Claiming the right to full union membership

ACLU News Release: Ruiz v. HERE Local 11
In the 1970s, rank-and-file activists found common cause with progressive legal groups like the ACLU. Daniel Ruiz, an immigrant member of HERE Local 11, sued to win the right of non-citizens to hold office in the local union.

In 1978 members of HERE Local 11 launched a campaign to unseat long-time union leader Andrew “Scotty” Allan. United Workers of Local 11 ran a multiracial slate of men and women committed to greater member participation in the 20,000 member union. Their candidate for the office of secretary-treasurer was Daniel Ruiz, a resident immigrant and respected leader among the workers at the Hyatt hotel. However, the election committee of Local 11, citing the constitution of the international union, declared Ruiz ineligible for office because he was not a U.S. citizen.

Daniel Ruiz (1978)

“Denying non-citizens the right to run for office means, in effect, that the Spanish-speaking majority is without representation, without equality under the law, and that the minority of the membership exercises all decision making powers while the majority is left out.”

Daniel Ruiz

With the help of the ACLU of Southern California, Ruiz and his allies sued Local 11 for violating Ruiz’s right to full participation in the union and other members’ right to nominate the person of their choosing. The union’s election committee quickly backed down and allowed Ruiz’s nomination. Although United Workers of Local 11 did not win the election, members of the union continued to demand a more responsive union leadership. Following the 1978 lawsuit Local 11 began translating contracts and other key documents, but the English-speaking members who dominated union meetings routinely voted down proposals for simultaneous translation of meetings. In 1985, the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund filed a lawsuit against Local 11 on behalf of two members demanding full translation of meetings, and in 1987 a judge ruled in their favor. A year later Scotty Allan was out of office.

Download the Press Release. Download Ruiz’s statement. From the papers of the ACLU of Southern California, box 826 folder 6 and box 665 folder 3. Library Special Collections, Charles E. Young Research Library, University of California, Los Angeles. Learn more about UNITE HERE Local 11.

Luther, Claudia. “Denial of Union Offices to Noncitizens Challenged in Suit.” Los Angeles Times (1923-1995); Los Angeles, Calif., April 8, 1978, sec. PART ONE.
Hernandez, Marita. “Latinos Fight for Clout in Restaurant Union Local: UNION: Latinos Wage Fight for Clout in Local.” Los Angeles Times (1923-1995), August 20, 1985, sec. Part II.