After years of fighting deportation sweeps in Los Angeles, activists associated with the Centro de Acción Social Autónomo (CASA) formed special committee to address workplace raids by the INS and to advocate for the rights of undocumented workers generally. The Comité Obrero en Defensa de los Indocumentados en Lucha (CODIL, or in English the Workers Committee in Defense of the Undocumented in the Struggle) joined with the National Lawyers Guild (NLG) and a group of unions in an ad hoc Labor Immigration Action Center to coordinate immigrant organizing and legal defense.
On May 17, 1978 an election among over 700 workers at the Sbicca shoe factory in El Monte resulted in a narrow loss for the Retail Clerk’s union. The union filed objections contesting the result, but the next day immigration agents arrived at the plant and ordered the immediate deportation of 120 workers. CODIL charged the raid “was carried out in a selective manner looking principally for those who supported the union” and then pressuring workers to sign voluntary deportation orders even after they requested a lawyer. As the workers were aboard buses en route to the border, the union appealed for help from the Labor Immigration Action Center. Lawyers with the NLG filed suit in federal court and secured a temporary restraining order halting the deportation until the workers could have individual hearings. The legal victory energized immigrant worker advocates and encouraged progressive unionists. For a time, the number of factory raids and worker deportation dropped significantly.
Following the victory at Sbicca, CODIL activists recruited participants in workplace committees through regular meetings held at the Peoples College of Law near MacArthur Park. The committees aimed to organize nonunion workers and also to challenge existing unions to defend immigrant workers. CODIL identified their membership as those who “have been deported repeatedly because we have claimed our rights in front of the exploiting bosses.” CODIL trained workers to assert their constitutional rights during raids, and encouraged unions to write into their contracts protections against workplace raids and the right of workers to return to work after deportation.
CODIL Asemblea General, from the papers of CASA-HGT, Box 32, Folder 4. Courtesy of the Department of Special Collections, Stanford University Libraries.
Goodman, Adam. The Deportation Machine: America’s Long History of Expelling Immigrants. Politics and Society in Modern America. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2020. https://muse.jhu.edu/book/73241/.
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.
“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.”
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.
During the 1970s, the Hotel and Restaurant Employees union (HERE) Local 11 in Los Angeles was losing power as restaurant owners dropped their union contracts and hotels cut wages and benefits. In 1978 a multiracial group of members calling themselves United Workers of Local 11 challenged the union’s long-serving leader Scotty Allan. The group distributed campaign flyers accusing union leaders of making backroom deals with employers and ignoring the concerns of the Spanish-speaking majority of members. Meeting weekly at the People’s College of Law near MacArthur Park, the rank-and-file activists found support from progressive lawyers and activists from other unions. Their bilingual campaign literature declared, “We can no longer disregard a major portion of our membership and make ‘second class members’ of so many.” Although United Workers lost the election, they helped established the right of non-citizens to hold office and participate fully in the union’s affairs through the lawsuit of Daniel Ruiz their candidate for secretary-treasurer. Their effort was the beginning of a decade-long struggle for union leadership that culminated in the election of Maria Elena Durazo in 1989.
From the papers of the ACLU of Southern California, box 826 folder 6, Library Special Collections, Charles E. Young Research Library, University of California, Los Angeles.