North Bay Jobs with Justice holds demonstration for farmworker hazard pay

“Their theme for their party is the ‘Roaring 20s.’ They call it the best party ever... Some of the richest people in the county are there. But the 20s were not roaring for everybody.”|

North Bay Jobs with Justice organizers, dressed in newsboy caps and striped overalls, asked the crowd to close their eyes and imagine the inequality and exploitation of the 1920s at the Plaza on Friday evening.

The demonstration was in direct response to the Sonoma County Wine Auction at Buena Vista Winery Friday evening — where tickets for the weekend event sold for $2,500 — to draw contrast between the two realities of the wine industry.

“Their theme for their party is the ‘Roaring 20s.’ They call it the best party ever... Some of the richest people in the county are there. But the ‘20s were not roaring for everybody,” said Davin Cárdenas, director of organizing for NBJJ. “So we’re here to talk about what came after in the ‘30s, which was worker strikes in this very place.”

The demonstration is part of ongoing efforts by NBJJ to advocate for hazard pay for farmworkers during wildfires and unhealthy air conditions. And after the demonstration, NBJJ volunteers went to different restaurants and tasting rooms around Plaza to implore them to divest from suppliers who exploit their workers, NBJJ alleges.

“The workers here can't get into those parties, yet they create the wealth,” Cárdenas said. “So we're trying to offer a space where workers can land and get informed, get involved, but also where we start learning about our shared histories and the histories that brought us here, today.”

Friday’s demonstration served a second purpose, also: to take the audience “back 90 years to the 1930s,” connecting labor efforts from California and Sonoma County’s past to the organizing of today.

Organizers sought to create parallels to the biggest challenges facing Californians today — climate change, housing unaffordability and income inequality — to those of the 1930s, from risky and speculative stock market investments, to the Dust Bowl and migration for opportunity.

“We've got a climate crisis and economic crisis, people having to migrate, and housing that's unaffordable,” Alper said. “But don't worry, the ‘30s were also a time not just of sadness, but... there was also incredible organizing, led by farmworkers in California.”

He added, “The past can teach us where we need to go.”

In 1933, 15,000 farmworkers from San Joaquin Valley organized a strike against the jefes, the bosses of agriculture farms. Alper involved the crowd of approximately 50 in call-and-response to recreate the moment.

Huelga! Huelga! Huelga!” the crowd chanted back, the Spanish word for strike.

The employers violently cracked down on the farmworkers’ strike, coordinating with police and killing three workers in the process — yet the strike persisted, Alpert said.

“The workers kept fighting. And with community support, only three weeks later, they won their strike and doubled their wages,” Alpert said.

Organizer Sierra Downey and five volunteers entered Mary’s Pizza Shack, the girl and the fig, and El Dorado Kitchen to ask the restaurants to stop doing business with wineries that violated labor practices.

“Look around all of this richness,” Cárdenas said during his monologue, signaling to the array of tasting rooms and dining in Sonoma Plaza. “All of this wealth has been created by the backs and the sweat of workers.”

Contact Chase Hunter at and follow @Chase_HunterB on Twitter.

Correction: A previous version of this article misstated the title of Davin Cárdenas. The article has been updated to reflect Cárdenas is the director of organizing for North Bay Jobs with Justice.

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