Delores Huerta: Labor Activist and Co-founder of United Farm Workers
During the month of March Ujamaa Cooperative Farming Alliance, and Ujamaa Seeds are honoring Wangari Maathai, Delores Huerta. Winona LaDuke, and Vandana Shiva, four inspiring women who have made an enormous difference in agriculture, environmental activism, and more. Hopefully their stories inspire you to honor the Earth and preserve it for future generations.
For the week of March 12 - 18, we honor and feature Delores Huerta.
Dolores Clara Fernández Huerta is an American labor leader and civil rights activist who, with Cesar Chavez, is a co-founder of the National Farmworkers Association, which later merged with the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee to become the United Farm Workers (UFW). Huerta helped organize the Delano grape strike in 1965 in California and was the lead negotiator in the workers' contract that was created after the strike.
UFW HISTORY & ACHIEVEMENTS
United Farm Workers (UFW), is a labor union for farmworkers in the United States. It originated from the merger of two workers' rights organizations, the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee (AWOC) led by organizer Larry Itliong, and the National Farm Workers Association (NFWA) co-led by Dolores Huerta and César Chávez.
Cesar Chavez was organizing campaigns against discrimination and voter registration with farm workers at the center of his efforts. He and thousands of farm workers wanted to learn about farm worker rights and to build a union. Delores Huerta was an experienced union organizer. Together, they co-founded the National Farm Workers Association (NFWA) in 1962, which later became the United Farm Workers of America.
Huerta led a national grape boycott in protest against dangerous pesticides and her work led to the adoption of safer grape management practices. Also, she negotiated the first farm worker collective bargaining agreement to secure better work conditions and wages.
Huerta and Chavez became allied and transformed their organizations from workers' rights organizations into a union as a result of a series of strikes in 1965, when the mostly Filipino farmworkers of the AWOC in Delano, California, initiated a grape strike, and the NFWA went on strike in support. As a result of the commonality in goals and methods, the NFWA and the AWOC formed the United Farm Workers Organizing Committee on August 22, 1966. The organization was accepted into the AFL–CIO in 1972 and changed its name to the United Farm Workers Union.
The NFWA participated in voter registration activities, sit-ins, and fought for just wages, improved living conditions, and medical protection. Huerta also coordinated nationwide lettuce, grape, and wine boycotts in the 1970s and her work efforts led to the 1975 Agricultural Labor Relations Act which recognized the rights of California farmworkers to collectively bargain.
According to the UFW’s website the United Farm Workers has achieved historic gains for farm workers. Among them are:
- The first genuine collective bargaining agreement between farm workers and growers in the history of the continental United States, beginning with the union contract signed with Schenley vineyards in 1966.
- The first union contracts requiring rest periods, toilets in the fields, clean drinking water, hand washing facilities, protective clothing against pesticide exposure, banning pesticide straying while workers are in the fields, outlawing DDT and other dangerous pesticides, lengthening pesticide re-entry periods beyond state and federal standards, and requiring the testing of farm workers on a regular basis to monitor for pesticide exposure.
- The first union contracts eliminating farm labor contractors and guaranteeing farm workers seniority rights and job security.
- Establishing the first comprehensive union health benefits for farm workers and their families through the UFW’s Robert F. Kennedy Medical Plan.
- The first and only functioning pension plan for retired farm workers, the Juan de la Cruz Pension Plan.
- The first functioning credit union for farm workers.
- The first union contracts regulating safety and sanitary conditions in farm labor camps, banning discrimination in employment and sexual harassment of women workers.
- The first union contracts providing for profit sharing and parental leave.
- Abolishing the infamous short¡©handled hoe that crippled generations of farm workers and extending to farm workers state coverage under unemployment, disability and workers’ compensation, as well as amnesty rights for immigrants and public assistance for farm workers.
HONORS and AWARDS
Dolores Huerta currently has about 15 honorary doctorates.
On November 17, 2015, Dolores Huerta was bestowed the Order of the Aztec Eagle, the highest decoration a foreign national can receive from the Mexican government. Huerta was lauded for her years of service helping the Mexican community in the United States fighting for equal pay, dignity in the workplace, and fair employment practices in the farms of Northern California.
Huerta received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama on May 29, 2012.
Huerta was named one of the three most important women of the year in 1997 by Ms. magazine.
She was an inaugural recipient of the Eleanor Roosevelt Award for Human Rights from President Bill Clinton in 1998.
In 1998, Ladies' Home Journal recognized Delores Huerta as one of the '100 Most Important Women of the 20th Century', along with such women leaders as Mother Teresa, Margaret Thatcher, Rosa Parks, and Indira Gandhi.
Huerta was conferred an honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters from California State University, Northridge on May 29, 2002.
On September 30, 2005, she became an honorary sister of Kappa Delta Chi sorority (Alpha Alpha chapter – Wichita State University).
In May of 2006 Delores Huerta received an honorary degree from Princeton University in recognition of her numerous achievements.
In the 2008 Democratic National Convention, Huerta formally placed Hilary Clinton's name into nomination.
Also in 2008, Huerta received the "Maggie" Award, the highest honor of the Planned Parenthood Federation, in tribute to their founder, Margaret Sanger.
In 2008 the United Neighborhood Centers of America honored Delores Huerta with its highest individual honor, the Jane Addams Distinguished Leadership Award at its National Policy Summit in Washington, D.C.
She was awarded the UCLA Medal, UCLA's highest honor, during the UCLA College of Letters and Science commencement ceremony on June 12, 2009.
Huerta was awarded an honorary doctorate of humane letters by Mount Holyoke College, where she delivered the commencement address, on May 21, 2017.
Huerta was honored by California State University, Los Angeles in October 2017 with its highest honor, the Presidential Medallion.
Four elementary schools in California and one in Tulsa, Oklahoma; one school in Fort Worth, Texas; and a high school in Pueblo, Colorado, are named after Delores Huerta.
A middle school in the major agricultural city of Salinas, California, which has a dense population of farm workers, was named in 2014 after Delores Huerta.
Huerta received the Ripple of Hope Award from the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights in 2020.
Pitzer College, in Claremont, California has a mural in front of Holden Hall dedicated to her.
In July 2018, California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law AB 2455, by Assemblymember Eloise Gómez Reyes, designating April 10 each year as Dolores Huerta Day.
The intersection of East 1st and Chicago streets in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Boyle Heights is named Dolores Huerta Square.
In Fort Worth, Texas, a portion of State Highway 183 is named in honor of Huerta.
Asteroid 6849 Doloreshuerta, discovered by American astronomers Eleanor Helin and Schelte Bus at Palomar Observatory in 1979, was named in her honor.
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