With good union training, wages and benefits, Cathy Nichols, a single mother, was able to provide for herself and her son without fear of impoverishment or medical calamity.
I met Brian Smith and his grandmother Jean on a Sunday morning in South Los Angeles. Brian was a recent graduate of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 11’s “boot camp” training program designed to prepare new members for the rigors of the trade. I had first come across Brian at the Wilshire Grand Center construction site as he waited for an elevator so he could move his cart of materials to a higher floor. It was only his third day on the job – he seemed enthusiastic but unsure of what the future held.
Brian told me that a union electrician from the neighborhood had come to his home in his off time to help his grandmother with some wiring. Brian, who had been working as a marketer in the music industry, was looking for something more stable – a career he could depend on. The Local 11 electrician invited him to look into his trade.
Somerset Waters has the passion of a convert. You can hear it in his voice when he outlines why he set up the only worker-owned cooperative business in Los Angeles.
“It’s really exciting pushing the boundaries of how a small business can operate here,” he says, standing in front of a bank of solar panels outside a residence in Calabasas. “People want a sense of ownership at work, a feeling of justice, a real stake in their working lives.”
Last year, inspired by the Pioneer Valley Solar Co-Op in Massachusetts, and with guidance from co-op resource center LA WORCS, Waters created Pacific Electric, a worker-owned co-op, to see if a different kind of business model could take hold in Los Angeles.
The four-person union firm, which has plans for expansion to 100 owner-members, installs solar and other electrical systems for residential and business customers throughout Los Angeles County.
The AFL-CIO closed out its quadrennial convention in Los Angeles yesterday with a morning remembrance to the victims of 9/11 before delegates rolled up their sleeves and finished up with a day of internal housekeeping and policy chores.
The convention might be remembered most for debuting its highly popular afternoon Action Sessions. Comprising about 50 workshops and panels over three days, these sessions gathered together innovative thinkers, cutting-edge organizers and committed activists from around the country to share the lessons learned in hard-won battles to moved labor to the center stage of a 21st century economy.
Collectively they signaled the AFL-CIO’s seriousness about returning to the grass roots and leveraging one area where labor remains unrivaled and undiminished — its organizational power.
This commitment was especially clear at a Wednesday Action Session entitled “Policy Initiatives That Enable Organizing: Living Wage and PLA Campaigns.”
Moderated by James Elmendorf,