BAKERSFIELD, Calif. - Richard Chávez, who helped his brother César build the United Farmworkers of America, has died at age 81.
He died Wednesday in a Bakersfield hospital of complications of surgery, said union spokeswoman María Machuca.
“Richard understood that the struggle for a more perfect union and a better life for all America’s workers didn’t end with any particular victory or defeat, but instead required a commitment to getting up every single day to keep at it,’’ President Obama said in a statement.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack praised Mr. Chávez’s dedication to ensuring that workers were treated with dignity and respect. “Richard spent his life fighting for the rights of farmworkers, some of the most vulnerable and hard working people in our society,’’ Vilsack said in a written statement.
Born on the family homestead near Yuma, Ariz., the two brothers left farm work in 1949, spending a year working together in lumber mills in Northern California, Machuca said.
Eventually dedicating himself to union work, Richard Chávez organized the farmworkers’ boycotts of California table grapes and other products in New York and Detroit during the 1960s and ’70s.
He was in charge of administering union contracts in 1970 and later negotiated UFW agreements and oversaw union bargaining, Machuca said.
Mr. Chávez leaves his longtime partner - Dolores Huerta, also a labor activist and farmworkers organizer - and his estranged wife, Sally.
He also leaves nine adult children and more than a dozen grandchildren and great-grandchildren.