Edna Award Recognizes Restaurant Worker Organizer

Veronica Avila, the daughter of immigrants who grew up in Chicago's poor meatpacking yards and returned to organize its restaurant workers, has won the 2012 Edna Award.

The Edna, which carries a $10,000 prize, recognizes young women who have distinguished themselves as leaders of the social justice movement. It is named for Edna Berger, a women's rights pioneer who started as a Philadelphia Inquirer receptionist and rose to become a writer, editor and the first woman organizer for The Newspaper Guild.

Avila founded the Chicago chapter of Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, building on her experience as an organizer for Unite HERE Local 1, to recruit more than 700 restaurant workers. Avila organized training programs, helped to place workers and spearheaded a campaign for fair treatment of employees of the Darden Group, which owns Chicago's Capital Grille, Red Lobster, Olive Garden and other chain eateries.

"I totally agree with the other judges in our choice of Veronica Avila, executive director of Restaurant Opportunity Centers United, for her unending work with youth, passage of the DREAM Act and to raise the Illinois minimum wage, and for changing the face of the restaurant industry in Canada and the U.S," said Carol Rothman, secretary-treasurer of The Newspaper Guild-CWA, who served on the award's panel of union, civic and activist leaders. "As one nominator said, she drives herself and extracts the same drive from those she organizes."

Avila will receive the Edna at an awards reception on Nov. 14 at the National Press Club. Three women will also receive Awards of Distinction, featuring $1,000 prizes. They are Nusrat (Jerin) Arifa, National Organization for Women board member and chair of the National Young Feminist Task Force; Lydia Edwards, director of Legal Services for the Brazilian Immigration Center; and Viridiana Martinez, who is leading the fight for immigrant rights as founder of the North Carolina Dream Team and now as a prisoner in Florida, where she was detained after declaring her undocumented status.

"It's truly inspiring to see what these young women are doing to lead the fight for social and economic justice in their communities," said Linda K. Foley, president of the Berger-Marks Foundation, which was created by bequest of Broadway composer Gerald Marks in honor of his wife Edna.