Dolores Huerta and César Chávez launched the National Farm Workers Association in 1962.
Dolores found her calling as an organizer early in life while serving in the leadership of the Stockton Community Service Organization (CSO). During this time she founded the Agricultural Workers Association, set up voter registration drives and pressed local governments for barrio improvements. In 1955 she met CSO Executive Director César E. Chávez. The two discovered that they shared a common vision of organizing farm workers. Early on, Dolores advocated for the entire family’s participation in the movement and her lifelong practice of non-violence became not only a philosophy but a necessary approach in providing safety.
Her lobbying and negotiating talents were demonstrated in securing Aid For Dependent Families (AFDC) and disability insurance for farm workers in the State of California in 1963, an unparalleled feat of the times, and in the enactment of the Agricultural Labor Relations Act of 1975, the first law of its kind in the U.S., granting farm workers in California the right to collectively organize and bargain for better wages and working conditions. As the principal legislative advocate, Dolores became one of the most visible spokespersons for United Farm Workers (UFW). She has worked to elect numerous candidates including Robert F. Kennedy, President Bill Clinton, Congressman Ron Dellums, Governor Jerry Brown, Congresswoman Hilda Solis, and Hillary Clinton.
While directing the first National Boycott of California Table Grapes out of New York she came into contact with Gloria Steinem and the burgeoning feminist movement who rallied behind the cause. Dolores consciously began to challenge gender discrimination within the farm workers’ movement. She traversed the country for two years on behalf of the Feminist Majority’s Feminization of Power: 50/50 by the year 2000 Campaign encouraging Latina’s to run for office. The campaign resulted in a significant increase in the number of women representatives at the local, state and federal levels. She also served as National Chair of the 21st Century Party founded in 1992 on the principles that women make up 52% of the party’s candidates and that officers must reflect the ethnic diversity of the nation.
At 83, Dolores Huerta continues to work developing leaders and advocating for the working poor, women, and children. As founder and president of the Dolores Huerta Foundation, she travels across the country engaging in campaigns and influencing legislation that supports equality and defends civil rights, speaking about issues of social justice and public policy.
Dolores was inducted into the California Hall of Fame in March of 2012. She has received numerous awards: among them The Eleanor Roosevelt Humans Rights Award from President Clinton in l998, Ms. Magazine’s One of the Three Most Important Women of l997, The Puffin Foundation’s Award for Creative Citizenship: Labor Leader Award 1984, The Ohtli Award from the Mexican Government, The Smithsonian Institution James Smithson Award, and nine honorary doctorates from universities throughout the U.S. There are four elementary schools in California, one in Fort Worth, Texas, and a high school in Pueblo, Colorado named after Dolores Huerta.
In 2012 President Obama bestowed Dolores with The Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award in the United States. Upon receiving this award Dolores said, “The freedom of association means that people can come together in organization to fight for solutions to the problems they confront in their communities. The great social justice changes in our country have happened when people came together, organized, and took direct action. It is this right that sustains and nurtures our democracy today. The civil rights movement, the labor movement, the women’s movement, and the equality movement for our LGBT brothers and sisters are all manifestations of these rights. I thank President Obama for raising the importance of organizing to the highest level of merit and honor.”