LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — The head of the LA County Labor Federation is getting ready for a new job as vice president of a national union.
Even as she was packing up her mementos collected over nearly 25 years as a Southland labor leader, the past 8½ years as head of the LA County Labor Federation, Maria Elena Durazo, who has led the fight for raising the minimum wage, battled for workers’ rights and hobnobbed with presidents, was still talking about what’s next for the federation, as if she’ll be back next week to lead the fight.
“Our next big effort on a big scale is, how do you raise the minimum wage for hundreds of thousands of people over the next several years?” Durazo told KCAL9 political reporter Dave Bryan. “The elected officials love to talk about it, but they don’t do anything about it. And so it’s our responsibility as organized labor to bring those issues with some real power to the attention of elected officials.”
As the leader of the labor federation, made up of unions representing 600,000 local workers, Durazo has also built a political powerhouse, with the unions pouring millions of dollars into political campaigns for labor-friendly candidates.
Last year, six of the seven City Council candidates she supported won their races.
Critics charge she’s buying votes for special interests — the labor unions. She sees it differently, especially when discussing the election of two labor-friendly members to the LA County Board of Supervisors this year.
“We just elected Sheila Kuehl, we feel comfortable that a majority of the board of supervisors will respect the voice of labor,” Durazo said. “Will they do everything we want? No, absolutely not. None of the three will do everything we want. But they will respect our voice and give us a place at the table,” Durazo said.
And when there are important labor-related issues taken up by the Los Angeles City Council or supervisors, Durazo makes sure labor’s point of view is heard by everyone, packing the house with enthusiastic workers.
She not only made labor a political force to be reckoned with, but during her term at the federation, labor won major battles for car-wash workers, hotel workers and expanded high-paying jobs in the construction trades.
Some critics charge the unions have gone too far in LA County and become too powerful to the detriment of the taxpayers. One business leader said Durazo is a bulldog. She doesn’t take offense.
“I will go to the city council members and fight like hell for good employers, and I’m right there next to them,” she said. “And I’m pushing hard, and I’m using the clout of hundreds of thousands of workers, and hundreds of unions, for good employers. Because when you stand up for good jobs, we’re right with you. So, I take that as a compliment,” she said.
Now, she’s moving on to a national union position, vice president of Unite Here, in charge of union activity on immigration and civil-rights issues.
“I have been elected vice president of the international union on civil rights and immigration, and to me, my whole life has been about civil rights and immigration,” Durazo said.
Durazo’s last day on the job at the LA County Labor Federation is Dec. 31. In January, she will move on to her new post, but she will remain based in Los Angeles because, she said, when it comes to the issues she will be dealing with, the action is in California, not Washington. D.C.