My Start Story Celebrates: Dolores Huerta

By: Start TV Staff     Posted: September 6, 2021, 9:00AM

Dolores Huerta is a feminist, activist, and lobbyist who has spent her life advocating primarily for farmworker’s rights, becoming one of the most influential labor leaders in American history.

She was born Dolores Fernandez in Dawson, New Mexico in 1930. Her father was a farm worker who later became a political and labor activist, while her mother was a restaurant and hotel owner who frequently provided affordable food and housing to farm workers and their families. While they divorced when she was young, her parents helped lay the foundation for the person she would become.

Huerta began her career as an educator, but left her job as an elementary school teacher after witnessing her students, mostly children of farm workers, coming to school without adequate food and clothing. It was then, in her mid-twenties, that she found her calling - advocating for the working poor.

She co-founded the Stockton Chapter of the Community Service Organization (CSO) the Agricultural Workers Association (AWA), and what eventually became the United Farm Workers, serving as the UFW’s Vice President. It was during this time Huerta coined the organization’s motto “¡Sí, se puede!”, “Yes we can”. She coordinated voter registration drives, organized workers, negotiated contracts and advocated for safer working conditions. She organized a lettuce boycott and two national grape boycotts that led to passage of the groundbreaking Agricultural Labor Relations Act in 1975.

She encountered sexism, racism, discrimination, and violence along the way. During a peaceful protest in 1988, she was beaten by San Francisco police, suffering broken ribs and requiring emergency surgery to remove her spleen. Afterward, her focus shifted to championing women’s rights, primarily helping encourage and elect women to political office.

She was awarded the inaugural Eleanor Roosevelt Human Rights Award in 1998, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012.

Huerta remains active to this day, at 90 years old, continuing her life’s work as President of the Dolores Huerta Foundation, advocating for the working poor, women, and children.

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Karen 7 months ago
As an active union member, people like Walter Ruether, the Sit Down Strikers, and Delores Huerta have been my heroes. All of them sought to make life better, not only for their members, but for all workers. In this country, there were few labor laws protecting workers, until the advent of unions. There was child labor, no paid sick days, no overtime, no 40 hour weeks, no 8 hour days, no sick pay, no pay when you’d been injured on the job and couldn’t work. There were no protections for any workers in this country. No pensions. If you were elderly, you hoped one of your children would move in with you, or let you move in with them. If you couldn’t work, you went to a poorhouse. If your community had one. If not, you were homeless.
Now, we are seeing worker protections being chipped away. Things like anti union legislation, relaxed OSHA rules, and Right to Work ( a misnomer if there ever was one) are contributing to fewer safety protections, less job protections, lower pay, and fewer benefits. There is a trend towards hiring contract workers, who actually are paid by a contractor, and that contractor sets the pay and benefits, if any. Other companies hire temporary workers, pay them little, expect them to work overtime every day, and give no benefits.
The middle class would not exist if it weren’t for the things unions fought for. Let’s not go back to being a nation of haves, and have nots.
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