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Working for Justice

Working for Justice: The L.A. Model of Organizing and Advocacy

Ruth Milkman
Joshua Bloom
Victor Narro
Copyright Date: 2010
Edition: 1
Published by: Cornell University Press,
Pages: 312
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  • Book Info
    Working for Justice
    Book Description:

    Working for Justice, which includes eleven case studies of recent low-wage worker organizing campaigns in Los Angeles, makes the case for a distinctive "L.A. Model" of union and worker center organizing. Networks linking advocates in worker centers and labor unions facilitate mutual learning and synergy and have generated a shared repertoire of economic justice strategies. The organized labor movement in Los Angeles has weathered the effects of deindustrialization and deregulation better than unions in other parts of the United States, and this has helped to anchor the city's wider low-wage worker movement. Los Angeles is also home to the nation's highest concentration of undocumented immigrants, making it especially fertile territory for low-wage worker organizing.

    The case studies in Working for Justice are all based on original field research on organizing campaigns among L.A. day laborers, garment workers, car wash workers, security officers, janitors, taxi drivers, hotel workers as well as the efforts of ethnically focused worker centers and immigrant rights organizations. The authors interviewed key organizers, gained access to primary documents, and conducted participant observation. Working for Justice is a valuable resource for sociologists and other scholars in the interdisciplinary field of labor studies, as well as for advocates and policymakers.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-5905-4
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. vii-x)
    Joshua Bloom

    This book is the fruit of an intensive two-year collaboration between the chapter authors and activists working to advance the interests of low-wage workers in Los Angeles. It documents some of the freshest and most effective campaigns of recent years. The initial idea for this volume grew out of the Public Sociologists Working Group in the UCLA Sociology Department. As a group of budding sociologists, we sought to consciously take our political commitments as the source of research problems and turn the disciplineʹs scientific methods toward addressing them. In that context, I wanted to launch a collaborative project, bringing our...

  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-20)
    Ruth Milkman

    Union and community-based organizing and advocacy campaigns among low-wage workers have proliferated across the United States in recent years. Although they have been unable to reverse the dramatic decades-long deterioration in the pay, working conditions, and employment security of those who struggle to survive at the bottom of the labor market, these economic justice campaigns have significantly increased public awareness of the plight of low-wage workers and have won some important victories on the local level. Both labor unions and the growing number of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) known as ʺworker centersʺ have spearheaded such efforts, using distinct yet increasingly overlapping...

  6. PART I Worker Centers, Ethnic Communities, and Immigrant Rights Advocacy

    • 1 The Koreatown Immigrant Workers Alliance: SPATIALIZING JUSTICE IN AN ETHNIC “ENCLAVE”
      (pp. 23-48)
      Jong Bum Kwon

      On the morning of April 24, 2007, the Koreatown Immigrant Workers Alliance (KIWA) convened a press conference at the entrance to Assi Supermarket to announce the settlement of a class-action lawsuit it had filed against Assi in the autumn of 2002. The press conference was attended by local Korean ethnic media, the attorneys who handled the lawsuit, community supporters, Latino and Korean workers, and leaders of the Immigrant Workers Union (IWU).

      For the workers, their supporters, and KIWA staff, the market entrance was an all-too-familiar space. For five years, they had marched, picketed, chanted, sung, beaten drums, and fought with...

    • 2 Organizing Workers along Ethnic Lines: THE PILIPINO WORKERS’ CENTER
      (pp. 49-70)
      Nazgol Ghandnoosh

      Worker centers often attract members who share a geographic area or ethnic background—rather than an occupation or industry—and help them claim and expand their rights. Working predominantly with immigrants scattered across various industries, these centers are attuned to membersʹ problems not only at work but also in other domains such as immigration and housing (Fine 2006, 13, 20–22). This chapter examines how building a membership along ethnic lines impacts a worker centerʹs campaigns. Previous scholars have shown that geographic or ethnic-based worker centers have been effective in directing work-related legislative campaigns (Gordon 2005) and in mobilizing for...

    • 3 Alliance-Building and Organizing for Immigrant Rights: THE CASE OF THE COALITION FOR HUMANE IMMIGRANT RIGHTS OF LOS ANGELES
      (pp. 71-88)
      Caitlin C. Patler

      A typical week for an organizer on the staff of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA) goes something like this: on Monday she arrives at the office by 7:00 a.m. for a conference call with representatives of unions and civil rights organizations around the country to coordinate plans for nonpartisan lobbying in Washington, D.C., on immigrant rights legislation. On Tuesday, the organizer goes to two local coalition meetings: in one she commits staff and rank-and-file members to a march supporting a local union organizing campaign; in the other she helps plan a wage claim training workshop...

      (pp. 89-106)
      Chinyere Osuji

      The traditional literature on immigrant political incorporation concentrates on the formal political process, focusing on voting, running for and holding office, and forming advocacy groups. Political participation of this sort indeed ʺprovides [immigrants] with the tools and skills of citizenshipʺ ( Jones-Correa 2001, 2). However, the nationʹs burgeoning population of undocumented immigrants is largely excluded from these traditional forms of political participation. This issue is especially salient in the state of California, with its estimated 2.4 million undocumented immigrants (Passel 2005), more than any other state.

      Yet, as Jennifer Gordon (2005) has shown, undocumented immigrants can in fact participate politically...

