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Holiday for the Workers

Region has strong ties to labor movement

Merdies Hayes | 8/30/2013, midnight
Labor Day has become a transitional holiday. To some it is considered the last vestige of summer, while others see ...

In Southern California—and across the nation—there is a new face of labor. Maria Elena Durazo, executive secretary-treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, in May told the New York Times that immigrants offer the best potential for growth in a union movement that is often seen as foundering. The power of immigrants within unions, she said, was seen vividly in service-worker protests in Los Angeles, as well as in the extensive voter outreach witnessed during the recent L.A. mayoral contest.

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Man working on a construction site.

“You look around at who has the most difficult jobs, at who is doing the work we rely on everyday, and it is immigrants,” said Durazo, the widow of Miguel Contreras, the former head of the L.A. County Federation of Labor and famed for building a coalition of elected officials, clergy and civil rights advocates. “If we look at what we can do for them, what we can do together, we see that there can be very important rewards that will improve their lives. We cannot fix the prosperity of the rest of the country without improving the prosperity of immigrants.”

Today’s workforce looks considerably different than the previous generation. Long gone are the 20- and 30-year careers in industries such as aeronautics, automotive, construction or health care. There are more persons of color, more women, more immigrants and, as the nation inches its way out of the Great Recession, there are more seniors who have had to return to work to supplement Social Security and pension plans.

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Domestic cleaning woman.

On Wednesday, the nation celebrated the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. One of the leaders of that march in 1963 was UAW President Walter Reuther who walked arm-in-arm with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., as well as with African American labor leader A. Philip Randolph of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. In reflecting on the influence of the labor movement in pressing for civil and voting rights, current UAW President Bob King said this month: “Now, more than ever, we need to find the will to continue Dr. King’s work. His vision of a society where we can truly look past what divides us to what unites us to make a better America is far from realized.”

UAW marched again this week to the Lincoln Memorial where the labor union head lamented that the economic message delivered a half-century ago has been “... turned on its head by a small minority of wealthy individuals at the expense of the majority of Americans who do the hard work to make this nation great.”

Forbes magazine, this week, released the results of a survey of 5,000-plus adults who revealed their uncertainty about making big-ticket purchases this holiday weekend. The survey found that 75.9 percent of consumers worry about their next paycheck, and they do not place much trust in the future of their place in employment. The article explained that the “lack of trust” could mean the respondents understand that their job is fragile, that the company may not be in a solid financial situation, or that the respondent may not have advancement potential within the organization.