Miguel Contreras passed away last week. He was the head of the largest union in the state, the County Federation of Labor AFL-CIO that represents working people. Some call that a special interest group. I call it “the people.”
Millions of Californians belong to unions that represent them in collective bargaining for decent pay, health benefits and some type of retirement payments. In my working life, I have been in a couple of unions, once in the Central Valley when I worked in a cannery and again during my contracting years when we signed up with the CWA. Part of me rankled at the hierarchy and the dues, but my gut told me they were the only thing standing between me and the bottom of the wage scale. Without them, I doubt any health or retirement benefits would have been provided. As I recall, capitalism left to itself did not provide for Workers Compensation for on-the-job injury. Capitalism had no low end age requirement, so kids were working until government stepped in. Same with a sane working week (40 hours) and work day (8). Personally, I think they need to lobby for a shorter work week!
As I was conceived in Chicago, my familial upbringing supported unions. My grandfather was particularly upset at the old Los Angeles Herald Examiner when they refused to settle worker needs. Do unions go overboard? Maybe, but when they do, it usually helps working people so I am ok with it.
Contreras knew how to bring political muscle to bear, and his many allies in the labor movement have risen to political power. Both Mayor Jimmy Hahn and his rival Antonio Villaraigosa (vote for him) have worked hard to get union endorsements and votes.
Unions represent firefighters, nurses, teachers, policemen — the bedrock of our civil society, workers whose first role is to help and protect us. In my book, none of those trades are under-paid.
I saw first hand the struggles in the fields of the Central Valley during the early 70s and watched Cesar Chavez and the United Farmworkers fight for their families’ needs. The overwhelming number of people that Miguel Contreras helped make him one of our great American heroes.
Vote for Villaraigosa and Rosendahl
L.A. residents should vote next Tuesday for Antonio Villaraigosa for mayor of L.A. and Bill Rosendahl for the L.A. City Council 11th District seat.
We rarely get candidates of such high caliber. Antonio has promised to put special focus on transportation needs and my guess is he will succeed in improving the situation. When he was our State Assembly Speaker, he passed two major pieces of legislation: a multi-billion-dollar bond measure to protect the environment and a similar bond measure for school construction. Villaraigosa knows how to govern well and is very effective. Working people will do well under his administration, but so will business, as he has often reached out to and worked closely with business. Plus he has strong ties on the Westside.
Rosendahl deserves a seat on the L.A. City Council after 35 years of social activism, culminating with the best public affairs television programming in L.A. During his campaign, he has brought all parts of the political spectrum together and made friends and allies across the board. Former L.A. Republican Mayor Richard Riordan has endorsed him and progressive Warren Beatty reserved his most effusive praise at a journalism awards dinner for Rosendahl.
He’s a person of great personal integrity and has the guts to stand up to those he feels will do damage to the character of our community. He has specific ideas about reducing traffic congestion and protecting the environment. He opposes LAX expansion, has declared his support for the tenants of Lincoln Place in Venice and has taken specific positions on virtually every issue that faces his district.
With Antonio and Rosendahl in City Hall, watch for the Exposition line to finally get off the ground.
I am excited about seeing these two fine gentlemen in office.
Two Weeks in Another County
I just returned from two weeks in Mendocino County. Now there’s a place that will calm you down. Spring was in full bloom as we drove up into the hills around the Anderson Valley, Orr Springs and Ukiah. The greens were really really green and, varied with the Oaks and Madrones, make for a rich visual feast. Spring is also good for camping, as the weather has warmed up and no one is around. We camped at Richardson Grove next to the Eel River in a vast giant Redwood (“They’re big, daddy”) grove. My dear friends, Dan and Carrie Hamburg, put us up when we were not camping and filled me in on some of the local political accomplishments, including the banning of GMO crops in Mendocino County. Dan is working on a bill in the State Assembly that would preserve (Old Growth Forest Preservation Act) any tree in the state older then the state. Mostly it is designed to stop the harvesting of giant ancient Redwood trees.
Though you can’t pick a poppy in this state, you can chop down a 2,000-year old giant Redwood. It has got to stop. Please support this effort.
Short Stop in Sacramento
While driving home from Ukiah, we stopped in Sacramento and visited another dear old friend ( it was just that kind of trip). Karen Bass is now the Democratic Whip in the State Assembly. She was kind enough to let us and my 3 1/2 year old distract her for a brief time, as she went about her business of attending committee meetings and political discussions. Her job is to “whip” up all the votes, first among Democrats, then among Republicans, that are needed for a measure to pass. As a first-year Assemblyperson she was trained in the “Hertzberg Institute” so that when her term began she was ready to, well, legislate.Karen is ever-personable, honest and sweet, not usually the demeanor you picture for this position. But, I know she will be effective, because she cares so much about helping people, and because she is practical and smart. She respects her office and is honored to be serving in the Assembly. I must admit our day in the capital showed me how hard people are working to keep California rolling in the right direction. Let’s hope they all succeed (in the right stuff of course).