Much has been written in the wake of Los Angeles' recent mayoral election about the role of organized labor in the race and outcome. The convenient and popular narrative is that the results reflect a diminished role for labor as a force in Los Angeles politics. But those who attach too sweeping an analysis to the outcomes -- or suggest that labor's role in this city has declined -- are sadly off the mark.
In many ways, the 2013 LA Mayoral election may actually be viewed as a positive reflection of LA labor's tremendous work over the last couple of decades. Both candidates had a demonstrable record of support and dedication to working people -- and both are proud to call themselves supporters of a robust labor movement. Buoyed by that reality -- and in the heat of battle -- we (unions) may not have always played nice with each other over the course of the election.
Nonetheless, labor and our hundreds of thousands of members in this region were fighting the same fight we always have -- the fight for working people. Their lives, be they waste and recycling workers, janitors, grocery workers, public employees or hotel workers, will be greatly impacted by who leads this great city -- and it's their unions' obligation to engage aggressively in determining that. The choice put before LA voters in this election alone was symbolic of just how deep and successful our work as a movement has been.
And if anyone thinks this election leaves LA labor divided and weakened, they are looking too narrowly at what just happened. It is true, obviously, that individual unions will find themselves on opposite sides of a political fight from time to time -- and this was one of those times. However the LA labor movement always bounces back, always regroups and always rallies together when it comes to standing up for the working men and women of this region. We may have disagreed on our candidates, but we emerge united and ready to continue the fight...together.
The bottom line is this: Los Angeles is one of the richest cities in the history of the world -- literally; and yet, the income inequality and the explosion of working poor is virtually third world. Every compassionate person in Los Angeles should be outraged by this. Because the disparities we see are bad for the long-term prospects of our economy. They're bad for everyone. Labor's role, under the dynamic leadership of Maria Elena Durazo, the Teamsters and all the member unions of the County Federation of Labor, is to make that case. This election season may have been awkward at points...but these issues, and the necessary dialogue around them, were forced to the front by labor.
I am proud to be a Teamster, proud to be a member of the LA County Federation of Labor, and proud to be a part of the Los Angeles labor movement. For me, this election was always about standing up for those working men and women who are striving to make it into the middle class, and for those who are struggling to remain there. And I have no doubt that the same thing can be said for every labor leader in Los Angeles, regardless of who they supported for Mayor.
The 2013 elections were intense and, in many ways, unpleasant. But the need to take head-on the exploitation of all working Angelenos remains unchanged. That's what labor does and that's what we'll continue to do -- without apology.
Ron Herrera is Secretary-Treasurer of Teamsters Local 396, the largest Teamster local in Los Angeles. He is also an International Trustee on the General Executive Board of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, and a member of the Executive Board of Teamster Joint Council 42 and the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor.
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