L.A. labor challenges county board

News Analysis LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles area labor movement, spearheaded by the 800,000-member Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, is turning its attention to reversing the anti-worker trend of the powerful Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.

If Los Angeles County were a country, it would be among the 10 largest economies in the world. Yet its more than 10 million people are represented by only five supervisors. The board has sweeping legislative and executive powers and controls a budget in the tens of billions of dollars. It relies heavily on Wall Street for credit to meet cash flow needs.

In recent years the supervisors “have been decidedly anti-union in collective bargaining with several of our unions” affected by county policy, Miguel Contreras, county labor federation executive secretary-treasurer, told the World recently. They have also been “a major reason for transit strikes and the failure of home care workers to get good wage and insurance agreements.” The board also broke the doctors union in the county hospitals, he said.

“We have met with them and tried to work with them … but they think they can’t be beat,” Contreras said. “We have to do something to get more of their attention.”

Over 90,000 L.A. County workers are AFL-CIO union members, he said. In addition, the county administers wages and benefits to 75,000 home care workers, “and the supervisors have great influence on workers for the [transit authority]. That’s 180,000 workers, more than 20 percent of our members.”

Contreras, who joined the labor movement in the 1970s as an activist in the Cesar Chavez-led United Farm Workers, is widely credited with helping make Los Angeles a “union city.” The county labor council has developed strong rank-and-file activism in contract and legislative struggles among its affiliates.

Contreras is noted for working to elect politicians who not only give labor a vote but who are also “warriors for working families.” Many such “warriors” have been elected with labor’s support to the Los Angeles City Council and other area city councils and school boards and to state legislative positions in recent years.

The county board can be vulnerable to electoral pressure. Three of the five county board supervisors are Democrats who have been considered liberals, but Supervisor Gloria Molina, for example, “has 127,000 union votes in her district and in the last election she only got 114,000” votes overall. Molina is up for re-election in 2006.

In the March 8 city primaries in the county, all the labor-backed city council members won in the city of Los Angeles, and many won in smaller cities. With both Los Angeles mayoral runoff candidates strong labor supporters, unions are working hard to generate big union family turnouts in the May 17 primary, building momentum to take on more conservative policies at the County Hall of Administration and the Statehouse.

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