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Dolores Huerta's Conversation with the Cabinet

Tonight from 8:15 PM - 9:45 PM, Dolores Huerta of United Farm Workers of America--Cofounder and First Vice President Emeritus--will participate in a Conversations with the Cabinet.  Conversations with the Cabinet is part of a regular phone conference series hosted by the Backbone Campaign. This special bilingual event is a collaboration between the Backbone Campaign, My Vote is My Voice (MViMV), and Latinos for America (LFA).

If you wish to ask a question of Dolores, please post your question here and those questions will be asked during the phone conversation.  Questions are being accepted in English and Spanish. Kety Esquivel will be moderating the first part of the phone conference in Spanish and staff from the Backbone Campaign will moderate the English version of the phone conference.  The Spanish part of the call will begin at 8:15 and the English part of the call will begin at 9 PM.  Until the end of the call, the blog will function as a place to post your questions.  At the end of the call, feel free to discuss the phone conference further.

The number to call is: 1-641-297-5500
The access code is:  77647377#

While the mother of 11 children, 14 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren, Dolores has been an inspirational leader of the American civil rights movement, the labor movement through "La Causa" (the farmworkers’ cause), the Chicano movement, and women’s rights. Advocating for farm worker rights, Dolores has been arrested twenty-two times for non-violent peaceful union activities.   For more about this great woman, go to:  http://www.ufw.org/  Jessica has posted Dolores' bio below in a comment field.


For those that didn't get to listen to the call, you can listen via a podcast.  Visit Backbone Campaign's website for more details.  http://backbonecampaign.org/pagen.cfm?name=podcasts

Posted by Charlene Johnston on November 10, 2005 at 03:21 PM | Permalink


How were you able to conduct all of your great activism while raising 11 children? My activism pales in comparison and I still have trouble doing it all while raising only 2 children. What's your secret?

Posted by: Jessica | Nov 10, 2005 3:29:15 PM

I decided to post Delores' biography here since it's kind of hard to find and it's definately worth reading!
Dolores C. Huerta is the co-founder and First Vice President Emeritus of the United Farm Workers of America, AFL-CIO ("UFW"). The mother of 11 children, 14 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren, Dolores has played a major roll in the American civil rights movement.

Dolores Huerta was born on April 10, 1930 in a mining town in northern New Mexico, where her father, Juan Fernandez, was a miner, field worker, union activist and State Assemblyman. Her parents divorced when she was three years old. Her mother, Alicia Chavez, raised Dolores, along with her two brothers, and two sisters, in the central San Joaquin Valley farm worker community of Stockton, California. Her mother was a businesswoman who owned a restaurant and a 70-room hotel, which often put up farm worker families for free.

Dolores’ mother taught her to be generous and caring for others. Because of her mother’s community activism, Dolores learned to be outspoken. After high school, Dolores attended the University of Pacific’s Delta Community College and received a teaching degree. After teaching grammar school, Dolores left her job 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."

In 1955, she was a founding member of the Stockton chapter of the Community Service Organization ("CSO"), a grass roots organization started by Fred Ross, Sr. The CSO battled segregation and police brutality, led voter registration drives, pushed for improved public services and fought to enact new legislation. Recognizing the needs of farm workers, while working for the CSO, Dolores organized and founded the Agricultural Workers Association in 1960. She became a fearless lobbyist in Sacramento, and in 1961 succeeded in obtaining the citizenship requirements removed from pension, and public assistance programs. She also was instrumental in passage of legislation allowing voters the right to vote in Spanish, and the right of individuals to take the driver’s license examination in their native language. In 1962 she lobbied in and Washington DC for an end to the "captive labor" Bracero Program.

It was through her work with the CSO that Dolores met Cesar Chavez. They both realized the need to organize farm workers. In 1962, after the CSO turned down Cesar’s request, as their president, to organize farm workers, Cesar and Dolores resigned from the CSO. Dolores, single with seven children, joining Cesar and his family in Delano, California. There they formed the National Farm Workers Association ("NFWA"), the predecessor to the UFW.

