Editorials

Cesar Chavez Day should be a day, not a week

Citizens gather and march at the third annual Cesar Chavez Day March and Rally in Odessa, Texas. The official date of Cesar Chavez Day is March 31.
Citizens gather and march at the third annual Cesar Chavez Day March and Rally in Odessa, Texas. The official date of Cesar Chavez Day is March 31. AP

Few deserve a state holiday more than Cesar Chavez, a man who spent his life fighting for the rights of migrant workers, demanding for them the same respect and rights as everyone else working in America.

But given all the families juggling child care and work last week, not to mention the annual confusion over which day is the actual day off, exactly, we suspect even he would quibble with the way California has implemented the holiday that bears his name.

Cesar Chavez Day is supposed to fall on March 31, the late labor leader’s birthday. But in the 16 years since former Gov. Gray Davis signed the holiday into existence, it has become more like Cesar Chavez Week.

Government agencies observe it by closing their doors on seemingly random days, causing headaches for families trying to schedule their lives around it. That’s no way to run a holiday.

Take the city of Sacramento. This year, for whatever reason, it observed Cesar Chavez Day on March 28. That was last Monday. The official holiday was Thursday. Government offices were closed, as were city-run, after-school programs, such as 4th R and START.

However, Sacramento City Unified School District didn’t get March 28 off for Cesar Chavez Day. That meant hundreds of parents, many with jobs at agencies that observed the holiday later, had to pick up kids from school early and scramble for day care.

Many school districts in California don’t observe Cesar Chavez with a day off anymore. But some do – sort of. San Francisco Unified School District had off Friday, April 1.

Sacramento County’s offices were closed March 31, while El Dorado and Placer counties and most offices in Yolo County remained open. The courts in most counties, including Sacramento, were closed that day. So were state government offices. The Legislature was hard at work, though, and was off on Friday instead.

And what of the farmworkers? The migrants Chavez worked so hard to organize into what became the United Farm Workers union, with the power to demand better wages and working conditions? They didn’t get a single day off last week.

Surely, California can do better. Even in this large and diverse state, there must be room for agreement on a single day to close government offices to honor Chavez’s worthy cause. As working families plead for consistency next year, there should be only one answer.

Sí, se puede.

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