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.

“They embraced their cause 24 hours a day”

In the summer of 1992, immigrant construction workers across southern California launched a militant strike that surprised both their employers and the Anglo leaders of trade unions. Aided by the California Immigrant Workers Association (CIWA), the drywallers' strike succeeded in improving working conditions in residential construction across the region. This account is from CIWA organizer Jose De Paz. CIWA operated from 1989-1994 as an associate membership organization of the AFL-CIO.

Three main ingredients account for the success of the drywallers strike. First, the determination of the strikers. They were not doing “strike duty”. They embraced their cause 24 hours a day and everything else became secondary to the strike. Additionally, the strikers were aware that they were being oppressed not only as workers but also as Mexicans, which made their bond twice as strong. This came particularly handy when entire families were evicted from their homes for non-payment of rent and had to move in with one or more families in a single dwelling.

Second, organized labor’s considerable contribution to the independent drywall strike fund. In addition to individuals and community organizations, more than 21 AFL-CIO affiliated unions and six Central Labor Councils in California made significant donations to the fund.

Third, CIWA’s unique participation. Besides coordinating legal and immigration defense, CIWA served as a communication bridge between the strikers and police agencies. CIWA also functioned as the strikers’ spokesperson with the media (particularly the Spanish-language media) and as the coordinator of support from Latino community and labor organizations. CIWA’s unique com­ bination of skills and its dual credentials in the labor and Latino communities enabled it to convert the drywallers’ struggle from a localized labor dispute into a Latino workers movement.

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No peace without social justice, 1992

Members of SEIU local 399, CIWA, the ILGWU, and other organizations march in the wake of the 1992 civil unrest.

Marchers carry signs and banners from a variety of Los Angeles community organizations and unions, including one from Local 399 reading “No Hay Paz sin Justicia Social” (No Peace without Social Justice). A handwritten note on the back of the photograph appears to read “J for J Rent Protest 5/92” suggesting a connection to the civil unrest of April 29-May 4, 1992.