In addition to organizing, Dolores continued to lobby.. In 1963 she was instrumental in securing Aid For Dependent Families ("AFDC"), for the unemployed and underemployed, and disability insurance for farm workers in the State of California. By 1965 Dolores and Cesar had recruited farm workers, and their families, throughout
the San Joaquin Valley. On September 8th of that year, Filipino members of the Agricultual Workers Organizing Committee ("AWOC") demanded higher wages and struck Delano area grape growers. Although Dolores and Cesar had planned to organize farmworkers for several more years before confronting the large corporate grape industry, they could not ignore their Filipino brothers; request. On September 16, 1965 the NFWA voted to join in the strike. Over 5,000 grape workers walked off their jobs in what is now known as the famous "Delano Grape Strike." The two organizations merged in 1966 to form the United Farm Workers Organizing Committee ("UFWOC"). The strike would last five years.

In 1966, Dolores negotiated the first UFWOC contract with the Schenley Wine Company. This was the first time in the history of the United States that a negotiating committee comprised of farmworkers negotiated a collective bargaining agreement with an agricultural corporation. The grape strike continued and Dolores, as the main UFWOC negotiator, not only successfully negotiated more contracts for farmworkers,
she also set up the hiring halls, the farm worker ranch committees, administered the contracts and conducted over one hundred grievance procedures on the workers behalf.

These contracts established the first health and benefit plans for farmworkers
Dolores spoke out early and often against toxic pesticides that threaten farm workers, consumers, and the environment. These early UFWOC agreements required growers to stop using such dangerous pesticides as DDT and Parathyon. Dolores lobbied in Sacramento and Washington D.C., organized field strikes, directed UFW boycotts, and led farm workers campaigns for political candidates. As a legislative advocate, Dolores became one of the UFW’s most visible spokespersons. Robert F. Kennedy acknowledged her help in winning the 1968 California Democratic Presidential Primary moments before he was shot in Los Angeles.
Dolores directed the UFW’s national grape boycott taking the plight of the farmworkers 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 1973 the grape contracts expired and the grape growers signed sweetheart contracts with the Teamsters Union. Dolores organized picket lines and continued to lobby. In 1974 she was instrumental in securing unemployment benefits for farmworkers. The UFW continued to organize not only the grape workers but the workers in the vegetable industry as well until violence erupted and farm workers were being killed. Once again the UFW turned to the consumer boycott. Dolores directed the east coast boycott of grapes, lettuce, and Gallo wines. The boycott resulted in the enactment of the Agricultural Labor Relations Act, the first law of its kind in the United States, which granted farm workers the right to collectively organize and bargain for better wages and working conditions. In 1975 Dolores lobbied against federal guest worker programs and spearheaded legislation granting amnesty for farm workers that had lived, worked, and paid taxes in the United States for many years but were unable to enjoy the privileges of citizenship. This resulted in the Immigration Act of 1985.

At 69, Dolores Huerta still works long hours for the union she co-founded and nurtured. Many days find her in cities across North America promoting "La Causa" (the farmworkers’ cause) and women’s rights. For more than thirty years Dolores Huerta remained Cesar Chavez' most loyal and trusted advisor. Together they founded the Robert F. Kennedy Medical Plan, the Juan De La Cruz Farm Worker Pension Fund, the the Farm Workers Credit Union, the first medical and pension plan and credit union for farm workers. They also formed the National Farm Workers Service Center, Inc., an community based affordable housing and Spanish language radio communications organization with five Spanish radio stations.

As an advocate for farm worker rights Dolores has been arrested twenty-two times for non-violent peaceful union activities.

In 1984 the California State Senate bestowed upon her the Outstanding Labor Leader Award. In 1993 Dolores was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame. That same year she received the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Roger Baldwin Medal of Liberty Award; and the Eugene V. Debs Foundation Outstanding American Award, and the Ellis Island Medal of Freedom Award. She is also the recipient of the Consumers’ Union Trumpeter’s Award. In 1998 she was one of three Ms. Magazine’s, "Women of the Year", and the Ladies Home Journal’s, "100 Most Important Women of the 20th Century".

