María Elena Durazo announced today that she will leave the LA County Federation of Labor, which she has led for more than eight years.
“I feel that the Los Angeles labor movement is very strong, very progressive, very proactive,” she told the Los Angeles Times. “Altogether, we have accomplished a lot. And there is a passion I have always had for immigration and civil rights. So I have the opportunity to do this and completely focus on those issues.”
Durazo will take a new post as international vice-president for immigration, civil rights and diversity at UNITE HERE, whose Los Angeles-based Local 11 she led before joining the County Fed.
There was a time when we listened to science, leaned forward when its experts spoke about smoking, clean air and water, or the need for something called a seatbelt. But that was long ago, before corporate interests convinced us that the best policy for just about any social crisis was to do nothing. Today research surveys that statistically demonstrate the benefits of raising the minimum wage have about the same chance of being heard above the denial din as climate change papers.
Nevertheless, the authors of Effects of a Fifteen Dollar an Hour Minimum Wage in the City of Los Angeles, a new study conducted by the Economic Roundtable and funded by the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, hope to open some very closed minds about these economic benefits. Tuesday the two groups released the study at a media event held on a corner of Lafayette Park.
Today’s Los Angeles Times features front-page coverage of the Raise LA campaign, a new effort to improve the standard of living for workers employed by L.A.’s larger hotels. James Rainey’s piece, which appeared online late yesterday (as did a story on Raise LA by Nancy Cohen in The New Republic), noted that while a relatively small number of L.A. hotel workers enjoy the protections and benefits of union membership, most of the city’s hotel housekeepers, busboys and maintenance workers are mired in jobs that pay little more than California’s minimum wage of $8 per hour. Raise LA aims to create an hourly minimum wage of $15.37 for employees who work at hotels with of 100 rooms or more.
In 2012 Long Beach voters passed a similar law for its hotel workers, increasing their minimum wage to $13 an hour.
Maria Elena Durazo serves as Executive Secretary-Treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, which represents more than 600,000 union workers. She is also the Chair of the National AFL-CIO’s Immigration Committee and recently spoke to Frying Pan News about the pending immigration bill in Congress, as well as a new student film competition that her organization and UNITE HERE are sponsoring. (Part 1 of this interview appeared yesterday.)
Frying Pan News: Is there something in particular that bugs you about the immigration bill?
Maria Elena Durazo: Yes! We want to make sure that there’s an alternative to the past guest worker model. We’re hopeful that we can fix the language through what’s commonly referred to as the Labor-Chamber agreement. There are three elements to it. One, that there be an objective, data-driven analysis of the future needs of workers in this country.
Seven years ago María Elena Durazo, the head of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, stood on a stage erected at the intersection of Wilshire Boulevard and La Brea Avenue, facing a sea of demonstrators who had just paraded miles in support of immigrant rights. In the twilight of that May Day, as Durazo addressed several hundred thousand people, the march for immigration reform seemed unstoppable – an irresistible historic tide that was poised to sweep away any objections.
Then came an angry backlash that saw anti-immigrant legislation passed in Arizona and Alabama that made Proposition 187 – California’s 1994 ballot initiative curbing immigrant rights – seem tame by comparison. Frying Pan News sat down with Durazo to discuss the pending immigration bill in Congress, as well as a new student film competition that her organization is sponsoring with UNITE HERE, a union whose members are largely immigrants.