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Labor rights legend Dolores Huerta: If you want change, here's how to get loud

The civil rights activist and labor movement leader tells Know Your Value how women can get organized, active and make the biggest impact for equal rights in the New Year.
The Landmark Westwood Presents Opening Night Screening And Panel For \"A Song For Cesar\"
Labor activist Dolores Huerta attends a screening of "A Song For Cesar" on March 11, 2022 in Los Angeles.Amanda Edwards / Getty Images

Labor movement icon Dolores Huerta has spent more than six decades fighting for the rights of workers, women and communities of color. The civil rights activist who worked with César Chávez to establish the National Farm Workers Association was the first Latina inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame. And at 92, she’s living proof that the ability to make lasting change has no age limits.

Huerta was honored on the 2022 “50 Over 50” Impact list, created by Forbes and Know Your Value, which celebrates women who have found major success later in life.

“Morning Joe” reporter and Know Your Value contributor Daniela Pierre-Bravo recently spoke with Huerta at a luncheon in New York City honoring the new group of women who made this year’s “50 Over 50” list.

But despite the accolades, Huerta focused on the widening pay gap for women coming out of the pandemic, where this year Latinas on average were paid $.54 for every dollar that white, non-Hispanic men earned. “If we can get the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) passed, then not only Latina women but all women would be able to have equal pay,” she told Pierre-Bravo. “Right now it’s in the Senate and if we can get Sen. Schumer to bring it up for a vote, it can happen between now and the first of the year … it only takes a majority vote.”

Huerta’s call to action underscores the fact that the Constitution does not explicitly recognize women’s rights. The Equal Rights Amendment, which states that civil rights may not be denied on the basis of one's sex, was introduced nearly a century ago.

And while Congress passed the ERA in 1972, it fell three states short of the 38 needed to ratify it in order to become part of the Constitution. Then in early 2020, Virginia became the critical 38th state to ratify the ERA.

Progress, however, remained stalled in 2021, and now the U.S. currently is among the 24 percent of countries without a constitutional provision for gender equity. If passed, the ERA would become the 28th amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

“I’d say to all women out there, contact Sen. Schumer and say bring the Equal Rights Amendment up for a vote so that women can finally have equal pay finally in the United States of America.

Huerta explained her efforts to address the gender pay gap stem from the influence of the men and women who inspired her to action years ago. “One of my mentors was my mother of course, my Girl Scout leader, Eleanor Smeal of the Feminist Majority Foundation, Gloria Steinem, as well as the men who taught us how to organize: [grassroots organizer] Fred Ross Sr. and of course Cesar Chavez.”

Image: United Farm Workers' Dolores Huerta organizing farm workers in Coachella, California, in 1969
United Farm Workers' Dolores Huerta organizing farm workers in Coachella, California, in 1969.George Ballis

Bottom line, Huerta – a Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient – said change only happens when women get loud. “We have to speak up, we have to do the work, we have to organize other women to help us because we can’t do it by ourselves,” she told Pierre-Bravo. “If all of us get together and put the pressure on our political leaders then we can make this happen.”

That advice extends to helping young women understand – and make the most – of their long career runway. “I suggest they stay informed, stay on top of everything, get engaged, organize – get other women to support them,” she said. “And of course, remembering that the foundation of our democracy is voting and electing good representative that will stand up for women at all levels – the school board level, city council level, in Congress and in state legislatures.”