March 29, 2002

Lt. Governor Cruz M. Bustamante to Help Retired Farmworkers Receive Pension Benefits Created by César Chávez

Sacramento - As Californians Commemorate the legacy of César Chávez this week, Lt. Governor Cruz M. Bustamante will partner with the United Farm Workers (UFW) to notify former farm laborers of unclaimed pension benefits worth tens of thousands of dollars. The Juan de la Cruz Farm Workers Pension Plan, established in the 1970s by Chávez, is the nation’s first and only functioning pension plan for farmworkers. The plan benefits farmworkers who have worked under UFW contracts with growers. However, hundreds of farm laborers are not claiming their benefits because they are unaware of the pension plan.

“César Chávez created this pension plan to ensure that workers could invest in their retirement,” said Bustamante. “This pension allows farm laborers to retire and enjoy their golden years with dignity and respect.”

To get the message out, the Lt. Governor will videotape and disseminate public service announcements in English and Spanish to television stations statewide. His goal is to notify former farm laborers or anyone who may know a former laborer who may qualify, of the existing pensions and provide a toll-free number for those needing more information. In addition, the Lt. Governor will participate in radio interviews across the state to inform more Californians.

“Farm laborers worked thousands of hours in the fields and they are owed thousands of dollars of their hard-earned money,” added Bustamante. “My goal is to reach as many beneficiaries as possible, leaving no stone unturned.”

In recent years, dozens of retired farm workers located by the UFW, pension plan received checks. One Watsonville retiree was handed a retroactive check for $73,357 and will continue to receive a monthly stipend of $391.70 for the rest of his life.

“They’ve worked their whole lives picking fruit and vegetables and so their bodies are completely worn out by the time they get into their 50s and 60s,” said UFW President Arturo Rodriguez. “Most of them don’t qualify for Social Security. They didn’t save much because they couldn’t afford it. It is a real crisis for people. Except for their children, they have nothing to fall back on.”

The Juan de La Cruz Farm Workers Pension Plan is named for a 60-year-old farm laborer who was fatally shot on a kern County vineyard picket line in 1973. The plan serves more than 9,700 participants and is worth more than $100 million. A farmworker qualifies for the pension plan after working under a UFW contract for at least 500 hours in one calendar year, for a minimum of five years. The average retirement age is 65. The earliest age that a participant can retire is 55. Pre and post-retirement surviving spouse benefits are provided and the plan includes pre and post-retirement death benefits.

The UFW is providing two toll-free numbers for retired farm laborers who believe they may qualify for the pension. The numbers are 1-888-735-5352 and 1-800-321-6607.

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