Huffpost Los Angeles
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

María Elena Durazo Headshot

If the Labor Movement Doesn't Speak Up for Workers, Who Will? The Koch Brothers?

Posted: Updated:

Maria Isavel Vasquez Jimenez was 17 and pregnant when she collapsed in the arms of her fiancé at a vineyard near Stockton after working all day in 100-plus degree heat. She wasn't allowed breaks to access the nearest water, a ten-minute walk away.

No one called 911. There was a long delay in getting her medical care. By then her body temperature was 108 degrees. She and her unborn child died two days later.

Earlier, when other farm workers died from the heat, California issued the nation's first regulation to prevent such needless deaths. The labor movement in California did that. It didn't matter that Maria Isavel didn't carry a union card. The hot summer sun doesn't discriminate.

Deaths in the fields are down. But farm workers still die from the heat because of lax state enforcement. The United Farm Workers has legislation going to Governor Brown's desk to beef up enforcement.

If Proposition 32 had been the law, banning unions from financing politics or lobbying, there would have been no heat regulation in 2005, and no bills beefing up enforcement this year.

Romeo Trinidad has worked for more than ten years as a houseman at the Long Beach Hilton. His has a disabled wife and two teenage daughters. Romeo's dream is earning enough for a two-bedroom apartment so his daughters don't have to sleep in the living room. After management repeatedly ignored appeals for change by Romeo and his co-workers, they joined with UNITE-HERE, the hotel workers union, to put a living wage initiative for hotel workers on the ballot in Long Beach. If Prop. 32 had passed, there'd be no living wage initiative in Long Beach and Romeo's dream of a two-bedroom apartment for his family would remain just that--a dream.

During my more than 30 years in the labor movement I've worked for many reforms--laws, policies and regulations--that protect workers. Not one of them said, "These protections apply only to workers who hold a union card." The labor movement is a voice for people who don't have a voice. Most aren't union members. Throughout California, from the fields, factories, refineries, docks and movie sets to hospital floors, office buildings, hotels, classrooms and construction sites, unions reach out to protect people who aren't us. But if Prop. 32 passes, labor's voice will be silenced and big-money corporate interests will crush our activism for all these workers.

Big insurance companies and corporate health care have huge voices in Sacramento. Yet it was union nurses who gave patients a voice in Sacramento. Union nurses got lawmakers to pass groundbreaking nurse-patient ratios to ensure patients receive adequate nursing care. If Prop. 32 had been the law, those protections for patients would not have happened.

The California Teachers Association gave more than $1 million for marriage equality and to resist the initiative to ban it. Marriage equality isn't about unionization. But the teachers were there anyway. That wouldn't have happened if Prop. 32 had been the law.

If Prop. 32 had been the law, teachers couldn't advocate for students and home care workers could not advocate for their clients' welfare.

Thirty-eight percent of construction workers laboring at the Martin Luther King Jr. Hospital live within a five-mile radius of the hospital in neighborhoods suffering severe unemployment. Labor is proud to have helped elect county Supervisor Mark Ridley- Thomas, whose hard work helped re-open this great institution. Unions also won a project labor agreement that produced all those high-quality construction jobs for workers from the community. If Prop. 32 had been the law, Ridley-Thomas probably wouldn't be a county supervisor. We wouldn't have a local hire policy and quality career construction jobs for unemployed local residents.

If the labor movement doesn't speak up for these workers, who will? The Koch brothers? Sheldon Adelson? Wal-Mart? Wall Street? Bain Capitol? The billionaires and millionaires who underwrite the tea party--and who put Prop. 32 on the ballot?
_________________________
Maria Elena Durazo is executive secretary-treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO.