Dolores Clara Fernandez Huerta (born April 10, 1930) is a labor leader and civil rights activist.
He co-founded the National Farmworkers Association, which later became the United Farm Workers (UFW). Huerta has received numerous awards for her community service and advocacy for workers, immigrants, and women’s rights, including the Eugene V. Debs Foundation Outstanding American Award, the United States Presidential Eleanor Roosevelt Award for Human Rights and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. As a role model to many in the Latino community, Huerta is the subject of many corridos (ballads) and murals.
In 1955, Huerta co-founded the Stockton chapter of the Community Service Organization, (CSO) and in 1960 co-founded the Agricultural Workers Association which set up voter registration drives and pressed local governments for barrio improvements. In 1962, she co-founded the National Farm Workers Association with César Chávez, which would later become the United Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee. In 1966, she negotiated a contract between the UFWOC and Schenley Wine Company, marking the first time that farm workers were able to effectively bargain with an agricultural enterprise. Through her work with the CSO, Huerta met César Chávez, the Executive Director of the CSO. They both soon realized the need to organize farm workers. In 1962, after the CSO turned down Chávez’s request, as their president, to organize farm workers, Chávez and Huerta resigned from the CSO. With Chávez, she co-founded the National Farm Workers Association which would later merge with the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee to become the United Farm Workers Organizing Committee. Huerta’s organizing skills were essential to the growth of this budding organization.
In 1965, Huerta directed the UFW’s national boycott during the Delano grape strike, taking the plight of the farm workers to the consumers. The boycott resulted in the entire California table grape industry signing a three-year collective bargaining agreement with the United Farm Workers in 1970.
In addition to organizing she has been highly politically active, lobbying in favor of (and against) numerous California and federal laws. The laws that she supported included the following:
- 1960 bill to permit people to take the California driver’s examination in Spanish
- 1962 legislation repealing the Bracero Program
- 1963 legislation to extend Aid to Families with Dependent Children to California farmworkers
- The 1975 California Agricultural Labor Relations Act
As an advocate for farmworkers’ rights, Huerta has been arrested twenty-two times for participating in non-violent civil disobedience activities and strikes. She remains active in progressive causes, and serves on the boards of People for the American Way, Consumer Federation of California, and Feminist Majority Foundation.
On June 5, 1968, Huerta stood beside Robert F. Kennedy on a speaker’s platform at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles as he delivered a victory statement to his political supporters shortly after winning the California Democratic presidential primary election. Only moments after the candidate finished his speech, Huerta was a safe distance behind Kennedy as he and five other people were wounded by gunfire inside the hotel’s kitchen pantry. Only 15 min before the shooting, Huerta had walked through that pantry alongside the US Senator from New York while Kennedy was on his way to deliver his victory speech. Kennedy died from his gunshot wounds on June 6.
In September 1988, in front of the St. Francis Hotel in Union Square, Huerta was severely beaten by San Francisco Police officers during a peaceful and lawful protest of the policies/platform of then-candidate for president George H.W. Bush. The baton-beating caused significant internal injuries to her torso, resulting in several broken ribs and necessitating the removal of her spleen in emergency surgery. The beating was caught on videotape and broadcast widely on local television news, including the clear ramming of the butt end of a baton into Huerta’s torso by one of the helmeted officers. Later, Huerta won a large judgment against the SFPD and the City of San Francisco, the proceeds of which were used for the benefit of farm workers. The assault is credited with starting yet another movement to change SFPD crowd control policies and the manner in which officer discipline is handled.
Following a lengthy recovery she took a leave of absence from the union to focus on women’s rights. 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 Latinas 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.
Huerta is president of the Dolores Huerta Foundation, which she founded in 2002.The Dolores Huerta Foundation is a 501(c)(3) “community benefit organization that organizes at the grassroots level, engaging and developing natural leaders. DHF creates leadership opportunities for community organizing, leadership development, civic engagement, and policy advocacy in the following priority areas: health & environment, education & youth development, and economic development.” At 82, Huerta continues to work tirelessly developing leaders and advocating for the working poor, women and children.