Summer Reflections from Los Angeles

In addition to interning with UNITE HERE Local 11, I am also interning this summer with Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice. CLUE is an interfaith non-profit that engages clergy across Los Angeles to walk with workers and their families in their struggle for dignity and respect in the workplace.

While UNITE HERE and CLUE are allies in the struggle for workers’ rights, they deal with different aspects of the same movement. CLUE brings clergy into the fight for economic justice because faith leaders are able to use their moral authority to speak truth to power. While CLUE has many campaigns focused on different workers in the city, including carwash workers, port truck drivers, and hotel workers, I have been working closely on the grocery workers’ campaign.

Currently grocery workers in Southern California have been without a contract for five months and despite negotiations, they are preparing for a strike.  CLUE understands that a strike would affect not only the 65,000 grocery workers, but also affect collectively their 300,000 family members.

So as not to repeat the devastating strike and lock-out of 2003, CLUE is organizing congregations across the city to Adopt a Store. This campaign involves congregations adopting a supermarket in their area, writing a letter of support for the workers and delivering that letter to the store’s management in a delegation. Last week the CLUE interns did a delegation to an Albertson’s in South LA. It was empowering to let the manager know that as members of the community we support the workers in this time of uncertainty.

Being exposed to both union organizing and faith-based organizing has shown me there many aspects to the fight for social and economic justice. Interning with UNITE HERE and CLUE has taught me that the movement to bring respect, dignity and justice to all workers across this country needs the involvement not only of the workers and the union, but also of students and clergy of all faiths.

-Josie, Summer Organizer, Los Angeles

My name is Risa, and I am the communications intern at UNITE HERE Local 11 this summer. Before June of this year, I had no experience at a labor union, and only a dim understanding of the labor movement in this country.

I’m happy to say I can no longer say the same. Some of the most valuable experiences I’ve had this summer were the weekly trainings, which have put the labor movement in a larger context for me. The movement is not just about union organizing – it is about immigrants’ rights. It is about gender and sexual equality. It is about sustainable food and agricultural practices. UNITE HERE strives to be a union that takes all these social issues into account.

The labor movement does not exist in a vacuum, and it requires strength and support from many other movements to maintain its momentum and garner more advocates. The weekly trainings on the various issues surrounding the labor movement invite discussion from their participants, which is often heated and passionate, but never vitriolic. We have found ways to discuss even the most polarizing issues (gay marriage, for example, or illegal immigration) in a friendly and open environment. 

We may all work for the same union, but many of the summer organizers, interns, full-time union members, and field organizers do not share the same views on these topics, and we often come from extremely different backgrounds. But I think there is valuable insight to be gained on both sides when, say, an East Coast trust-funder engages in meaningful conversation with a Salvadoran immigrant who is holding down two jobs. 

Along with our backgrounds and beliefs, we all have different levels of education on the topics we are discussing. In our first training, what may have seemed like a dumbed down run-through of the labor movement’s history to a seasoned UNITE HERE veteran was extremely informative to me, a relative newcomer. However, having just completed one of my favorite college history classes, The History of Oil and World Power, I was able to drop some knowledge on the sustainable foods training group today when the discussion turned to the amount of fossil fuel required to get a McDonald’s Double Quarter Pounder from the feed lot to your tray (ask me about it – I’ll talk you ear off). 

I have also heard dozens of stories from summer organizers, my fellow students and graduates, about their roles organizing the food and service workers at their schools. One student became so entrenched in underground organizing at Pomona College that he disappeared almost entirely from college social life. A Loyola Marymount University student made his way into the president’s office to demand fair wages for the workers on his campus. That is dedication to a cause of the likes of which I have never seen in people my age, and it inspires me. 

What I’m saying is that the summer program, like the labor movement as a whole, is more than just the sum of its parts. We are in this fight together, which means we have to talk and share and learn from each other’s experiences, backgrounds, and knowledge. Building relationships is what makes this union run, and only through arming ourselves as a community can we possibly expect to win the labor battles we are fighting in hotels every day. 

-Risa, Summer Organizer, Los Angeles