This week's feature on Washington State Supreme Court Justice Richard B. Sanders quoted briefly from some columns he wrote as a young man for the University of Washington Daily. On Friday, in the interest of sharing source documents, we brought you his full 1968 column on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "suicide." Saturday we brought you his 1968 column on the 14th Amendment, yesterday we brought you his 1968 column on affirmative action, and this morning we brought you his 1969 column on migrant workers. That column on migrant workers moved Tom Chambers—then a third year UW Law student, now a state supreme court justice himself—to write the following rebuttal, which was originally published in the Daily on January 23, 1969. It was transcribed (original bolds included) by Stranger intern Ernie Piper.

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Tom Chambers, now a state supreme court justice
  • Tom Chambers, now a state supreme court justice
(Editor’s Note: The following column was written by Tom Chambers, a third-year law student who worked as a law clerk for the American Civil Liberties Union in the Yakima Valley, specializing with migratory workers. Opinions expressed by Mr. Chambers or other DAILY columnists do not necessarily express those of the editor or editorial staff.)

Mr. Richard Sanders, in his article about the grape boycott which appeared in the DAILY on Jan 16, demonstrated a complete lack of understanding of migrant workers and their problems. (A migrant worker is one who lives away from home some time during the year to work as a farm worker.) Perhaps a few examples will illustrate my point.

First, Mr. Sanders implies that the migrant workers are happy and not particularly interested in change. It is difficult to find reliable, unbiased data about migrants; however, a recent objective study of Washington migrant workers is very instructive.

In 1966, the average migrant family income in Washington was about $2,300 while the average family income in the state was about $7,000. Washington Mexican-American migrants have a life expectancy of 38 years while the average life expectancy of Americans was about 70 years. The median years of education among Washington Mexican-American migrants was 5 years while the median years of education among Washington residents as a whole was 12.1 years.

Thirty-six per cent of Washington Mexican-American migrant children die at birth (see “Migrant Farm Workers in the State of Washington,” Consulting Services Corporation, 1966, Vol. 2, pp. 12, 46, and Vol. 3, p. 16).

It is true that the California migrant may be somewhat better off than the Washington migrant, particularly where wages have been raised in an effort to break the grape strike. However, since 82 per cent of Washington Mexican-American migrants either come from or travel through California, it is reasonable to infer that the situations of the California and Washington migrants are not significantly different.

It is possible that Mr. Sanders believes that migrants are a happy lot—after all, many Southerners believed that black people liked being slaves.

Second the following California laws which Mr. Sanders claimed, and presumably believes, to be laws that protect California grape workers must be qualified in the following matter:

(a). The California Disability Insurance is of little practical benefic to seasonal workers who work for many different employers. In fact, it is almost designed to exclude migrants because benefits are based on a contribution scheme like unemployment insurance; i.e., each employer does not have to report the first $100 made by a worker and the worker must have had at least $300 of reported income during his last quarterly base period (often the migrant’s off season) before he can recover even the smallest disability payment.,

(b). The California Child Labor Law cited by Mr. Sanders does not exist as such, and if Mr. Sanders was referring to the California Minors Hours Act, that act specifically excludes child farm workers.

(c). The Women and Minors Wages and Hours act neither covers nor excludes farm workers, but provides that the Industrial Welfare Commission may set minimum wages for certain industries.
The Commission first attempted to establish minimum wages for women and minors in agriculture in 1967, which were to take effect Feb. 1, 1968; however, that order was stopped by legal actions brought by three grower associations. Women and children farm workers, contrary to Mr. Sander’s claim, still have no minimum wage protection from California.

(d). The California Wage Collection Law is merely the standard provision making it a crime to wrongfully refuse to pay wages; even if a migrant knew about the law, it would probably be too costly for him to pursue.

(e). California did pass and Employee Housing Act in 1965. However, it applies only to the construction of new housing. It excludes housing run by government agencies and it has liberal waiver provisions.

(f). The California Labor Contractor Law provides little in the way of protection for migrants and is primarily a $75 licensing fee regulation.

Mr. Sanders forgot to mention the long list of California welfare legislation that specifically excludes agricultural employees. The added qualifications to the statutes that Mr. Sanders cited are not meant to criticize him; he has merely accepted grower propaganda at face value.

Unfortunately. Mr. Sanders is correct about one thing. California, as weak as her protective laws may be, stands head and shoulders above most states—particularly Washington. In Washington, while many office jobs are considered to be “Extra Hazardous Occupations” and are covered by the state’s Workman’s Compensation plan, farm workers are not. Washington does that cover agricultural employees under its unemployment compensation plan or the women and minors act. Washington did add a farm labor housing regulation in October of 1968 but, unlike California, it is well below federal standards and allows waivers without restriction.

What about that federal code? Unfortunately, The Federal Farm Labor Camp Code allows state official to waive requirements; in 1968, of about 50 camps in Yakima County used for housing farm laborers recruited through state and federal employment services, one hundred per cent were given compliance waivers by Washington Stage inspection personnel.

Third, Mr. Sanders claimed that since only a small minority of the California migrants are striking the majority of migrants do not want unionization. However, according to the hearing report of the Senate Subcommittee on Migratory Labor on Senate Bill No. 1866 (1965-1966) at pages 103-4, a representative election was held during that summer of 1966 to determine bargaining representatives of field workers on Di Georgio properties near Delano and Borrego Springs, Calif.

The outcome of the election demonstrated overwhelmingly that the farm workers, when given a change, will vote strongly for unionization. Of 873 unchallenged votes, 861 (98.6 per cent) voted to unionize.

If Mr. Sanders can not reconcile the above report with the fact that only a small minority of farm workers in California are striking, I suggest he consider two possibilities:

(1). That people with annual family incomes well below $3,000 probably have to work at every opportunity just to stay alive; and

(2). It is generally accepted that before unionization can be successful, the workers’ expectations must be raised to a level where they believe that the changes of success justify the risk of organization.