Edna Award Recognizes Veronica Avila


The Berger-Marks Foundation's 2012 award winners.

The Berger-Marks Foundation awarded Chicago restaurant worker organizer Veronica Avila the 2012 Edna Award on Wednesday night.

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 started as an organizer with UNITE HERE Local 1. Following her success with four major campaigns, she went to Vancouver to help build a strong hotel worker movement in Canada.

More recently, Avila founded and has grown the Chicago chapter of Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC) to recruit more than 700 restaurant workers. Avila has 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. Because Darden CEO Clarence Otis sits on Verizon's board of directors, CWA and ROC participated in joint actions against Capital Grille and Olive Garden during the Verizon East contract campaign.

"The daughter of an immigrant meatpacker and a secretary, Veronica grew up in a low-income neighborhood that was subjected to systemic racism," said Linda Foley, former TNG-CWA president, presenting the award. "She knows firsthand how prejudice and discrimination can be gamed against low-wage workers who are fighting for a decent living."

Three women will also receive Awards of Distinction, a $1,000 prize. They are Nusrat Jerin Arifa, who sits on the boards of the National Organization for Women and the Bella Abzug Leadership Institute; Lydia Edwards, the director of legal services for the Brazilian Immigration Center; and Viridiana Martinez, founder of the North Carolina Dream Team and a prisoner in Florida, where she was detained after declaring her undocumented status.