Workers march for Cesar Chavez Day in San Diego

Mayor, other local leaders attend

SAN DIEGO - Hundreds of labor union members marched through downtown San Diego Monday to celebrate Cesar Chavez Day.

The sixth annual Cesar Chavez Day March has become largest of the year for the San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council, according to the umbrella organization that represents the region's unions.

Marchers rallied at Spanish Landing Park, then marched to Lindbergh Field and around county and state buildings, before winding up on the Community Concourse next to City Hall.

At the march, there were some signs that read "Si se puede" or, yes, it can be done -- a term coined in the 1970s during one of Chavez's peaceful protests.

Chavez -- who championed the rights of farm workers in California and other states and started the National Farm Worker's Association in 1962 -- would have turned 86 years old on Sunday.

"He was an incredibly committed person, but he did it with an aura -- like maybe Mother Teresa or Nelson Mandela -- of a calmness, of sweetness, of love that just brought people together," San Diego Mayor Bob Filner said.

"They're very key to supporting middle-class America and working-class people," 40-year union member Karie Lasko said of unions.

Lasko said unions give families security, and she added, "Because the unions secure them health care, good pay."

"The very basics, the things we take for granted, a minimum wage, to not be abused," San Diego Labor Council AFL-CIO member Lorena Gonzalez said of unions. "For a roof over their heads, food on the table, a chance that their kids can do just a little bit better."

"Cesar Chavez has been a hero of mine since the 70s when we were boycotting grapes and lettuce and Gallo wine and we won," said Gennie Phillips, a non-union community member.

Chavez was a first-generation American born in Yuma, Ariz., in 1927. He became a migrant farm worker at the age of 11 after his family lost their home during the Great Depression.

San Diego Unified School District trustee Richard Barrera and Labor Council CEO Lorena Gonzalez, who is running for the open Assembly seat in the southern part of San Diego County, also took part in the march.

"Cesar Chavez took the most vulnerable workers, farm workers, and organized them … organized them in a way people didn't even think possible," Gonzalez said. "They came together and demanded more … just the very basics."

Other union members said the march and rally was away to celebrate Chavez's legacy. Labor leaders also said remembering Chavez is not about union versus non-union members, but a matter of fighting for all workers in San Diego.

"Love and sense of community, hope because we're still here," said Phillips.

Chavez died in 1993.

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