Dolores has received honorary doctorate degrees from:
New College of San Francisco, 1990
San Francisco State University, 1993
S.U.N.I. New Palz University, 1999
Aside from currently serving as the Secretary-Treasure of the United Farm Workers, she is the Vice-President for the Coalition for Labor Union Women, the Vice-President of the California AFL-CIO, and is a board member for the Fund For The Feminist Majority which advocates for the political and equal rights for women.

Democratic Socialist of America
Latinas for Choice
FAIR (Fairness in Media Reporting)
Center for Voting and Democracy
Minority Apprentice Programs, 1965
Advisory Committee on Immigration, 1980
Commission of Agricultural Workers, 1988 to 1993
Industrial Welfare Commission, 1960
Board of Directors of the California State Library Services, 1980-1982

Posted by: Jessica | Nov 10, 2005 3:31:18 PM

Does the United Farm Workers of America inform its membership about the dangers of pesticides and herbicides (eg. atrazine)? If so, how does UFWA help the farmers protect themselves from the dangerous chemicals?

Posted by: Charlene | Nov 13, 2005 10:59:02 PM

I have a few questions:

My understanding is farm workers are some of the hardest working people in our country - yet it appears they are marginalized in our country - and often are not given a fair wage for the work they do. My understanding is that many of the workers are migrant or immigrant workers– and are often not treated with the working conditions that would be demanded by most native born American citizens. What legislation do you envision for the future that can address these wage and living condition issues? Do you feel the industry has kept prices low to the detriment of workers and farmers? Are conditions at large corporate farms generally better or worse than those at most family owned farms?


Posted by: Al | Nov 14, 2005 5:16:14 PM


You are a hero for us. Thank you for everything you have done.

Posted by: Anne Stevens | Nov 14, 2005 5:33:28 PM


Thank you for joining us tonight!

What was the "last straw" that finally pushed you to become active?

Posted by: Liane Allen | Nov 14, 2005 7:06:22 PM

What would you say is the most pressing issue currently facing farm workers in this country?

Posted by: Liane Allen | Nov 14, 2005 7:08:52 PM

What can the average American do to improve the working conditions of family farmers?

Posted by: George | Nov 14, 2005 8:30:20 PM

These are all great questions! I am no longer on the phone. Should I call in again or is someone else going to be asking them?

Posted by: Kety | Nov 14, 2005 9:11:58 PM


I'm on the call but will have a hard time taking notes and asking the questions together. Please try and get back on the call.


Posted by: Charlene | Nov 14, 2005 9:21:58 PM

Thanks, Kety!

I hear ya now.

Posted by: Charlene | Nov 14, 2005 9:23:07 PM


I'd offer to help somehow, but need to get on a different conference call soon. Will check back later for answers and discussion.

Posted by: Jessica | Nov 14, 2005 9:37:21 PM

My phone died at hopefully just the right time. Kety had finished asking the MViMV questions at least. Bill with the Backbone Campaign was still fielding questions from the call though.

I'll begin putting in the answers to the questions asked on this site.

How were you able to conduct all of your great activism while raising 11 children?

There’s an appropriate letter on the Dolores Huerta Foundation website http://www.doloreshuerta.org that answers this but I’d like to say you can be
a mother and activist, don’t give up having a family. Take your children along;
get people to help. You don’t need a lot of money to do this activity and we’re spoiling kids today by trying to buy too much for them. Give them the love of justice take them on our marches and demonstrations, because the inheritance that you’ll leave them is the love of justice.

A good opportunity right now are the campaigns to keep Alido from becoming confirmed, because he is anti-women and anti-civil rights (incarcerations, etc). Get your kids to write letters to politicians to not to confirm .

Posted by: Charlene | Nov 14, 2005 9:54:03 PM

Does the United Farm Workers of America inform its membership about the dangers of pesticides and herbicides (eg. atrazine)?

This is a big issue for us. We filed the first lawsuit against DDT back in the 60s. It’s a top issue with UFWA ongoing struggle, but eventually not able to win unless get whole issue. What needs to happen is that pesticide use needs to be in the Dept of Public Health rather than in the Dept of Agriculture.

If so, how does UFWA help the farmers protect themselves from the dangerous chemicals?

