By 1981, the contract provided about double minimum wage, at which point we were probably the best-compensated grape pickers in the world. We had paid holidays, and for high-seniority workers, two weeks' paid vacation; disability and unemployment insurance; family medical insurance (with 60 hours of work or more in a month); even a modest pension plan. The Coachella Valley had a UFW medical clinic for the workers and their families, and a legal aid center to help with taxes, Social Security and other issues.
The legacy of David Freedman Co. under the UFW contract is one all Americans can be proud of. It is proof that American agriculture does not have to be based on the labor of an underclass denied the rights and benefits of other workers.
Sadly, only one UFW contract remains in the Coachella Valley, and wages and benefits are not as generous as they were 25 years ago.
In fact, wages in these competitive markets are not set by the sentiments of Americans, but rather by market forces. For example, if demand for produce increased, then firms would want to increase their production. However, most farmers were likely constrained in their ability to purchase more capital (farm equipment) and so were only able to increase their demand for farm labor. This caused an increase in farm worker wages.
Again, the reason that wages increased by as much as they did may simply have been that in the short run, capital is inelastic. In the long run, it is perfectly elastic. Thus, the long-run rise in wages would be heavily mediated by substitution into high capital-share production.