“I think organized labor is a necessary part of democracy. Organized labor is the only way to have fair distribution of wealth.”
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. She is portrayed by Rosario Dawson in the film “Cesar Chavez,” which screened at the White House this week.
To learn more about Dolores Huerta, follow her on Twitter (@DoloresHuerta) or visit her foundation’s website at http://doloreshuerta.org/.