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Public Statements

Minimum Wage Fairness Act

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. President, I shortly am going to make a unanimous consent request on S. Res. 404, a resolution I submitted honoring the life and legacy of Cesar Chavez. This resolution has been blocked by my colleagues on the other side of the aisle every time it has come up for the last 7 consecutive years--every time.

Now, today, on what would have been Cesar Chavez's 87th birthday, I ask my Republican colleagues to find it in their hearts to honor a man who really made a difference in our country. Frankly, I do not understand their reluctance. I do not understand their obstructionism. I do not understand how they can look back at that time in history, at the sacrifices Cesar Chavez made for our country, asking for nothing more than fair treatment and justice.

I realize it is uncommon to make a live unanimous consent request for a commemorative resolution, but if Republicans are going to object yet again--for an eighth year in a row--to honoring, in my view, a great American hero, I really want it to be on the record. I think Republicans need to answer to the American people as to why, as a party, they can agree to passing resolutions honoring World Plumbing Day or congratulating the Penn State Dance Marathon--both Senate resolutions that were adopted this month by unanimous consent--but insist on standing in the way of honoring a civil rights trailblazer who changed the course of our Nation's history.

Cesar Chavez was a man before his time, and he deserves proper recognition. He dedicated his life to fighting for equality, justice, and dignity--not only for Hispanic farm workers but for all workers in the United States. Yet our friends on the other side cannot find it in their hearts to honor him. I have to ask why. Why can't they simply say yes, he was an extraordinary man who gave of himself for his cause and deserves to be remembered and honored by the U.S. Senate?

The President of the United States proclaimed today, March 31, 2014, as Cesar Chavez Day. Over 10 States honor his life and legacy each year on this day. The Secretary of the Interior established a national monument in his honor, and across the country you will find schools, parks, streets, libraries, and other public facilities named after Cesar Chavez as well.

So I implore Senate Republicans to reconsider denying Cesar Chavez's legacy for an eighth year in a row. Adopt this commemorative resolution by unanimous consent. Give Cesar Chavez the recognition he so deserves. That is all we ask--nothing more.

This year there is a new movie chronicling the life of Cesar Chavez--a life lived with honor and dignity and decency for the betterment of all of us. The film is long overdue. That life, that dedication, that spirit will always be missed.

He was born near his family's farm in Yuma, AZ. When he was 10, in the hard times of the Depression, the family lost their farm, like millions of Americans, and they became migrant farm workers, laboring in vineyards across the Southwest, where he learned of the injustice and hardship of a farm worker's life. He never left those fields. He never left the land. He never turned his back on the people who worked it. And the rest is history.

Robert Kennedy called him one of the most heroic figures of our time. I think it is because Cesar Chavez understood and believed in one fundamental truth. He always said: ``The fight is never about grapes or lettuce; it's always about people.''

He was right. And that fight continues today. The struggle for fairness and dignity for every American goes on, and Cesar Chavez was and is its inspiration. He certainly is an American hero but most definitely a hero to the Hispanic community. He paved the way for the contributions of Hispanic Americans--for innovative progress and social improvements. If there is one man who redefined leadership, it is Cesar Chavez.

I think my colleagues need to know that the community stands with me today and stands firmly behind my resolution honoring the life and legacy of Cesar Chavez.

Mr. President, I have a list--and in the interest of time, I will not read it--of 37 national Hispanic and labor organizations that all support the resolution. I ask unanimous consent to have that list printed in the RECORD.

There being no objection, the material was ordered to be printed in the Record, as follows:





1. Aspira

2. Casa de Esperanza: National Latin@ Network

3. Cuban American National Council, Inc. (CNC)

4. Farmworker Justice

5. Friends of the American Latino Museum

6. Hispanic Federation

7. Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU)

8. Latino Justice PRLDEF

9. Labor Council for Latin American Advancement (LCLAA)

10. League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC)

11. Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF)

12. MANA, A National Latina Organization

13. National Alliance of Latin American & Caribbean Communities (NALACC)

14. National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) Educational Fund

15. National Association of Hispanic Federal Executives (NAHFE)

16. National Council of La Raza (NCLR)

17. National Hispanic Environmental Council (NHEC)

18. National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators (NHCSL)

19. National Hispanic Leadership Agenda (NHLA)

20. National Hispanic Media Coalition (NHMC)

21. National Hispanic Medical Association (NHMA)

22. National Institute for Latino Policy (NILP)

23. National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health (NLIRH)

24. SER Jobs for Progress National, Inc.

25. Southwest Voter Registration Education Project (SVREP)

26. U.S. Hispanic Leadership Institute (USHLI)

27. US Mexico Foundation

28. National Latino Farmers & Ranchers Trade Association

29. Minority Business RoundTable



2. American Federation of Government Employees

3. American Federation of Teachers

4. Communications Workers of America (CWA)

5. International Organization of Masters, Mates & Pilots

6. International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers

7. International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace & Agricultural Implement Workers of America (UAW)

8. Marine Engineers' Beneficial Association.

Mr. MENENDEZ. We all eagerly await the day when politics will no longer preclude its passage.

