LOS ANGELES — Next year labor contracts covering some 350,000 union members in 30 union locals in Los Angeles County will expire, while tens of thousands more are organizing for first contracts.
The area’s labor movement is also its single most influential political force. In 2008, over 10 million county residents will comprise 13 full congressional districts and parts of others. They can be decisive in determining the state’s presidential electoral vote, and the balance of power in the Legislature of the nation’s largest state.
“In 2008, when it comes to contract fights, organizing and politics, L.A.’s workers are combining their resources in a single fight for good jobs,” Maria Elena Durazo, executive secretary-treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, declared Dec. 3 as she opened its historic second delegates congress. The gathering included hundreds of key activists beyond its official federation delegates.
Over 1,000 union members from work sites and retiree groups, representing over 300 union locals, attended the labor congress to unite on a common agenda. They roared their unanimous approval for the focus on “good jobs.”
In keynoting the meeting, Durazo spelled out what is meant by good jobs.
“Working people are sick and tired of hearing politicians boast about all the jobs they create,” she said. “The working poor who are trying to organize know all about jobs. The jobs are so lousy they need two or three of them just to pay the bills. Creating jobs isn’t the solution. The solution is creating good jobs.”
Durazo pointed out that a “bare bones” budget for a single person in Los Angeles requires spending $843 a month on housing, $211 on food and $233 on health care with a $28,000 yearly income.
She took on L.A. media who criticized city water and power workers making $76,000 a year: “We should be proud the workers are earning $76,000 a year, a salary that allows them to raise their families and give back to the community. That is the standard we need to set and replicate in other jobs and industries … (what) ordinary workers need to live and survive in L.A. today.”
Longshore workers, security guards, hotel workers, professors, firefighters, home health care workers, building trades, janitors and many others addressed the labor congress, spelling out their issues, their need for support and their solidarity with their union sisters and brothers.
The delegates approved a platform for a “Fight for Good Jobs” campaign. A 28-mile mass march is planned next spring through the heart of the county from Hollywood, where entertainment industry contracts are on the line, to the L.A./Long Beach port where workers handle 40 percent of the nation’s imports, the longshore workers’ contract is up and port drivers are organizing.
Along the way, the union marchers will address communities on key electoral races like the open District 2 county supervisor race in South Los Angeles, whose winner will vote on the contracts of scores of thousands of government workers.
A resolution was passed to establish a countywide solidarity committee of all unions wanting to help coordinate resources and to join negotiating committees where asked. The county supervisor District 2 race was made a priority. The delegates approved support for L.A. City Proposition S, a telephone users’ tax to fund city services, and voted to oppose the state’s “Big 4” Indian gambling deals.
Durazo drew rousing cheers as she addressed national labor concerns. “L.A. labor must, and will, do its part to end this wasteful and futile war in Iraq. L.A. labor must, and will, help enact rational and humane immigration reform. L.A. labor must, and will, help America elect a new president of the United States!”
Just before dusk, after the congress adjourned, hundreds of delegates marched in support of SOULA, the Service Employees union campaign organizing security guards in the L.A. area. Boisterous chants swelled as marchers passed the offices of high rise real estate corporations: “One, two, three, four, there should be no working poor” and “We tell the story, this is union territory!”