Bringing the Huerta
UFW co-founder is making methyl iodide her new mission.
Thursday, December 30, 2010
Dolores Huerta at 80 years old has more energy in her voice than some people half her age. Famous (there are a lot of old timers who likely would use the word “notorious” – and only then if they were feeling polite) for her aggressive and non-violent approach toward changing U.S. farm labor policy, Huerta and Cesar Chavez (and woosh, you should hear what the old timers have to say about him) launched the National Farm Workers Association in 1962. The fledgling organization teamed with the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee and in a little more than 10 years became the United Farm Workers of America, with Huerta elected vice president.
She now runs the Bakersfield-based Dolores Huerta Foundation, whose tagline reads “Dignidad, Justicia, Respeto.”
She travels the country still advocating for sustainable communities and social justice. Huerta is nowhere near slowing down, and she may have found a new target for her brains and organizational talent: ArystaLife Science North America LLC, whose tagline reads “Bold, Agile, Customer-Driven.”
Arysta is the North Carolina-based maker of methyl iodide, the controversial fumigant that can be used on strawberries, tomatoes, peppers and cut flowers. The one that was registered for use under the trade name “Midas” by the California Department of Pesticide Regulation on Dec. 1. The one that received final emergency approval from the Office of Administrative Law on Dec. 20, despite the fact that strawberries won’t be planted in Monterey County for months.
That registration, as well as the OAL emergency regulations, is about to become subject of at least one lawsuit due to be filed on Dec. 30 by California Rural Legal Assistance.
For Huerta, battling Arysta and those who would use methyl iodide is a no-brainer. She scoffs at the idea that expanded buffer zones – the no-fumigation areas surrounding schools and residential areas – will keep people safe from methyl iodide, which is considered a carcinogen in the state and is used by lab scientists to induce cancer in rodents for research purposes. She’s aghast that the California State Teachers’ Retirement System, or CalSTRS, has committed nearly $1 billion into an investment vehicle called Permira IV – the fund behind Arysta.
“WE HAVE TO REACH OUT TO THE RIGHT PEOPLE.”
And she’s planning to talk to Gov.-elect Jerry Brown about it, likely before the week is over, but most certainly before he takes office. Arysta, a company with very deep coffers, should be worried about this. As one person who knows Huerta puts it, “Once she gets in a situation, she won’t stop. She absolutely won’t stop.”
Odds are, Brown will take the phone call.
In a phone interview from her foundation offices, Huerta recalls sitting at a methyl iodide hearing that took place more than a year ago in Tulare County. “We were all sitting there and after listening to them say ‘we can make this safe,’ I thought ‘we should get up and picket the hearing.’ It was like Alice in Wonderland. It was kind of unbelievable,” she says. “It is something ludicrous they are even considering using it.”
Huerta says she plans to talk to Brown about the state registration and emergency regs because in his past governorship, Brown was strong on environmental protection issues. “The only reason we have any protection is because of Jerry Brown,” she says. “Hopefully he will go back to his values and will help us stop this.”
The timing of the CRLA, et. al. lawsuit could present something of a conundrum for Brown, though. It’s likely the suit will be filed in Alameda County; it has to be filed in a district with an attorney general’s office because the attorney general is responsible for defending the state against the suit.
Until he is sworn in as governor on Monday, Jerry Brown is the attorney general. If the plaintiffs ask for an immediate injunction… well, connect the dots. CRLA’s Mike Meuter says the organization is working on perfecting its filing, and it might not hit the courthouse until the last minute. In the end, whether it comes during his final hours as attorney general or reaches him in the early days of his governorship, it will still be Brown’s problem.
Huerta also plans on launching talks with teachers’ organizations across the state, because she believes many teachers don’t know about the investment. (Asked a few weeks ago if teachers were aware their retirement money was invested in the private equity fund behind methyl iodide, CalSTRS spokesmen Ricardo Duran recommended the Weekly ask the teachers themselves.
“All over the country, people care about farm workers and the farm workers are going to be the most affected,” Huerta says. “We have to reach out to the right people, and start calling on folks that have a connection to the use of methyl iodide.
“I think,” she says, “we can stop it.”