Column: Newsom didn’t meet with farmworkers on César Chávez Day. One internet cat is irate

Thursday was César Chávez Day and farm workers want to know why Governor Gavin Newsom did not meet them, as they requested, if only for the symbolic unit to stand next to some of the state’s most important and vulnerable workers to celebrate the birthday of their loved ones. icon.

Quick answer: Newsom went to Central and South America on a family vacation yesterday.

Longer answer: For several months, the governor has been on his way to the United Farm Workers ‘Union because of his unexpected veto against a bill last year that would have allowed postal votes for farm workers’ union elections.

After the governor failed to put his signature on UFW legislation last fall, union members marched in protest from French Laundry, the incredibly expensive restaurant where Newsom was caught having dinner during the pandemic, to PlumpJack Winery, which Newsom co-founded – Dizzying him on the aura of the elite that has long been his Achilles heel.

My colleague Jean Guerrero was there and wrote then that “Newsom had a moral duty, given the importance of these workers, to work with United Farm Workers to ensure that the bill was successful.”

Could not have said it better.

But since the attention caused by the march, there has been no reconciliation with the governor. Earthworkers have since fought a lone battle – with the exception of an unlikely ally.

Jorts the cat.

Jorts is an internet cat, fluffy and orange, who really, really love organized work. And trash cans, which he falls into at regular intervals. And his sister Jean, who tries to stay away from social media.

But Jorts does not like Newsom, or his treatment of farm workers.

Jorts the Cat, who allegedly lives in a union-organized workplace, has become an internet sensation for his views on organized work.

(Special for The Times)

“I think he founded a vineyard. I think he’s a manager,” Jorts told me in a direct message on Twitter (the man behind the account remains anonymous). who builds wealth that pays for his haircuts. “

Jorts likes to make fun of Newsom’s hair.

Yort’s reputation rose after one Reddit thread about him went viral late last year, where his anonymous man told of a dispute with another human co-worker, Pam, over whether Jorts was just too stupid to learn new skills. From there, Jorts took to Twitter and began a rapid rise as one of the prominent workers’ voices on social media (just kidding).

He has amassed nearly 170,000 followers, including the AFL-CIO, its president, Liz Shuler, and the new supervisor Lorena Gonzalez in California. He has more followers than both combined.

Like Devin Nunes ko, Jorts have impact power.

I’m not a fan of the far right, but they have political lessons to teach us. One is that there is a whole new world of politics driven by memes – cattle, frogs and maybe even cats. Where it is more difficult to get to traditional ways of creating trouble in an environment plagued by pandemics and war, a viral post can affect public opinion.

An Internet cat may seem like a gimmick or a side note in a serious legislative battle, but Chávez said it best: “Somehow the guys in power must be reached by counter-power, or by a change in their hearts and minds, or change will not come.”

Jorts is a counterweight to UFW, which needs all the help it can get. And internet cats are really good at capturing hearts and minds because they tend to keep things simple and cute, even if they are not.

Like many political intrigues, the situation between Newsom and farm workers is complicated. Newsom and the union disagree on whether his office was willing to work on the bill he vetoed last year. Those involved say that the union was not willing to compromise, while others say that the compromises on the table would have destroyed the proposed law. It is undisputed that since that veto, the UFW and the governor have not spoken directly, despite requests from the union to meet.

Parish member Mark Stone of Monterey Bay reintroduced an almost identical measure this year and told me yesterday that he feels optimistic that he can have his bill signed this time, adding that the governor’s staff has been “very friendly and open to work” with us.”

UFW takes no chances and plans a hard public push to make known their dissatisfaction with Newsom. On Thursday, union members held events in 13 cities, including the Capitol, and struck at the fact that Newsom is not with them on this important day.

A spokesman for Newsom said he had promised his children time off after “the last two years of holiday postponed by the pandemic, fires and recall.” In a letter to the union on March 28, his staff wrote that he “looks forward to meeting with the UFW management in the near future.”

The whole thing may sound like typical political theater, if it were not for the very precarious position of farm workers in California right now.

UFW has long lost members for decades and has only about 7,000 on its lists, said Philip Martin, an expert on agricultural workers at UC Davis. California has approx 400,000 farm workers.

There are several reasons for this decline, which have been discussed for a long time. Some argue that Chávez is brilliant at organizing lacked the ability to lead the union once it was formed, and it has never recovered. Others point to Republican governors like George Deukmejian for being too kind to growers, decimating the organization of protection over time.

There is also the fact that the large companies that Chávez first targeted have for the most part ceased to exist. Perhaps most profoundly, California’s agriculture has adopted a new work system in which third-party “labor entrepreneurs” act as intermediaries between growers and agricultural workers, making it more difficult to unionize a particular owner.

Farm workers live a fragile existence, many undocumented – often live in companies or state-owned housing, are dependent on an employer for transportation, afraid to show up at a manager’s property to vote in a union election. In recent years, the pandemic has hit them harder than others, as they often lack workplace protection and access to vaccines, and are vulnerable to evictions and homelessness, despite government efforts for justice.

This legislation, they say, can help them begin a slow reconstruction by taking choices from owners’ land and putting them in mailboxes, paving the way for better working conditions that have continued to elude them despite years of fighting.

Maria Garcia, a farm worker who works four months a year on a union job pruning roses and the rest of her time in a non-union place, said she often sees her employees remain silent about abuse because they fear retaliation. She feels betrayed by the governor’s veto.

“We put food on the table, even the governor’s,” she said. If she could meet him, she would ask why he vetoed a bill she thinks “would have protected us.”

In the face of declining numbers, UFW has become more focused on government policy, as opposed to local organization. The Legislature is more Latino than ever, with several members having immigrant families and even farm worker families. But UFW’s power is more based on goodwill and history than actual power. It has no deep pockets, and increasingly farm workers are struggling to capture the public’s attention for fights like this one over complicated union rules.

At the same time, Newsom’s political power has soared. After fighting the recall (where the UFW knocked on his door), he has become virtually untouchable. His public approval is high, and he has no significant challenger for another term. It has caused some, even in his own party, to complain that he has no need to compromise with anyone, let alone a trade union that has attacked him personally.

Which brings us back to Jorts the Cat.

When Jorts sent a direct message to the union about a question he had received from a follower, UFW was quick to write back. Elizabeth Strater, UFW’s head of strategic campaigns, said she’s been sending direct messages to Jorts for a few months. She loves his “happy chaos” and the reinforcement of their message, but admits that it is difficult to work with a cat.

“No one can tell a cat what to do,” she said. “As much as I absolutely love him photographs his face on Gavin Newsom’s body, it is not stated in the message. “

It may not be the dignified communication the union normally absorbs, but it is effective. At 8 o’clock on César Chávez Day, Jorts had already sent out several requests to support farm workers and added another hair finish for a governor who has few open critics within his own party. Because, as Jorts and I agree, every politician needs criticism, especially those who are powerful enough to ignore it.

“You may notice that I do not really spend much time talking about quirky Republicans,” Jorts told me on Wednesday night. “I spend more time talking about people who should be accountable to the workers.”

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