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Women’s History Month: Celebrating the Lives of Addie Wyatt and Dolores Huerta

Dolores Huerta, via doloreshuerta.org

Dolores Huerta, via doloreshuerta.org

The third week of Women’s History Month gives us an opportunity to pay tribute to Addie Wyatt and Dolores Huerta, two extraordinary women who were shaped by the Great Depression, fought for workers’ rights during the height of the American Feminist Movement, and changed the face of organized labor.

Addie Loraine Cameron, better known as Addie L. Wyatt (1924 –2012), was born in Mississippi and moved to Chicago with her family in 1930.  When she was 17 years old, she married Claude S. Wyatt, Jr.

She began working in the meatpacking industry in 1941.  Although she applied for a job as a typist for Armour and Company, African American women were barred from holding clerical positions and she was sent to the canning department to pack stew in cans for the army. Due to a contract between Armour and the United Packinghouse Workers of America (UPWA), she earned more working on the packinghouse floor canning stew than she would have made working as a typist, and joined the UPWA after learning that the union did not discriminate against its members.

In 1953, she was elected vice president of UPWA Local 56. In 1954, she became the first woman president of the local, and was soon tapped to serve as an international representative. She held this position through the 1968 merger of UPWA and the Amalgamated Meat Cutters and Butcher Workmen until 1974, when she became director of the newly formed Women’s Affairs Department. In 1970s, she became the first female international vice president in the history of the Amalgamated Meat Cutters and Butcher Workmen and later served as director of its Human Rights and Women’s Affairs and Civil Rights Departments. She served as the first female African American international vice president of the UFCW after Amalgamated and the Retail Clerks International Union merged in 1979.

She and her husband were ordained ministers and founded the Vernon Park Church of God in Chicago.  She played an integral role in the civil rights movement, and joined Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in major civil rights marches, including the March on Washington, the march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, and the demonstration in Chicago. She was one of the founders of the Coalition of Labor Union Women, the country’s only national organization for union women. She was also a founding member of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists and the National Organization of Women.

In 1984, Addie Wyatt retired from the labor movement as one of its highest ranked and most prominent African American and female officials. In honor of her work, she was named one of Time magazine′s Women of the Year in 1975, and one of Ebony magazine′s 100 most influential black Americans from 1980 to 1984. The Coalition of Black Trade Unionists established the Addie L. Wyatt Award in 1987. She was inducted into the Department of Labor’s Hall of Honor in 2012.

Dolores Clara Fernandez, better known as Dolores Huerta, was born in 1930 in New Mexico, and grew up in the farming community of Stockton, California. She earned a teaching degree at Delta Community College.  During that time, she met her first husband.  She later married Ventura Huerta. In the early 1950s, she worked as an elementary school teacher, and many of her students were the children of farm workers who were living in poverty.  Teaching the children of farm workers had a profound impact on her, and in 1955, she became one of the founders of the Stockton chapter of the Community Services Organization (CSO), which worked to improve social and economic conditions for farm workers and fight discrimination.  Through her work at the CSO, she met Cesar Chavez.

In 1960, she helped create the Agricultural Worker’s Association (AWA), and in 1962, she and Chavez launched the National Farm Workers Association (NFWA), the predecessor to the United Farm Workers Union (UFW).

In 1965, she helped to organize the historic Delano Grape Strike and consumer boycott against growers of table grapes in California.  The strike involved thousands of grape workers and was a significant victory for the UFW—leading to a first contract with these growers. In 1967, the NFWA combined with the AWA to create the United Farm Workers Organizing Committee. During this time, she negotiated contracts for workers, fought against the use of harmful pesticides, and advocated for unemployment and healthcare benefits for agricultural workers. In 1973, she led another successful consumer boycott against California grape growers that resulted in the California Agricultural Labor Relations Act of 1975, which allowed farm workers to form unions and bargain for better wages and working conditions.

