Richard E. Chávez, who joined his brother César Chávez to fight for immigrant farm workers’ rights and helped form the United Farm Workers, died Wednesday afternoon from complications following a surgery in a Bakersfield, Calif., hospital. He was 81.
Richard Chávez was born in November 12, 1929, in Yuma to a migrant farm working family. He went on to become a successful carpenter but decided to leave his job to join his brother in forming the United Farm Workers in the early 1960s.
As one of the founders of the United Farm Workers, he was involved in many ways with the union including serving as the its third vice-president from 1972 to 1984, and administrating collective-bargaining agreements with growers. In the 1970s he worked alongside César Chávez and Dolores Huerta, with whom he was never married but was a longtime domestic partner, organizing boycotts that forced grape growers in California and lettuce growers nation-wide to sign contracts insuring higher wages and safe working conditions for farm workers.
César Chávez, Richard’s second nephew and grandson of the original César Chávez, said Richard was “instrumental” in helping César Chávez begin the United Farm Workers union in 1962.
“They both shared the same position about how they wanted to help the Latino community and support farm workers,” Chávez said.
In 1962, Richard Chávez designed the eagle on the farm worker’s flag while César Chávez chose the black and red colors. He also helped construct the Forty Acres complex in Delano, Calif., which became the United Farm Workers’ headquarters and site for some of the union’s most important accomplishments, such as the signing of the first historic labor contract in 1970.
In 1966, Richard Chávez became the first director of the National Farm Workers Service Center. Today, the center, which is now known as the César Chávez Foundation, helps build affordable housing for farm workers and operates “Radio Campesina”, a station heard in parts of Arizona, California and Washington.
Although Richard Chávez retired from the union in 1983, he remained active, serving on the board for the César Chávez Foundation and the Dolores Huerta Foundation.
Richard Chávez is survived by 10 children from his last marriage and his partner Dolores Huerta, along with several grandchildren and great grandchildren.