Maria Elena Durazo

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Maria Elena Durazo


Maria Elena Durazo is a Southern California labor activist. She was married to the late Miguel Contreras.

As Executive Secretary-Treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, Durazo is the first woman ever to lead the country’s largest labor council. She was President of UNITE HERE! Local 11 from 1989-2006, representing more than 440,000 hotel and restaurant workers in Los Angeles. Under Durazo’s leadership, Local 11 has become a vital force in the life of Los Angeles and in the debate over the city's future. Maria Elena Durazo, is a lawyer, an activist in the immigrant movement, and grew up in a family of migratory farm workers in California's Central Valley.[1]

CASA

By his late teens, Antonio Villaraigosa had anchored himself to the movement -- and to the legendary Bert Corona, a radical organizer and proponent of immigrant rights who nonetheless functioned in mainstream politics. With Gilbert Cedillo and Maria Elena Durazo (much later to become president of the L.A. local of the hotel and restaurant workers), Villaraigosa became a full-time organizer at Corona’s Centro de Action Social Autonoma, CASA for short. [2]

Supported Communist Party call

In May 1992 the Communist Party USA newspaper Peoples Weekly World published a May Day supplement which included a call to "support our continuing struggle for justice and dignity"

Endorsers of the call included Maria Elena Durazo, Local 11, HERE.[3]

MAPA endorsement meeting

Over 130 delegates to the Mexican American Retro Region Primary Endorsing Convention in Los Angeles April 25, 1992 voted to endorse those Congressional, State Senate, Assembly, and county supervisor candidates who took the strongest pro labor and pro immigrant stands.

Guest speakers were Maria Elena Durazo, President of Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Local 11, Gilbert Cedillo of Service Employees Local 660, and Alfredo Pascoy of the Mexico's Revolutionary Democratic Party.

State Assemblyman Xavier Becerra won the Mexican American Political Association's support to be the Democratic candidate for the 30th District after he pledged support for extending unemployment benefits for the full length of joblessness.[4]

DSA award

Maria Elena Durazo receiving award from Jose LaLuz

Los Angeles Democratic Socialists of America's November 13. 1993 Debs-Thomas Dinner, honored Hotel and Restaurant Employees Union leader Maria Elena Durazo, Los Angeles City Council member Jackie Goldberg, and longtime activist Donna Wilkinson.[5]

Socialists organize to "challenge for power" in Los Angeles

Trevor email 1 (3).jpg

On March 11, 1998, Los Angeles Democratic Socialists of America leader Steve Tarzynski wrote an email to another Los Angeles DSA leader Harold Meyerson.

Tarzynski listed 25 people he thought should be on an "A-list" of "25 or so leaders/activists/intellectuals and/or "eminent persons" who would gather periodically to theorize/strategize about how to rebuild a progressive movement in our metropolitan area that could challenge for power."

Tarzynski listed himself, Harold Meyerson, Karen Bass, Sylvia Castillo, Gary Phillips, Joe Hicks, Richard Rothstein, Steve Cancian, Larry Frank, Torie Osborn, Rudy Acuna, Aris Anagnos, Abby Arnold, Carl Boggs, Blase Bonpane, Rick Brown, Stanley Sheinbaum, Alice Callahan, Jim Conn, Peter Dreier, Maria Elena Durazo, Miguel Contreras, Mike Davis, Bill Gallegos, Bob Gottlieb, Kent Wong, Russell Jacoby, Bong Hwan Kim, Paula Litt (and Barry Litt, with a question mark), Peter Olney, Derek Shearer, Clancy Sigal and Anthony Thigpenn.

Included in a suggested elected officials sub-group were Mark Ridley-Thomas, Gloria Romero, Jackie Goldberg, Gil Cedillo, Tom Hayden, Antonio Villaraigosa, Paul Rosenstein and Congressmen Xavier Becerra, Henry Waxman and Maxine Waters.

Tarzynski went on to write "I think we should limit the group to 25 max, otherwise group dynamics begins to break down....As i said, I would like this to take place in a nice place with good food and drink...it should properly be an all day event."

DSA Los Angeles event

Democratic Socialists of America kicked off events at the Democratic National Convention by organizing a major panel on the 2000 presidential and congressional elections. National Director Horace Small played host to DSA leaders Harold Meyerson, of LA Weekly, who was doing double duty putting out a daily for conventioneers, Barbara Ehrenreich, who has been stumping for Ralph Nader, Cornel West, who was a co-chair of the Bill Bradley primary campaign, and DSA youth organizer Daraka Larimore-Hall–.

They were joined by panelists Maria Elena Durazo, president of H.E.R.E in LA, John Nichols of the Madison daily Capital Times, Antonio Villa, Speaker Emeritus of California’s Assembly, and William Monroe Campbell, of Ministers Against Global Injustice.

Lynn Shaw longtime DSA member and vice-chair of the LA County Democrats, chaired the event. — The event, at the University of Southern Calfornia, resulted in a revitalized Los Angeles local. USC professor Bettine Berge, professor of East Asian Studies, was instrumental in getting us the fine auditorium. Lynn Chancer and Frank Llewellyn were also key to making the event a success. [6]

The Next Agenda Conference

Progressive LA: The Next Agenda Conference was held On October 20, 2001 in Los Angeles at the California Science Center.

The Progressive Los Angeles Network (PLAN) and the Institute for America’s Future "will co-sponsor an important conference -- the Next Agenda Conference -- designed to celebrate recent victories, build upon Los Angeles’ progressive momentum, and link local issues with a national progressive agenda. The conference will also help solidify a more strategic and integrated progressive movement in Los Angeles".