We tell them what pesticides are sprayed and what the antidotes are. Sometimes, farms will put pesticides in the wrong container so they are mislabeled. There is a lot of instruction by the committees though and many of our contracts have prohibitions that certain pesticides cannot be used because they so harmful. Workers are now very cognizant about the dangers. Farm workers are more educated about the dangers of pesticides than the rest of the country.

Posted by: Charlene | Nov 14, 2005 9:57:42 PM

What legislation do you envision for the future that can address these wage and living condition issues?

We need legislation at the State level for the right to organize, that’s the best solution. We need people appointed on the boards that run that legislation. If farm workers join a union, they are protected best that way. They’d have seniority rights, better wages, etc. Unfortunately, in 1934 when the right to organize was legislated, it said 3 little words, “except agriculture workers.” Agriculture workers still don’t have rights, but I don’t want them covered under national law because so diluted now. Legislating at the state level is best.

Posted by: Charlene | Nov 14, 2005 10:01:29 PM

What was the "last straw" that finally pushed you to become active?
I have been active my whole life, since I was a kid; as a teenager I worked on anti-discrimination. Through the Community Service Org, I became addictive to activism because when you get people together and take direct action you can make changes.

Posted by: Charlene | Nov 14, 2005 10:06:22 PM

What would you say is the most pressing issue currently facing farm workers in this country?

Lack of wages and benefits and laws that unemployment insurance is not available. For instance, in California, there isn’t a right to organize. I’d like to see legalization for undocumented workers here also.

What can the average American do to improve the working conditions of family farmers?

Pass laws in their own states. Most farm workers don’t have unemployment or workers compensation and they need to keep working to keep their families alive.

Posted by: Charlene | Nov 14, 2005 10:08:25 PM

Do you feel that the agriculture industry has kept prices low at the detriment of farm workers?

Yes, they want to hire a lot of undocumented labor so they don’t even have to pay minimum wages. They buy more land and equipment to keep the wage rate to the workers low. The California Governor recently vetoed an increase in the minimum wage.

What can they do to help?
The minimum wage initiative is going to be on ballot again in California.
Also, keep Alido from being confirmed. During the holiday break, ask your senators to filibuster if necessary.

Posted by: Charlene | Nov 14, 2005 10:10:35 PM

You are an inspiration to Latinos, but you are one of so few in the public eye. What do you know that is being done to cultivate progressive Latina involvement?

In our culture, you are told to keep your place and not to go where you are not wanted; so we have to take initiative to say we don’t see representation lets do more to get representation. We have to take the initiative and push so we can see changes.

Posted by: Charlene | Nov 14, 2005 10:12:30 PM

Conservatives have a very strategic plan; rhetoric and policy with empty promises are being made. They are spreading that rhetoric in Spanish and Latinas are hearing it. Do you think this is significant and do you think there needs to be a response that has to happen from the progressive movement?

All the major political forces see our big community and we’re gaining influence with money spent and political clout increasing. They are hiring Latinos on their side and looking into the interest of Latinos to see what the issues are. We are poised to be very influential in our country; we can’t wait to be invited. We need to look to see where we aren’t and invite ourselves to be part of those groups; especially in the decision making part of the group.

Posted by: Charlene | Nov 14, 2005 10:16:17 PM

Can you speak to the comparisons between large corporate farms and small farms, the distinctions and conditions between them?

Small farmers have a hard time competing against the corporate farms. But in terms of treatment, farm workers are not always treated better on family farms; it depends on the farmer. But we should promote family farms because it’s a wonderful way of living and part of our tradition.

Posted by: Charlene | Nov 14, 2005 10:18:17 PM

I think that's all I have for responses to the questions asked here. I'll transcribe more of the call Wednesday night.

Thanks to the Backbone Campaign for allowing us to participate in this Conversation with the Cabinet and to Kety and LFA for their assistance and support!

Posted by: Charlene | Nov 14, 2005 10:21:12 PM

Posted by: Charlene | Nov 14, 2005 6:54:03 PM

That's a great idear to have my kids participate in politics and practice their writing skills by writing their Representatives! Thanks!

Posted by: Jessica | Nov 21, 2005 7:48:05 PM

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