  7. PART II Occupational and Industry-Focused Organizing Campaigns

    • 5 The Los Angeles Taxi Workers Alliance
      (pp. 109-124)

      Taxi drivers are often portrayed as the ultimate entrepreneurs, free of any fixed workplace, able to choose their own hours, and with a toehold in the American middle class. That stereotype may have been accurate in New York City decades ago (Hodges 2007; Mathews 2005), but in contemporary Los Angeles, taxi drivers spend long hours in ʺsweatshops on wheels,ʺ their pay and working conditions controlled largely by company owners. Less than half of L.A. taxi drivers own their own cabs, and many of those who do have borrowed heavily to purchase them (Blasi and Leavitt 2006, 49). In 2005, L.A....

      (pp. 125-140)
      Susan Garea and Sasha Alexandra Stern

      On March 27, 2008, in a room packed with reporters, workers, advocates, organizers, and attorneys, the Community-Labor-Environmental Action Network (CLEAN) campaign was announced to the public. Its goal is to persuade southern California car washes to sign the ʺCLEAN Car Wash Agreementʺ to create an industry standard for wages, working conditions, and the right to organize. At the same time, the Car Wash Workers Organizing Committee of the United Steelworkers (USW) is actively organizing workers on the ground, picketing and boycotting car washes that are particularly egregious violators of basic labor laws. The campaign has also successfully directed media attention...

    • 7 NDLON and the History of Day Labor Organizing in Los Angeles
      (pp. 141-153)
      Maria Dziembowska

      On August 9, 2006, a few months after massive immigrant rights demonstrations took place in Los Angeles and cities across the United States, the AFL-CIO, the nationʹs largest union federation, and the National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON), a network of community-based day laborer worker centers, signed a historic agreement to work together to improve wages and working conditions for immigrant day laborers (AFL-CIO Executive Council 2006; Hiatt 2006; Maher 2006; Selvin 2006). Day laborers had struggled for decades against employer abuses and harassment from residents in areas where they seek work. Immigrant rights organizations, many of them now members...

    • 8 The Garment Worker Center and the “Forever 21” Campaign
      (pp. 154-164)
      Nicole A. Archer, Ana Luz Gonzalez, Kimi Lee, Simmi Gandhi and Delia Herrera

      The garment industry in the United States today is well known for its low wages, long hours, and poor working conditions. This has not always been the case, however. For half a century, starting in the 1910s, extensive unionization and government regulation considerably ameliorated the industryʹs labor conditions and helped to control ʺthe evils of unbridled and uncontrolled competitionʺ (Wolfson 1950, 33). The International Ladiesʹ Garment Workersʹ Union (ILGWU), the United Garment Workers, and the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America, all succeeded in organizing garment workers and on that basis engaged in collective bargaining with employers starting in the 1910s...

  8. PART III Unions and Low-Wage Worker Organizing

      (pp. 167-190)
      Joshua Bloom

      In January 2008, more than four thousand security officers in Los Angeles ratified a union contract providing for a 40 percent pay raise over five years, as well as health benefits and job security (SEIU SOULA 2008). This was a milestone in the Service Employees International Unionʹs (SEIU) national campaign to organize the security industry.

      SEIU cultivated support for security unionization in Los Angeles by building relationships with independently powerful black community leaders who had their own institutional interest in the high-profile mobilization of black workers.¹ I argue that, as part of a comprehensive campaign strategy, this power-sharing alliance with...

    • 10 From the Shop to the Streets: UNITE HERE ORGANIZING IN LOS ANGELES HOTELS
      (pp. 191-210)
      Forrest Stuart

      Thanks to a decades-long process of restructuring and consolidation, the North American hotel industry has gained enhanced capacity to block employee attempts to unionize. In an effort to reverse the resulting decline in union density, the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees union (HERE), now part of UNITE HERE,¹ developed an innovative organizing model that combines ʺrank-and-file intensive organizingʺ (Bronfenbrenner 1997) with research, community coalition building, and mobilizations both inside and outside the workplace that generate ʺpublic dramasʺ (Chun 2005).² This model has been far more successful in overcoming employersʹ opposition to unionization efforts than traditional labor organizing approaches.

      This chapter...

    • 11 The Janitorial Industry and the Maintenance Cooperation Trust Fund
      (pp. 211-232)
      Karina Muñiz

      It is 3:00 a.m. in Los Angeles. While the majority of the cityʹs residents are sound asleep, Esperanza is only half way through her shift.¹ After waxing the floors of the entire supermarket, cleaning the bathrooms, and wiping down the freezers in the meat area, she still needs to clean the employee offices, sweep the front of the building, and tidy up the produce section. If she doesnʹt take any breaks she may be able to fisnish all the work her supervisor has told her she must do tonight. He still hasnʹt given her any of the safety equipment he...

  9. Afterword
    (pp. 233-244)
    Victor Narro

    Working on the project that evolved into this book allowed me to retrace a journey from my early days in Los Angeles as a legal advocate to my current work at the UCLA Downtown Labor Center. In the course of that journey I was directly involved in many of the immigrant worker organizing campaigns that you read about in these pages, and I witnessed the growing synergy between the labor movement and the worker centers that Ruth Milkman identifies in her introduction as the core of the L.A. organizing model.

    It all started with my first job after law school....

  10. Notes
    (pp. 245-264)
  11. References
    (pp. 265-282)
  12. Contributors
    (pp. 283-286)
  13. Index
    (pp. 287-296)