Los Angeles Times
March 24, 2004

Chavez Holiday Change Assailed

L.A. council members stall efforts by city engineers to exchange the paid day off for a floating vacation day.

By Patrick McGreevy
Times Staff Writer

A group of Los Angeles City Council members objected Tuesday to a proposal by many city engineers to drop Cesar Chavez Day as one of their paid holidays, calling the plan an "insult" to the memory of the labor leader and to Latinos.

Councilmen Tony Cardenas and Ed Reyes successfully led others in delaying approval of the change until officials with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 18 could voice their concerns today before the council.

"I don't know if the Latino leadership of the union understands the insult I feel is being made by disregarding, through this action, the significance of Cesar Chavez," Reyes said. "Do they really mean to say that Cesar Chavez didn't matter?"

The 1,450 engineers and administrative workers at the city Department of Water and Power recently changed union representation. Their previous contract with the Engineers and Architects Assn. included a Cesar Chavez holiday.

The new contract with the union gives a floating day off and a half day before Christmas, and the DWP board has agreed to change the engineers' contract to be consistent with the union's.

Chavez, the founder and leader of the United Farm Workers, died in 1993. His birthday will be commemorated Monday as a state holiday, but not all city employees have the day off.

If the engineers drop Cesar Chavez Day, only 250 of the DWP's 8,200 employees would be left with contracts that give them the holiday, though many others may take the day off by using a floating holiday, said Hal Lindsey, the department's assistant general manager.

"This is certainly no intention to discredit or in any way demean the importance of that great labor leader," Lindsey told the council.

An additional 22,000 civilian employees in council-controlled city agencies will have Monday off, and City Hall will be closed.

Cardenas said the DWP, which is semiautonomous, should also make Chavez Day a holiday for its workers.

"It's really disappointing to see that such a strong organization would pass up the opportunity to, once a year, reflect on someone who not only preached, but lived nonviolence just like Martin Luther King Jr., who has a recognized holiday," Cardenas told Lindsey.

IBEW leaders declined to comment on the issue, but council members Marin Ludlow and Jan Perry supported delaying a vote on the change to allow members time to discuss their concerns with union leaders.

"You are taking a symbol which is an inspiration to many people across the board and sacrificing that," Perry said of the proposed change.

Describing the issue as an emotional one for him, Reyes said he believes the Latino community in Los Angeles had been neglected for decades. "I can't emphasize to you any more the need to have the youth of our city Spanish-surnamed Latinos, Mexicanos, Latin Americans to be able to point to a hero," Reyes said. "And what this gesture does in my mind is it takes away from that sense of honor."