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 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.