On a mission to organize immigrant workers

A memorandum appealing for support of the California Immigrant Workers Association
David Sickler and Jose De Paz appeal to fellow union leaders to continue funding the California Immigrant Workers Association.

Launched in 1989, the California Immigrant Workers Association (CIWA) supported a number of break-through union campaigns with immigrant workers. David Sickler, regional director for the AFL-CIO, conceived of CIWA as a way to funnel support for the many organizing drives that developed in the wake of the Immigration Reform and Control Act. CIWA staff provided legal and organizing aid to immigrant workers and connected them with unions, and advised unions on organizing best practices. However, in the spring of 1994 national leaders of the AFL-CIO decided to stop funding the program. In this memo, Sickler and CIWA staffer Jose De Paz appeal to southern California union leaders to help fund CIWA. The demise of CIWA came just months before immigrant rights groups and unions scrambled to fight the anti-immigrant Proposition 187 in the November 1994 election. View the document.

From the UNITE HERE Local 11 Records, Box 17 Folder 6, UCLA Library Department of Special Collections.

Baker, Bob. “Unions Try Bilingual Recruiting: A Handful of Aggressive Local Organizers Are Making Unprecedented Efforts to Replenish Their Ranks with Immigrant Workers, Especially Latinos. So Far, the Strategy Is Paying Off.” Los Angeles Times (1923-1995); Los Angeles, Calif., March 25, 1991. https://search.proquest.com/hnplatimes/docview/1638431258/abstract/23F841F81AA34934PQ/360.

Jobs with Peace

Activists with the 1986 Los Angeles Jobs with Peace campaign hold signs for Proposition V outside the International Ladies Garment Workers union hall on MacArthur Park. The building is now the UCLA James M. Lawson, Jr. Worker Justice Center, home of the UCLA Labor Center.

How can progressive political movements win power in geographically expansive and multiracial cities like Los Angeles? The answer, according to the Los Angeles Jobs with Peace campaign was “coalition architecture,” an intentional strategy to link the interests of organized labor with the peace movement, the women’s movement, and the African American civil rights movement through the shared goal of creating good jobs for all by redirecting money from military to domestic spending. In 1984 and 1986, the campaign backed citywide ballot initiatives and built a network of supporters at the precinct level to turnout voters. The 1984 Proposition X called on the city to research and report on pension and contract funds that flowed to military contractors. It passed by a comfortable margin. Proposition V in 1986 would have established a commission to advise the city on how to redirect funds away from military contractors. Proposition V faced a well-funded opposition campaign from business interests and lost by a wide margin. Despite the defeat, the campaign built an effective get-out-the-vote operation at the precinct level that would be the basis of future progressive victories.

Continue reading “Jobs with Peace”

Somma waterbed workers win back pay, 1985

A group of men raise their fists and make victory signs. Some hold paper checks.
ILGWU organizer Miguel Machuca (center, wearing a tie) and Somma waterbed factory workers celebrate back-pay awards ordered by the NLRB after the company illegally fired union activists.

In 1984, workers at the Somma waterbed factory in East Los Angeles began organizing fellow workers at neighborhood soccer games and decide to join the ILGWU. Most of the workers were immigrants from Mexico and Central America, many without documentation. Their employer was Angel Echevarria, a prominent figure in the Latino community and in Los Angeles politics. In January 1985, Somma workers voted 117-48 for a union. The company refused to negotiate with the workers and illegally fired more than 20 key union activists.

The ILGWU and the fired Somma workers held continuous pickets outside the factory, joined by other workers on their lunch breaks and by community supporters. They also launched a boycott of Somma waterbeds designed to bring their employer to the bargaining table. When the company fired another group of organizers, workers walked out on strike and won their jobs back. After a long delay, the NLRB ordered the fired workers rehired with back pay and upheld the union election over the companies objections.

A flyer calling for supporters of striking workers to attend a solidarity rally for Somma Waterbed workers.
A flyer publicizing a rally in support of striking workers at the Somma mattress factory in Los Angeles, 1985. En Español.

Sources: ILGWU Photographs, Box 3, Folder 9, Kheel Center for Labor-Management Documentation & Archives at the Cornell University Library. Rosalio Muñoz papers, Box 64, Folder 3, UCLA Library Department of Special Collections.

Bernstein, Harry. “Illegal Alien Issue Raised in East L.A. Dispute: LABOR.” Los Angeles Times (1923-1995), September 18, 1985, sec. Part IV. https://www.proquest.com/hnplatimes/docview/154430645/abstract/B1DC545564214933PQ/5.