Dolores Huerta Receives National Prize For Public Service

Dolores Huerta

Dolores Huerta  (AP)

A year after she was awarded the country’s highest civilian honor, lifelong unionist and immigrant rights activist Dolores Huerta received the Jefferson Award, a national prize for public service.

Huerta, 83, received the award Wednesday in Washington D.C.

It came one year after she received the Medal of Freedom.

Besides Huerta, Jefferson Award honorees included two U.S. Senators, the winner of a Nobel Prize for peace, and the owner of a professional tennis team.

Huerta founded the National Farmworkers Association with César Chávez in 1962. It later evolved into the United Farm Workers of America.

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Huerta’s sense of justice developed from an early age. Raised in Stockton, Calif., Huerta watched her father work for little pay in the fields, while her mother managed a hotel that often let poor migrants stay for free, according to the Daily Beast.

Using strikes, marches, boycotts and hunger strikes, the UFW has defended the interests of farm workers, including many immigrants, and pressured businesses to sign collectively bargained contracts. The union’s tactics often met resistance. Huerta has been arrested about two dozen times and been beaten for her activism.

Those who also received the Jefferson Award were Republican Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma and Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, who won for greatest public service by an elected or appointed official. Holocaust survivor and Nobel Prize winner Elie Wiesel won the award for greatest public service by a private citizen.

Notwithstanding her run-ins with the law, Huerta has been influential in passing far-reaching legislation. Her accomplishments as a labor rights activist include helping pass California’s Agricultural Labor Relations Act of 1975 and helping secure disability insurance for California farmworkers.

The UFW today boasts 27,000 members, powerful political allies, and is active in the states of California, Oregon and Washington.

Huerta launched the Dolores Huerta Foundation in 2002, with the mission of supporting community organizers and budding political leaders.

The Jefferson Awards were co-founded 40 years ago by former first lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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