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Meet Teresa Romero, The United Farm Workers First Woman President

September 3, 2018 2:29 p.m.

Meet Teresa Romero, The United Farm Workers First Woman President


Teresa Romero, president-elect, United Farm Workers Union

Related Story: Meet Teresa Romero, The United Farm Workers First Woman President


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

Our top story on Midday edition most people who labor in America are not members of a union. But for those who are organized labor's victories and defeats become important parts of their working lives. And Labor has seen some defeats lately most notably the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling allowing members of public sector unions to opt out of paying dues. But setbacks have not diminished the enthusiasm of my next guest Teresa Romero was just named the next leader of the United Farm Workers Union. She's the first Latina and first immigrant to head a national labor union in the United States. Teresa Romero joins me by Skype. And welcome.

Thank you very much. Thank you for having me.

Your new position allows you to follow in the footsteps of the late labor leader Cesar Chavez and civil rights activist Dolores Huerta who coined the slogan Si se puede. What does it mean to you to carry on their mission.

You know Marina is an honor. I have seen firsthand the struggles the farm workers have in this country and the fight that started over 55 years ago. So many people who sacrificed so much. It's something that continues today and I'm completely honored and ready to serve. Farm workers here in California thrived at our nation.

Now you grew up in Mexico I understand. How did you get involved in the Farm Worker Movement.

You know it was by chance Marine I there was a vacancy and at the time I came in started working for the union nine years ago and little by little I have taken more responsibilities in 2015. I was selected to be the secretary treasurer of the Union. And as you know this year I was elected to be the person who would succeed our current president Arturo Rodriguez.

How has your background as an immigrant helped you connect with farmworkers.

I have that connection with them of coming to a country that is Woodly behind our culture our language our family people that we know and when we come here it's it's starting all over again. I understand and integrate ourselves to a new culture learn the language and I know the struggles. I know how difficult that is. And most of our farmworkers come from you know Mexico South America and India and other countries. So I do understand the difficulty that it is for them to bring their families to try to support themselves their families and at the same time integrate new culture and language.

You'll be taking over for Arturo Rodriguez when he steps down in December as president when you assume that role what will be your top priorities.

One of the main priorities that is affecting farmworkers throughout the country is immigration reform. Unfortunately immigration or people who are undocumented right now are having fear even to take their case to school. I was talking to a family in Oxnard and they were telling me that it's not just them who worry about it. They have minor children who have who are 4 5 6 years old and they have to tell the kids what to do. They eat mom and dad don't come home. So to me that it is a priority to be able to even help the agriculture industry that as you know is supported by immigrants.

The overwhelming majority of farmworkers in the U.S. are not members of a union is union organizing. Also high on your Oregon agenda.

Absolutely. We will continue to organize and the way that we measure our success in the union is by how many people we affect.

Like I just mentioned over time and he don't miss protection is going to benefit hundreds of thousands of workers here in California. They're organizing workers under new collective bargaining agreements. It's apt.

To add up there of course what's the max protection you hope to secure for farm workers.

Well like I said we are doing it at the national level. The heat on this protection. We had many farm workers who passed away because of the high temperatures and continued to work and under those temperatures without rest without the ability to drink have water but now we're going to do it at the national level. And I repeat one of the areas that we need to have something done is an immigration reform. Right now we're creating a society that lives in the shadows. You know these are people who produce to our economy who are part of their communities who send their kids to school. We're raising the schools the children here.

So it is important that that immigration reform some type of immigration reform is passed now membership in the UFW is down from its high point in the 1970s because of that. Do you think the union has lost some of its power.

I don't think so. The country we have developed other other programs like our legislative work and we have sister gonna say just like you have Debbie Fondation who in the last few years has helped hundreds of thousands of people with. Their immigrant immigration issues and other issues in their community. No I don't believe that that we're losing our power. I think we're very strong. We come from a point of strength. We have the trust of workers within the union union we are very unified and we understand and we're very dedicated to improve the lives of farm workers.

I have been speaking with the next president of the United Farm Workers Teresa Romero and Theresa thank you so much.

Thank you very much Morenae appreciate it.