Photo by Alan Pogue CESAR CHAVEZ The 51-year-old Orendain is a softspoken, often eloquent man known for his long black mustache and his black flat-top hat, festooned with a band presented to him by Yasser Arafat. He speaks regretfully of his break with Chavez, suggesting that his old friend has lost touch with his people. “You get a balloon and put someone’s name on it,” he said recently, “and you blow it up and up it goes into the air. You tell everybody that’s my balloon, but after a while it gets so high . up there, what good does it do you?” “If Chavez really believed in Texas,” he said, “he could help us get a law [collective bargaining legislation]. It would automatically put us [the TFWU] out of business, but that’s fine because we don’t have the money from the AFL-CIO like he does. I don’t see nothing wrong with me preparing the land and he coming in behind to reap the harvest. The more people who know about the unions, the better.” Orendain also told the Observer that Chavez told him he could return to the UFW fold under one condition: he would have to put in a year’s work in the fields as a farmworker, not an organizer apparently as a kind of penance. Given the egos involved in this clash, it’s not likely Orendain would comply. Instead, Orendain has been leading his own people into the fields . walkouts during onion harvest on the High Plains, a general strike earlier this year in the South Texas citrus fields, and a boycott of Texsun and Big Tex juices. Funds are scarce, and with only eight people who at least try to hang on as full-time employees of the union, the TFWU is still a 6 APRIL 17, 1981 tenuous operation. The union has pledged not to collect dues until it is able to win a contract for its members. “We’ve got more than 1,500 people willing to sign up and pay dues,” Orendain says, “but we’re not asking for anything until we have something to offer them.” ” THE TFWU IS NOT a union,” the UFW’s Rebecca Harrington charges. “They have no people, they don’t know how to organize, they make promises they just can’t keep.” After the UFW went to court to pry’ Orendain out of UFW headquarters in San Juan, Harrington, a 38-year-old Poteet native with a master’s degree in social work from the University of Michigan, was installed as Texas Project president. Under, her leadership the UFW has concentrated on legislative lobbying and providing social services to farmworkers in the Valley, conceding a measure of media visibility to Orendain’s people. “In 1975 we set up committees in the colonias where farmworkers live and asked them to tell us what problems were most urgent,” Harrington recalls. They got plenty of answers pushed to work too fast, forced to use the shorthandled hoe, forced to pull weeds by hand, accidents in the fields and no workmen’s comp, no clean water, no toilets, crew leaders stealing Social Security deductions, having to chase crew leaders around for days to collect pay checks, sexual abuse of women, young children in the fields; the list went on. “We decided that legislation would be our priority, particularly workmen’s comp and unemployment compensation,” Harrington says. “Preparatory to getting legislation passed, we had to get people out to vote and we had to find candidates to support us.” Now five years later, the UFW counts four lawmakers who are in Austin because of farmworker support Reps. Don Lee of Harlingen, Tony Garcia of Pharr, Juan Hinojosa of McAllen, and newly elected Senator Hector Uribe of Brownsville. It is Juan Hinojosa’s Texas Workers’ Compensation Act that the UFW sees as top priority this session. Although other major agricultural states California, Ohio, Michigan, Oregon, New York, New Jersey, Hawaii, Wisconsin, Washington provide compensation on a basis equal to that of other workers, Texas law excludes farmworkers. It’s been that way since 1914 when lawmakers deemed farm work non-hazardous. “Workmen’s comp is a trade-off,” Jim Harrington, Rebecca Harrington’s husband, argues. Harrington is a 34-year-old legal services lawyer who represents the UFW. “As it is now,” he explains, “a worker hurt in the field might get a sympathetic jury who would award a $4 million judgment. Under workmen’s comp, the worker gives up the possibility of a large judgment, but gains the administrative mechanism to process the claim.” Harrington also points out that most claims are small ones and that it’s not easy for a farmworker following the harvests to file small claims. “For someone living in the Valley,” he says, “a small claim is not worth a trip back to Amarillo or Marfa to file a lawsuit.” Along with Jim Harrington, the House employment practices committee, chaired by Republican Lee Jackson of Dallas, heard an unlikely supporter of the bill the farmworkers’ frequent nemesis, Othal Brand, mayor of McAllen and the largest vegetable grower in Texas.fi Brand explained that his company, Griffin and Brand, voluntarily provides compensation for permanent employees. He told the committee that it was difficult for employers to provide coverage for seasonal workers. “A worker from Mexico,” he explained, “may work for us a week and then come back a month later with a doctor’s certification that he’s been injured, and you’ve got a $20,000 lawsuit on your hands.” Brand, whose corporation does more than $30 million in business yearly, opposed Hinojosa’s amendment to the bill excluding those farmers or ranchers employing less than six people. “I don’t see when a person is hurt,” he argued, “that it makes any difference. whether he’s working for a small farm or a large farm. His leg is just as broke regardless. Equity demands that we cover our farmworkers, and it demands that there be no exclusion.” \(Equity, of course, for the mayor, means that if he has to pay, everyone, including the little man, has to Last session’s bill passed the House but got tied up in the Senate calendar; Hinojosa’s version, with its small-farm exclusion, has perhaps a 50-50 chance of passage. “I think the bill will pass,” Texas AFL-CIO president Harry Hubbard says. “Our great problem is when it gets to the Governor’s desk. We have tIt was Brand who in 1978 paid a $12,000 out-ofcourt settlement to eight UFW organizers, including Rebecca Harrington, who got locked in a tractor pen on Brand’s property. Brand himself arrived on the scene and allegedly used abusive language against the organizers and began pushing around some of the men. He had them arrested and jailed for trespassing. When the organizers were released, they filed assault-and-battery charges against the mayor, who agreed to settle out-ofcourt.