why he recommended passage.

Miranda said the cost of the holiday "will be absorbed in our budget ... we're not going to need to take anybody's job away" and called the move a "reaffirmation" of Chávez's legacy.

Romero had originally proposed eliminating a floating/birthday holiday for city employees, but labor groups objected.

According to Fimbres, the cost of the holiday will be offset by several measures, including a rebate program through the use of the city's purchasing cards. Tucson Unified School District has saved nearly $477,000 in the last year and Fimbres expects the city to save more. 

"I think this is a positive step in the right direction," Fimbres said. "And, after the veto of SB 1062 and the passage of SB0170, we can't wait for the Legislature to do this."

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Approving the holiday will results in "far more goodwill" than funding concerns warrant, Councilman Steve Kozachik said.

“Cesar Chavez is someone who has influenced Tucson in a very real way,” said Councilman Paul Cunningham on Monday. “He marched here, he has family here, and we see murals throughout Tucson that honor him, so it seems shocking that Tucson, of all places, doesn’t have this holiday.” 

According to Cunningham, the proposal dovetails with the proposed change of Aviation-Barraza Parkway to Maclovio Barraza Parkway, fully recognizing the labor leader and civil-rights activist, who Cunningham notes, was friends with Chávez. 

Largely, economic concerns have kept the Council from voting on the holiday in the past.

“We’ve been at crisis for the last few years, and we’ve haven’t been able to take care of the things we wanted to take care of,” said Cunningham. “But the timing is right.”

"What is most important is that remembering and honoring César Chávez inspires more people to become involved in the causes that continue his extraordinary legacy," Fimbres said.

With the holiday's approval, Tucson joins Phoenix, Tempe and South Tucson as cities that have a paid holiday to honoring Chávez. Pima County also recognizes the Hispanic activist.

While Chávez died 20 years ago, his influence in American politics remains. The co-founder of the National Farm Workers Association along with Dolores Huerta, Chávez pushed hard for rights of field workers throughout the Southwest.

The labor leader, credited with coining the "Sí se puede" slogan during a 1972 protest fast, rose to prominence as he led a national boycott of grapes to force growers to improve working conditions.

While there is wide recognition of Chávez — the White House has proclaimed March 31 as César Chávez Day for several years, and three states, Colorado, Texas and California, have the date marked — there are relatively few cities that offer the day as a paid holiday. 

Chavez (March 31, 1927 - April 23, 1993) was, along with Huerta, one of the best-known leaders of the Hispanic civil rights movement in the 1960s. Chavez was born in San Luis, Ariz.

In 2011, the Navy named a Lewis and Clark-class supply ship after Chávez, who joined the Navy when he was just 17 years old and served during World War II.

He was posthumously awarded the Medal of Freedom by President Bill Clinton in 1994.

In 2012, the César E. Chávez National Monument was designated at the UFW's historic headquarters in California.

Modeling himself on Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr., he called on Hispanics to "Make a solemn promise: to enjoy our rightful part of the riches of this land, to throw off the yoke of being considered as agricultural implements or slaves. We are free men and we demand justice."

TucsonSentinel.com’s Dylan Smith contributed to this report.

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have your say   

Latest comments on this storyRead all 5 »

Mar 5, 2014, 10:34 am
-0 +3

Like I said, It’s more of the “it’s all about me” mentality.  Eleven paid holidays in the public sector is excessive, especially when you are millions in debt.  At least Pima County doesn’t shut down for their Cesar Chavez holiday, they have people alternate the day off, but I was a county employee when it was enacted and I thought then that an 11th holiday was excessive.  Any man can be honored without bankrupting the city.

Mar 5, 2014, 8:56 am
-0 +1

According to Fimbres, the cost of the holiday will be offset by several measures, including a rebate program through the use of the city’s purchasing cards. Tucson Unified School District has saved nearly $477,000 in the last year and Fimbres expects the city to save more.

I would ask Mr. Ingram to expand on this a bit. This seems more like a fragment than anything else, and doesn’t explain how this would pay for the holiday or save the city money. Purchasing what cards? Who purchases them? What rebate program? How does this all work? That would have been an important addition to the story.

Mar 5, 2014, 8:52 am
-0 +2

BOSA asserted:

I think that having a holiday to remember someone that had such a great impact in so many peoples lives is very important. I dont understand why the press and government have to make such an important accomplishment be focused just on the money. Yes tucson has horrible roads and they need to be fixed but this holiday isnt the only thing that the government is using the city money for. If we can have a holiday for Martin Luther King why cant we have a holiday for Cesar Chavez. They were equally important and influential in the human rights movement. Why dont people talk about the money that is lost on Martin Luther Kings holiday?  The reason that people dont talk about the money that is lost on this holiday is because of the way the press and government handle these situations . If the press didnt just focus on the money then people wouldnt look at this issue as something that is making us lose money. People would be able to see and understand how important this really is to our community.

I really don’t think it is all that important. Be that as it may, your line of thinking is what’s wrong with this community.

First off, the King holiday was enacted during a much better economic time. And, it is called “Civil Rights Day” (or something very close to that), so if Chavez was so important for Civil Rights then he can be honored with that day.

Now, a good leader can prioritize and be fiscally responsible. The current clowncil has abundantly demonstrated that they can do neither via useless choo choo trains, crashed Priuses, gun buybacks, and several other idiocies. But, if they could prioritize, they would see their $33 budget shortfall and realize that this is not a good time to spend an extra half-million on any holiday honoring anyone. Is there some sort of deadline for enacting this holiday that I don’t know about? Why can’t the clowncil wait until it gets its financial house in order (which I promise you will NEVER happen under the current clowncil) and talk about it then?

This town needs jobs…it just needs jobs. That’s what the clowncil should be focusing on. Then, when Tucson is back to work, we need a crosstown freeway. Doesn’t matter who wants to admit or deny that, it is one of our most pressing needs. After those things are addressed, then would be a good time to talk about extra holidays…

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Click image to enlarge

Joel Levine via Wikipedia

Chavez, in a cropped and retouched 1974 photo.

City of Tucson holidays

  • New Year’s Day
  • Martin Luther King Day
  • Presidents Day
  • César E. Chávez Day
  • Memorial Day
  • Independence Day
  • Labor Day
  • Veterans Day
  • Thanksgiving Day
  • Christmas Day
  • Floating/birthday holiday