Dolores Huerta stepped down from her position at the UFW in 1999, and established a foundation where she continues her work to improve the lives of workers, immigrants and women. She has received many honors for her activism, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012.

To learn more about Dolores Huerta, follow her on Twitter (@DoloresHuerta) or visit her foundation’s website at http://doloreshuerta.org/.

UFCW Immigration Workshop Helps Local 75 Member Achieve Dream of Citizenship

ernestinaErnestina Aldana has been a UFCW Local 75 member since she started working at the John Morrell meat processing plant in Cincinnati in 1996. She moved to the U.S. from Guatemala with her husband and son in 1990. The family left Guatemala in search of opportunity and a better life. Ernestina and her husband, who also works at John Morrell, now have three children, the oldest of whom is in college.

“I wanted to become a United States citizen so that I could live and work with freedom and without fear. I wanted my children to have opportunities,” says Ernestina. “But it was the union that motivated me to finally do it.”

Ernestina attended Local 75’s first citizenship clinic on November 8, 2014. With the help of union and community volunteers, she completed her application that same day. On Friday, March 13, Ernestina took her oath of citizenship, along with two other UFCW members, at the federal courthouse in Cincinnati, Ohio.

A 19-year member of UFCW Local 75, Ernestina says union membership has meant more to her than higher wages and job security: “Being a union member gave me hope for the future. Having hope got me here today.”

Local & National Leaders Demand Justice for New York City Car Wash Workers

National and local labor leaders, local elected and community leaders demonstrate and are arrested in support of Car Wash Accountability Act 

BROOKLYN, NY– Today, in an act of civil disobedience, top leaders of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) , as well as local elected and community leaders were arrested as part of a demonstration in support of the rights of car wash workers in New York City. Those arrested included UFCW International President Marc Perrone and UFCW Executive Vice President Stuart Appelbaum.

UFCW International President Marc Perrone being arrested at the demonstration

UFCW International President Marc Perrone being arrested at the demonstration

The action was led by striking immigrant workers at Vegas Auto Spa in Brooklyn and car wash workers from across New York City. Elected officials and faith leaders also joined in support. Demonstrators undertook a 10-block march through the Park Slope neighborhood of Brooklyn and blocked the streets outside Vegas Auto Spa.

“These workers are not just hardworking men and women, they are part of our family. And, like every family, we will stand and fight for them. They’ve earned the right to be treated better and fairly. We stand together to demand not only the better wages they are owed, but the right that every worker has to be treated with dignity and respect on the job” Perrone said. “This is about the right of low-wage and immigrant workers across America to have their voices heard.”

Workers at Vegas Auto Spa have been on strike since November shortly after they sued the car wash owner for hundreds of thousands of dollars in unpaid wages and damages. The workers voted unanimously to join the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU), an affiliate of the UFCW, in January. The owner has repeatedly refused to settle the dispute with workers and engaged in threats and retaliation.

Some workers report being paid less than the minimum wage and not receiving time and a half for overtime. Others report working 70 to 90 hours a week. The workers have gone to court, alleging they are owed back wages and damages. They have also filed complaints with Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) about unsafe working conditions and not receiving the proper safety equipment to deal with the toxic chemicals used to clean cars. DSC_4729

Vegas Auto Spa was the tenth New York City carwash where workers voted to join the RWDSU/UFCW as part of the WASH New York campaign. Demonstrators urged the New York City Council to pass the Car Wash Accountability Act, legislation that would crack down on unlawful employers and bring transparency and accountability to an industry that has a history of mistreating its workers.

 

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The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) represents more than 1.3 million workers, primarily in the retail and meatpacking, food processing and poultry industries. The UFCW protects the rights of workers and strengthens America’s middle class by fighting for health care reform, living wages, retirement security, safe working conditions and the right to unionize so that working men and women and their families can realize the American Dream. For more information about the UFCW’s effort to protect workers’ rights and strengthen America’s middle class, visit www.ufcw.org, or join our online community at www.facebook.com/UFCWinternational and www.twitter.com/ufcw.