After years of fighting deportation sweeps in Los Angeles, activists associated with the Centro de Acción Social Autónimo (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. Along with other challenges to factory raids, the number of worker deportation dropped significantly for a time.
Following the victory at Sbicca, CODIL activists recruited participants in workplace committees through regular meetings held at the Peoples College 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/.
Supporters of the Raise L.A. coalition celebrate a vote of the Los Angeles city council in September 2014. Under the new law, large nonunion hotels in Los Angeles would raise their minimum wage to $15.37 by 2015. The campaign was part of a multi-year strategy led by LAANE and UNITE HERE Local 11 to establish a living wage across the hotel industry. Hotel industry representatives complained that high wages would lead to unemployment for workers. Worker advocates pointed to the large profits of corporate hotels and tax subsidies provide by the city as justification for the higher wage mandate. A representative of LAANE told the L.A. Times, “When employers are saying jobs are going to be lost, they’re really saying, ‘We want to continue to have high profits, so we’re going to fire people.'”
The members of SEIU-USWW gathered at the union hall in May 2011 to share their stories, memories, photographs, clippings, and artifacts. Long-time union member Victoria Marquez brought an extensive collection of documents, buttons, t-shirts, and other items. Later, she shared her life story with Andrew Gomez as part of a UCLA Oral History Research Center project. You can listen and read along here.
In September 2006, UNITE HERE Local 11 organized what was likely the largest act of civil disobedience in Los Angeles History. Union members, faith leaders, elected officials, and community allies joined in a large march to protest low wages at corporate hotels along Century Blvd outside of Los Angeles International Airport. The protest demonstrated the union’s ability to build a broad coalition in support of worker and immigrant right at a time when the union was negotiating with hotel employers over a new contract. Building on the themes of the spring 2006 immigrant rights marches, Century Blvd. marchers also evoked the civil rights movement. The slogan “I am a Human Being” echoed the famous message Memphis sanitation workers strikers of 1968, “I am a Man.” Over 300 demonstrators were arrested by Los Angeles Police and bused to Van Nuys for processing. Produced by UNITE-HERE Local 11, this film combines TV news footage, interviews, and street scenes to document the union’s mass action on Century Blvd.
On May 1, 2006 hundreds of thousands marched in Los Angeles and other large U.S. cities in support of immigrant rights. Called by many “A Day without an Immigrant,” the May Day protests were the culmination of months of planning in response to a punitive immigration bill that passed the U.S. House of Representatives (H.R. 4437). This video is from the Los Angeles Independent Media Center (IMC, http://la.indymedia.org/news/2006/05/156112.php). Independent media in LA and elsewhere was an important venue for social movement news in the early 2000s, but in Los Angeles the large crowds were also mobilized by Spanish-language commercial radio and television stations that embraced the call to oppose H.R. 4437.
For 14 months during 2004-2005, UNITE HERE Local 11 mounted an assertive campaign to win a contract with employers represented by the Los Angeles Hotel Employers Council. Building on the union’s rank-and-file strategy, hotel workers organized repeated delegations to articulate their demands to hotel management. The union also mobilized community allies and the labor movement in boycotts and public demonstrations. In addition to wage and benefit demands, the union called for a contract that would expire in the fall of 2006, bringing Los Angeles into alignment with other major cities in the U.S. and Canada. According to Local 11 secretary-treasurer Tom Walsh, “having common contract expirations gives us the opportunity to speak to the same companies that operate all across the country at the same time as other unions are negotiating.” An agreement between the union and employers was brokered by mayor-elect Antonio Villaraigosa shortly before employers were set to lock out 2,500 workers. This short film produced for Local 11 features interviews with union members and leaders as well as scenes from delegations and demonstrations during 2004-05.