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Philip Vera Cruz; Helped Chavez Found the UFW

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From Times Staff and Wire Reports

Philip Vera Cruz, the veteran Filipino American labor leader who joined Cesar Chavez in founding the United Farm Workers union, has died.

Vera Cruz, 89, died June 11 from complications of lung surgery.

During the farm worker strikes of the 1960s, Vera Cruz helped unite Filipino and Mexican laborers, which turned the union into a major force in the American labor movement.

“I took it as a duty to fight for the union,” he told The Times in 1992, then retired and picking grapes only in his garden. “I was just doing what I had to do. The union helps the workers, and I’m one of them. I wanted to give my fair share.”

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Born in the Philippines, Vera Cruz immigrated to the United States in 1926, hoping to go to college and become a lawyer. Instead, committed to supporting his parents, brother and sister, he worked in the fields and factories on the West Coast.

In 1965, he joined the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee of the AFL-CIO and led the successful Filipino farm workers’ strikes in Coachella and Delano.

He joined forces with Chavez to form the UFW that year.

But the two leaders drifted apart. Vera Cruz thought Chavez failed to give proper credit to the Filipinos for beginning the labor movement. Finally, in 1977, Vera Cruz resigned his union post, incensed by Chavez’s visit to the Philippines, where President Ferdinand E. Marcos had declared martial law.

“Cesar’s trip to a dictatorship . . . was in direct contradiction to those principles we stood for,” Vera Cruz said.

Chavez died April 23, 1993.

After leaving the UFW, Vera Cruz moved to Bakersfield and often spoke to college students about labor issues.

In 1987, a year after Marcos was overthrown, Vera Cruz returned to his homeland to accept an award from then-President Corazon Aquino for his contributions to the Filipino community.

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Vera Cruz is survived by his companion, Deborah Vollmer, a sister and a brother.

A memorial service is scheduled in Bakersfield on July 1.

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