Labor movement icon Dolores Huerta’s career as an activist began with her experience as a school teacher. Deeply concerned by the hunger and poverty that afflicted her students, Huerta decided to tackle the problem at its source and left her teaching job to organize farm workers to fight for their economic rights. As the daughter of a farm worker herself, she knew their hardships all too well.
“I couldn’t tolerate seeing kids come to class hungry and needing shoes,” she said. “I thought I could do more by organizing farm workers than by trying to teach their hungry children.”
Huerta founded several organizations to advocate for workers and register Hispanic voters before meeting César Chávez and co-founding the National Farm Workers Association which soon became the United Farm Workers Association.
In 1965, Huerta helped organize a strike by 5,000 grape workers in Delano, California, over poor working conditions and poverty wages. Over the course of the next five years, more than 5,000 grape workers walked off the job, and, with the aid of dock and business boycotts, they sustained enough concentrated economic pressure to force the California table grape industry to let workers unionize. Huerta led contract negotiations on behalf of workers which resulted in a three-year collective bargaining agreement, increased wages, health benefits, and other improvements.
Huerta served as vice president of the United Farm Workers Association for more than three decades and helped drive several pieces of legislation to fortify the rights of California agricultural workers.
Huerta has also been a strong supporter of NUHW.
“Dolores has been our steadfast ally for four decades,” said NUHW President Sal Rosselli. “She supported and advocated for our members in contract fights throughout the state with nearly every employer we faced. And she supported our members in our fight to break away from SEIU-UHW and establish a new, member-led, democratic union.”
In recent years, Huerta has focused on encouraging Latina women to run for local, state, and federal offices and has served as president of the Dolores Huerta Foundation, which focuses on grassroots organizing, civic engagement and leadership development around issues of health and environment, education and youth development, and economic development.