Edna Award winner & finalists meet, accept honors

Edna Award winners, runners-up and judges with Board members
Edna Award winners, runners-up and judges with Board members
At the reception held at the National Press Club the evening of October 23, an outstanding group of young women leaders were honored for their work on behalf of low-wage workers; and they shared their visions of social justice with the Berger-Marks Board, contest judges and other supporters. Jennifer Epps-Addison accepted the Berger-Marks Foundation’s coveted $10,000 Edna Award and other young women stepped forward to receive $1,000 Awards of Distinction and recognition as finalists.

See video of Ceremony highlights
See video of Ceremony highlights
Top winner Jennifer Epps-Addison is executive director of Wisconsin Jobs Now and vice-president of the Milwaukee Workers Organizing Committee, and she’s still out in the streets and workplaces, helping low-wage workers organize. Not long after winning the Edna Award, Epps-Addison was rallying the public for a livable minimum wage and protesting at Walmart for its mistreatment of workers.

She was also highlighted by Bill Moyers as an “Activist to Watch.”

What motivates Epps-Addison? She recalls meeting many people who have two or three jobs but still can’t afford to see a doctor and need public help, and thinking, “That is not the America that I was raised to believe in.” Her grandfather was a sharecropper from the South and her grandmother was picking cotton from the age of five. After her grandmother moved to Milwaukee and got work in a factory, Epps-Addison says, public assistance was needed to provide “a stable enough life.” But she managed to send Jennifer’s father to law school.

“This country invested in them,” she recalls, “but at some point we decided that we were going to subsidize corporations. We see record profits in the fast food and retail industries, for example, but workers are falling farther and farther behind.” Jennifer is determined to change that

The three young women who got $1,000 Awards of Distinction

Rachel Micah-Jones developed her passion for immigrant rights while working as an attorney for farmworkers in rural Florida, where she saw how migrants were abused on the job and how powerful threats of retaliation were in silencing those workers. When Micah-Jones traveled to rural Mexico to meet with farmworker clients, she discovered that in their home communities, they felt free to finally speak out about the terrible working conditions. That inspired her to found Centro de los Derechos del Migrante and open an office in Zacatecas in 2005.

The group has met with more than 6,000 people in 23 states across Mexico, making sure migrant workers know their rights before they cross the border. While improving conditions, the group also recovered more than $5 million in unpaid wages.

Andrea Cristina Mercado began organizing domestic workers when she was 25 years old, and helped win New York’s Domestic Bill of Rights in 2012. Born of immigrant parents from Peru and Argentina, she was a leader for labor rights while in college, and then worked with Jobs with Justice, and used a Fulbright scholarship to study Brazilian social movements. She helped co-found the National Domestic Workers Alliance in 2007, and became their Campaign Director this year. Just months later, they won a huge, hard-fought victory in getting Governor Jerry Brown to sign the California Domestic Workers Bill of Rights

In a November 22 interview on NPR’s Latino USA show, Mercado talked about combatting what amounts to “modern-day slavery in some instances.”

Christina Tzintzun, herself the child of Mexican immigrants, has been striving to empower immigrant workers since she was 15 years old, first in Ohio and later in Texas. As Executive Director of the Workers Defense Project in Austin, Texas, she helps immigrant construction workers gain basic rights and helped mobilize 30,000 people to march for immigrant rights. This November she told her story on MSNBC’s Up Late with Alec Baldwin. “People talk about how undocumented workers have to earn their right to citizenship; in my mind they’ve earned it,” she explained. “They’re doing some of the most difficult and dangerous jobs in our country, and we all depend on them.

“If we could better protect their rights… then we raise standards for everyone in this country.”