Cesar Chavez's profound legacy and lasting influence can be reduced to three words--the motto of the United Farm Workers--that recall his fight for justice and have echoed from the fields of Delano, CA, across America all the way to the White House: ``Si se puede.'' These three words, while simple in nature, harbored the power to move entire communities from the dark shadows of injustice toward a brighter light of hope. These three words represent at their very core the spirit that breathes life into Americans' struggle for a better life.

As the leader of the first successful farm workers union in the United States, he fought to ensure those working tirelessly to provide Americans with food received the benefits they deserved. Nonetheless, his service extends far beyond our agricultural fields and provides inspiration to those working to improve human rights, empowering workers, regardless of race or ethnicity. His countless efforts to ensure equality, justice, and dignity for all people in the United States are a testament of his leadership and success--a success that can only be measured by the lasting impact he has made toward ending workplace discrimination, unsafe and unfair working conditions, low wages, and child labor. He was more than just a farmer with a vision. He was a civil rights leader who embodied the pursuit of justice that continues to inspire millions of Americans today.

So I come to the floor today to honor the life and achievements of Cesar Chavez, to ask my Republican colleagues to put aside their politics and do what is right by a man whose life and legacy deserve the recognition of this Nation--one Nation and one Congress.

Let's stand together and recognize the accomplishments of a great American hero but, most importantly, let's honor the values that make our country great--the values of tolerance, hope, and freedom, upon which this country was founded. And let's always remember, as Chavez said, the fight is always about the people.

With that, Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the Judiciary Committee be discharged from further consideration of S. Res. 404, the resolution be agreed to, the preamble be agreed to, and the motions to reconsider be laid upon the table with no intervening action or debate.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. Is there objection?

The Senator from Alabama.

Mr. SESSIONS. Mr. President, reserving the right to object, I would note that the resolution has not come out of the Judiciary Committee and that Senator Vitter, who has filed an amendment to the resolution, asks that that amendment be accepted or voted on, which has been not agreed to. The amendment would say a couple things.


Whereas Cesar Estrada Chavez strongly believed in enforcing immigration laws, thereby reducing the deleterious effects of inexpensive labor on the wages of farm workers in the United States, as recognized by the Congressional Budget Office in the June 2013 report entitled ``The Economic Impact of S. 744, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act. .....

And he offers this ``whereas,'' a second one:

Whereas Cesar Estrada Chavez recognized the importance of a secure southern border with Mexico, through citizen participation in the enforcement of immigration laws, by encouraging members of the United Farm Workers of America to contact the Immigration and Naturalization Service to report instances of illegal labor. .....

So that not having been accepted, I would ask that be accepted. It is at the desk. I ask it be agreed to prior to adoption of this resolution.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. Does the Senator from New Jersey so modify his request?

Mr. MENENDEZ. Reserving the right to object, this is not about Cesar Chavez. This is about immigration. I know my distinguished colleague has a different view about immigration than I do. I know Senator Vitter, for whom he is offering this amendment, also has a different view.

The Senate has spoken on the question of immigration. Sixty-seven Senators, two-thirds of the Senate has already sent an immigration reform bill to the House of Representatives. So while we may have different views, that is not the issue of Cesar Chavez. In my view it is an injustice to his memory to offer such an amendment. That is why I will have to object.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. Is there objection to the original request?

Mr. SESSIONS. I would object and would note I do have a different view on these issues. With regard to the impact of S. 744, had it passed, it would have been adverse to farmworkers who are in this country working hard, need pay raises, and need better job opportunities. I think these are important parts of Mr. Chavez's career. It seems to me that the Senator would be pleased to accept that, but I understand we have a disagreement. I express my respect for Senator Menendez and his leadership on the Foreign Relations Committee, but we disagree on this subject.

I yield the floor.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. Objection is heard.

Mr. MENENDEZ. Mr. President, I have a deep respect for Senator Sessions. But I will just simply say this is the 8th year, the 8th year in which under some figleaf--before they could hide through their objections. But this is really a fig leaf. The Senate has expressed itself on immigration reform. This is not about immigration reform. This is about Cesar Chavez. This is about a man who led boycotts across the country to bring to justice the rights of farmworkers and of all workers across the land.

There is no bigger supporter, by the way, than the United Farm Workers, which he helped build, create, and today is one of the strongest voices for that immigration reform.

It is, from my view, shameful that we can pass commemorative resolutions on some of the most insignificant issues, but on the life of someone who changed the course of this country for millions of Latinos who understand that life and history and would want to see that life commemorated, that there can be a continuing objection for 8 years. I will keep coming each year to the floor to make this happen. At some point it will.

I yield the floor.


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