Describing Healdsburg as the “center of wealth in Sonoma County,” Davin Cardenas rallied a crowd of some 200 farmworkers, their families and supporters at Giorgi Park on Saturday in a demonstration in support of disaster pay for farmworkers.
Gathering strength and numbers as it went, the group marched down residential Piper Street toward the Plaza and did a loud loop in front of West Plaza Park. Then it settled at the gazebo for music, speeches and chants extolling the power of labor in the success of Healdsburg’s food and wine notoriety.
Cardenas, the North Bay Jobs With Justice director of organizing, pointed out that the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors recently created a compensation fund based on the lobbying effort of North Bay Jobs With Justice.
He served as translator for several Spanish-speaking members of North Bay Jobs With Justice (NBJWJ) who had come to Healdsburg with their message of climate justice for workers. Cardenas also played the role in reverse, translating English speakers into Spanish, including Councilmember Chris Herrod and Mayor Ariel Kelley (who introduced herself in Spanish as well).
Herrod said, “This is just the beginning of our efforts, and we need everyone to return and keep delivering our message,” speaking of the growth of an equity movement in Healdsburg, a city that is in the midst of its Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) process. “Equity is on the rise, diversity is on the rise, organization and negotiation are on the rise in Healdsburg.”
“I am grateful to the team of farmworkers who are bravely using their voices to shed light on these labor issues,” said Kelley. “We are listening.” She then acknowledged the leadership team of North Bay Jobs with Justice, as provided to her by executive director Max Bell Alper.
The primary issue that drove the march and demonstration was disaster pay for area farmworkers: both hazard pay for working during dangerous conditions, such as active fires and heavy smoke, or extreme heat and flooding, and compensation for lost pay during weather and disaster crises.
Speaking of her own awareness of farmworkers who were put at risk during climate disasters, Kelley said, “While there are many good actors in the industry, it is the actions of many bad operators that is pressuring these workers and protest organizers to take action and demand hazard pay.”
Also noted was the disparity between the attendees of the Healdsburg Wine and Food Experience, whose VIP tickets cost over $4,000, and the $17 hourly wage of farmworkers. However, the event that the demonstration focused on, the Grand Tasting in the West Plaza parking lot, did not cost $4,000 to attend, but $250, less for Healdsburg residents.
Then, carrying colorful signs and a large woodpecker puppet, the new symbol of North Bay Jobs With Justice, a long line of marchers made their way to the city’s core through Healdsburg’s residential neighborhoods on Piper Street. They followed in the wake of Banda La Solteca of Santa Rosa.
The beat of the drums and blare of the brass continued past the rose gardens of the 100-year-old houses. Residents came out to watch, wave and clap their hands to the music of the march.
The signs, reading Listen to the Workers, Respect Indigenous Languages, Climate Justice for Agricultural Workers and Farmworkers Deserve Disaster Pay, in both English and Spanish versions, created a colorful overhead carpet that the marchers carried, including a larger-than-life acorn woodpecker, symbol of the worker advocacy organization.
“La tierra es de quien la trabaja”—“The land belongs to those who work it,” a quote attributed to Emiliano Zapata—was the only sign left untranslated into English.
Alper, the organization’s executive director, showed his skills in crowd management and event presentation by leading the 200-plus group across busy intersections and finally across Healdsburg Avenue to the site of the Grand Tasting. Then in a loud loop of chants and songs, they marched for over 10 minutes, though they did not cross that bridge into the event itself.
Instead, they handed out bilingual flyers to people going into and out of the tasting, outlining the reasons and rationale for disaster pay for farmworkers.
Then they recrossed a busy Healdsburg Avenue and congregated at the gazebo, heart of the historic Plaza, to sing, chant and offer testimonials to their fight for farmworker rights.
In the year since the first Healdsburg Experience, the labor organization has had some success in getting better wages and treatment of their members. Last June, said NBJWJ communications coordinator Davida Sotelo Escobedo, “The county set aside $3 million for a first-of-its-kind disaster emergency fund,” which enabled people to apply for $800 in relief.
“There was a lot of organizing by workers to get to this point, but I think it’s understood by members of the board, that workers have been on the frontlines of climate hazards up until now, and whether it’s floods, wildfires, extreme heat, workers will be on the frontlines during future disasters as well,” said Sotelo Escobedo.
Some of the remarks given by speakers at the rally in the Healdsburg Plaza included the following:
“The rich are getting richer on our labor—the harder we work, the richer they become.”
“They poison Mother Earth as they have poisoned us.”
“We are here to win what we deserve.”
“We want nothing indecent or out of line, just disaster pay based on the work we do.”
“What we’ve done today is a great sign of what we can do together.”
As the chants and song of “Si, Se Puede” (“Yes we can,” a slogan popularized over 50 years ago by Dolores Huerta) carried across Healdsburg Avenue to the white-tented pavilion where the Healdsburg Wine and Cheese Experience held their Grand Tasting, the sound barely penetrated the lifestyle event. At the Grand Tasting, about 10 times as many winemakers, chefs and other industry exhibitors shared bites, tastes and drive-by greetings about the healthy growth of the wine and hospitality industry in Sonoma County.
There was no attempt to disrupt the event, though Sotelo Escobedo said the group has sent numerous letters and emails to the growers and owners of the largest vineyard management companies, and even sent delegations to speak with a number of area wineries.
Said Sotelo Escobedo, “While most companies that are connected with the Sonoma County Winegrowers Commission continue to refuse to sit down and talk, and have actively fought against the campaign, there are good actors who want to do the right thing and are actively talking to us.”