LOS ANGELES - In yet another mark of the AFL-CIO's new emphasis on supporting low-wage workers - often those unprotected by labor law - in their campaigns to organize, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka spent a two-day February swing through California lauding car wash workers, home health care aides, domestic workers, and day laborers for their success in self-organizing, often with union help.
In Los Angeles, where the car wash workers, organized by the Steelworkers, signed two more contracts with car wash companies, and Sacramento, Trumka stressed that labor must be there with support for this new type of workforce and must accommodate itself to its needs.
"The courage of these carwash workers gives us hope and inspiration," he told an L.A. press conference on Feb. 21. "These workers have shown all working people that when we stand together for what is right, we can solve problems and secure a better life.
"And when they build a better life for themselves, they lift standards for other workers, they lift their entire communities, and their voices make their companies better. The success here today is not an end. It's one step on a journey to strengthen the voice of working people and our communities.
"This should be the headline: Carwash workers make history in L.A.," he stated.
The Los Angeles car wash workers, like other exploited worker groups whom Trumka championed on the trip - and whose groups the AFL-CIO now enthusiastically backs - share some common characteristics: They are mostly minority group members, they're immigrants exploited by employers who use their status against them, and many are traditionally not covered by federal labor law. Other such groups include taxi drivers and home health care workers.
But they're organizing despite those odds, and that's gotten Trumka enthused and he's brought the labor federation to their aid.
He also brought that message to the Domestic Workers Alliance in a rally in Sacramento for state passage of a Domestic Workers Bill of Rights. If approved, it would be the second such state legislation, behind a similar law in New York - also pushed by the alliance. The federation backs the bill, he said.
The state laws provide some labor law protection for yet another group that, thanks to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling several years ago, lacks federal worker rights.
"Like your sisters and brothers in New York, across the U.S. -- and in other countries -- when you stand up for yourselves, you lift up all domestic workers, and all working families," Trumka told the Sacramento crowd.
"What you're doing here is important in Sacramento, and San Francisco, and Los Angeles and across California, and it's important far beyond this state. It's important to every worker who has put in days that are too long to earn paychecks that are too small. It's important to every worker who has suffered disrespect, to every worker who asks only for the basics of a decent life: Fair wages, safe working conditions, the security to give hope to their children.
"When you raise your voice, you are heard. With your voice and your solidarity, you're raising standards throughout your industry, you're raising the profile of the work you do, and you're improving childcare and elder care across America. You're improving domestic work across America. And that's a good thing," he stated.
The two new contracts for the L.A. carwash workers were with Vermont Car Wash and Nava's car wash. The contracts, the second and third in L.A. - and in the country - for car wash workers, add members to Steelworkers Local 675. Provisions include a pay raise, more safety equipment, on-the-job training to prevent injury and illness, and protection from unfair and arbitrary company punishments or dismissal.
Photo: Trumka addresses thousands of union workers in California. Damian Doverganes/AP Photos