United Farm Workers Union

By: Teresa Palomo Acosta

Type: General Entry

Published: February 1, 1996

The United Farm Workers Union was organized in Texas in 1966 as the United Farm Workers Organizing Committee, a union of the National Farm Workers Association and the Filipino Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee. The committee set out to organize farmworkers in Texas in 1966 during the Starr County Strike. In 1972 the committee received an independent charter from the AFL-CIO and became the United Farm Workers, AFL-CIO. Although the UFW did not establish a bona fide farmworkers union affiliate in Texas during the 1960s, it drew attention to the conditions under which agricultural laborers worked. After the melon strike in Starr County, the UFW was involved in the march of 1966 that sought to raise the hourly pay of workers to $1.25. The union also drew the attention of a congressional sub-committee on migratory labor that held hearings in the Rio Grande valley in 1967. In the early 1970s the UFW challenged for the right to engage in secondary boycotts in the state in Medrano v. Allee. Not until the late 1980s was this right upheld, in Olvera v. State of Texas. The union set up offices in Corpus Christi, Fort Worth, Houston, and San Antonio to run its statewide lettuce boycott, which was supported at the 1972 state Democratic convention. It also established its state headquarters in San Juan, where it has since maintained a staff. By the mid-1970s the leadership of the UFW in Texas changed. Originally, Eugene Nelson and Gilbert Padilla had organized the first union members in the state and run the melon strike. In 1975, Rebecca Flores Harrington took over the directorship of the Texas UFW, a post she continued to hold at the union's Austin office. In 1975, the same year that Harrington assumed the leadership in Texas, the union split when Antonio Ordendain, who had worked for the UFW in California and Texas, left to form a separate association, the Texas Farm Workers Union. The groups clashed over tactics.

UFW involvement in Texas has never been as extensive as in California, where the union has won contracts and gained other benefits for its members. The Texas UFW has had to look hard for help. To support the state office, it has acquired financial backing from minority organizations, the Democratic party, environmental groups, church organizations, and unions. To assist its constituents, the union has sought protective legislation and organized boycotts of specific products, chiefly grapes. Due to the difficulties in organizing farm laborers in the fields, the UFW has sent its staff to the colonias to recruit them. The grape boycott in the late 1980s and early 1990s, designed to persuade H-E-B and Whole Foods to discontinue selling non-union grapes, was not especially successful. Although the UFW has never signed any contracts with growers in Texas, it has won some important legislative guarantees for agricultural workers, including workers' compensation, minimum-wage increases, toilets in the fields, and unemployment compensation. At its San Juan headquarters the union has instituted a child-care program, established a very modest construction program to replace some farm workers' dilapidated housing, and started its own organic farm cooperative.

Dictionary of Mexican American History (Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1981). Texas Observer, September 2, 1966, June 6, July 21, 1967, October 6, November 17, 1972, April 17, 1981.
  • Peoples
  • Mexican Americans
  • Labor
  • Organizations
  • Associations
Time Periods:
  • Texas Post World War II

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Teresa Palomo Acosta, “United Farm Workers Union,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 26, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/united-farm-workers-union.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

February 1, 1996

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