SACRAMENTO, Calif. – The Sacramento Central Labor Council, at its annual Salute to Labor dinner Oct. 18, honored two unions, a corporation, three male union leaders and one rank-and-file woman.

Nell Ranta, a 60-year member of the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees union, was saluted as a Labor Hero at the gala event. Ranta is vice president of the California Capital Chapter of the Coalition of Labor Union Women (CLUW) and a delegate from CLUW to the Sacramento Central Labor Council. She is also vice president of the Sacramento Federation of Retired Union Members.

Also honored at the dinner were Service Empolyees International Union Local 250 for excellence in organizing, Communication Workers of America and Pacific Bell for union/corporate partnership, Chuck Cake of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 340 as ‘union ambassador,’ Richard Mayberry of Sacramento Area Firefighters Local 250 for lifetime achievement and Tom Lawson of United Way Capitol Region as ‘labor hero.’

Following are Ranta’s remarks upon receiving her award:

Sixty years ago, I learned about unions in Los Angeles. At my age now, I forget many things – my zip code, my phone number, my middle name. But I still remember Lucy’s Restaurant, where I worked 10 hours a day, six days a week, for $10 a week, until I realized there must be something better and started looking for another job.

I applied at Albert Sheets Restaurant at 7th and Hill. I was hired. ‘How much do you pay?’ I asked. ‘Union scale – $16 a week.’

‘How many hours?’ I asked. ‘Union hours – eight hours a day, 6 days a week – 48 hours.’ A 50 percent raise in wages, a 25 percent reduction in hours.

I’ve been union ever since, from Juneau, Alaska to Los Angeles and two years at Boeing Aircraft in Seattle during World War II.

During the 45 or 50 years of work since then – with time off for two kids – I came to realize I was part of something called the working class.

This working class creates all goods, it creates all wealth and receives very little of it back, just enough to keep us going.

This working class fights all wars – the lives lost are working-class lives – whether it’s a waitress or a firefighter in the World Trade Center in Manhattan or a mother and child in Afghanistan.

So to me, a worthwhile mission is to help build the strength of this working class, to build the union so that workers will get back more of the wealth they produce, so that low-wage workers – many women and many minorities – can enjoy life a little bit more.

A janitor cleaning a building, so that work can go on, a farm worker producing food, a carpenter producing housing – we’ve all got to work together to keep labor strong.

The most important part of this strength is unity. We must end racism in all its forms, end discrimination against women (after all, we’re one-half the working class) and reach out and help organize sweatshop workers in all countries, as well as our own.

When our unions are strong and the world working class united – I hope I’m still around, although I may not be because it’s going to take a while – we’ll have a world where production is for people, not profit, for peace, not war.