March 7, 05

Vol. 20 , No. 09   


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Cesar Chavez Commemoration Keynote speaker

The UFW: Past, Present, and Future
DOLORES HUERTA
THURSDAY, MARCH 24, 2005

For more than thirty years Dolores Huerta was Cesar Chavez's most loyal and trusted advisor. Together they founded the United Farm Workers at a time when the AFL-CIO did not think farm workers could be organized. Her leadership was an integral part of the late 1960's grape boycott that led to collective bargaining agreements for the UFW.

Huerta became involved in the farm workers' movement in 1955, when she quit her job as a teacher because in her words, "I couldn't stand seeing kids come to class hungry and needing shoes. I thought I could do more by organizing farm workers than by trying to teach their hungry children."

She was a founding member of the Stockton chapter of the Community Service Organization, a grass roots organization started by Fred Ross, Sr. The CSO worked at the local level to promote change on issues ranging from segregation to police brutality. It was through her work with the CSO that Huerta met Cesar Chavez. In 1962, after the CSO turned down Chavez's suggestion to organize farm workers, Chavez and Huerta resigned from the CSO and formed the National Farm Workers Association, the predecessor to the UFW. At the time Huerta was a single mother of seven children.

In 1966, Dolores negotiated the first UFW contract with the Schenley Wine Company. This was the first time in the history of the United States that a negotiating committee comprised of farm workers reached a collective bargaining agreement with an agricultural corporation. Besides negotiating, Huerta also helped establish hiring halls, farm worker ranch committees, administered the contracts, and conducted over one hundred grievance procedures on the workers' behalf.

Huerta was an active lobbyist as well, working for key legislation in California including: removing the citizenship requirements from pension, and public assistance programs, allowing voters the right to vote in Spanish, and the right of individuals to take the driver's license examination in their native language. She was instrumental in securing Aid For Dependent Families for the unemployed and underemployed, and disability insurance for farm workers in the State of California. Robert F. Kennedy acknowledged her help in winning the 1968 California Democratic Presidential Primary moments before he was shot in Los Angeles.

In 1984 the California State Senate bestowed upon her the Outstanding Labor Leader Award and in 1993 Dolores was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame. In 1998 she was one of three Ms. Magazine's, "Women of the Year" and the Ladies Home Journal ranked her one of the "100 Most Important Women of the 20th Century".

She is currently the Secretary-Treasurer of the United Farm Workers, the Vice-President for the Coalition for Labor Union Women, the Vice-President of the California AFL-CIO, and a board member for the Fund for the Feminist Majority. In 2003 she founded the Dolores Huerta Foundation to provide leadership training in low-income, under-represented communities.

Dolores Huerta is the keynote speaker for The Claremont Colleges annual commemoration of the birthday of Cesar Chavez and is sponsored by the 5-college Cesar Chavez commemoration committee.