Speakers included Assemblywoman Maria Elena Durazo, HERE Local 11[7]

Progressive Los Angeles Network

Circa 2002, Maria Elena Durazo, HERE Local 11 , served on the Advisory board of the Democratic Socialists of America dominated Progressive Los Angeles Network.[8]

Changing Demographics, and Voting in California

Beginning in 1994, California began to change. The numbers of immigrants who became citizens grew exponentially each year. According to the Department of Homeland Security’s statistics, prior to Proposition 187, the number of new citizens in California each year had been a steady 50,000 to 60,000. In 1994, the number jumped to 118,567. In 1995, it was 171,285. In 1996, 378,014.

Also in 1994, a husband and wife team, Miguel Contreras the leader of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor and Maria Elena Durazo, then the leader of the Hotel Workers in Los Angeles (later Miguel’s successor at the Labor Fed) began something new: they linked organizing immigrant workers to organizing immigrant voters. And they hired a young immigrant-rights firebrand, Fabian Nunez, as he protested Proposition 187 by carrying the Mexican flag down Broadway in Los Angeles.

Nunez served as L.A. Labor’s political director and eventually became the Speaker of the Assembly.

The campaigns Durazo, Contreras and consultant Richie Ross, developed broke new ground, organized new union workers, and increased the political impact Latino voters had on California politics – simultaneously tripling their number of registered voters, increasing the Democratic share of that vote by 50%, and doubling the percentage of the total votes cast in California from Latinos.

Through the rest of the 1990′s our campaigns focused on legislative races in Los Angeles. We succeeded. But it was all small.

In 2000, Maria Elena Durazo pushed for something bigger…

In 2000, the message was controversial. “If you want to make a difference, voting isn’t enough. Don’t bother voting unless you sign our pledge to get 100% of your family to vote.” Latino turnout rose… and accounted for 14% of the votes cast according to the State’s voter registration and voting history records.

In 2005, over dinner with some friends, Durazo heard a successful Latina businesswoman bemoaning the low Latino turn-out for Antonio Villaraigosa in March of 05. The woman told Durazo that it was “Imperdonable” (Unforgivable).

The City’s voting records show that the L.A. Labor Fed’s “Imperdonable” campaign increased Latino turn-out in the Mayoral run-off by 50%.

In May 2010, Durazo called Ross and others together. Her message was clear. Latinos would end up voting for Jerry Brown. That would be easy. The challenge was how to motivate them to vote at all.

Fortunately, the Republicans in Arizona wrote a new law.
When we conducted focus groups, people brought the issue up to us. When we polled it, we found 93% of California Latinos knew about it, 84% said it was more about profiling than immigration, and 73% thought it could happen in California. That view became more believable when Meg Whitman and Steve Poizner in the Republican primary tried to outdo one another as anti-immigrant politicians.

So instead of a campaign where our candidate was a 72-year-old white guy, Maria Elena and the L.A Fed ran a campaign on behalf of “Tuesday” – Martes – and against an opponent – Arizona – that research told us Latinos were motivated to defeat.
And Fabian? After he met with Maria Elena this summer, he decided to fund the “Martes Si, Arizona No!” television ad campaign. [Which not coincidentally included a pitch in favor of Prop. 25, the measure for a majority vote on the state budget -- Ed]

Latinos accounted for 22% of the votes cast in California. None of us know how much bigger this trend will be. We do know that Pete Wilson’s TV ad got one thing right… they keep coming… to the polls.[9]

Major Obama supporter

The head of the politically powerful Los Angeles County Federation of Labor said mid January 2008 that she was endorsing Barack Obama for president.

The endorsement by Maria Elena Durazo was a coup for Obama that could help the Illinois senator in his uphill struggle against Hillary Clinton to win substantial support among Latino voters in Southern California. Obama has won the backing of other Los Angeles-area Latino leaders, but this was probably his biggest such endorsement yet, given the broad reach of the county labor federation.

As executive secretary-treasurer of the federation, Durazo headed an organization of more than 800,000 union members, the biggest regional labor group in California.

Durazo said her endorsement, was a personal one. She also a leave of absence from her job to campaign for Obama through Feb. 5, when more than 20 states, including California, conducted primaries or caucuses.

"My passion is the labor movement, and I believe very strongly that Sen. Obama is very clear about his support for workers who want to organize, workers who want to lift themselves out of poverty, and also protect good middle-class jobs," Durazo said in a phone interview before taking an evening flight to Nevada, where she will work for Obama through the state's Saturday caucuses.

"On a personal level, he really embodies the slogan we use a lot, Cesar Chavez's 'Sí, se puede.' (Yes, we can.") He has proved it by the way he inspires voters, the way he mobilizes."

Jaime A. Regalado, executive director of the Edmund G. "Pat" Brown Institute of Public Affairs at Cal State Los Angeles, said California's Latino voters backed Clinton by a wide margin, but Durazo's endorsement "might well turn" the opinions of some undecided voters.

"She's a powerful player -- there's no question about that. It will move some people, it will cause some other people to think and rethink," he said. Still, the Durazo endorsement by itself, Regalado said, is "not enough to sway" a large number of Latino voters.

But Fernando Guerra, director of the Center for the Study of Los Angeles at Loyola Marymount University, emphasized Durazo's key role in local politics. He said Durazo "symbolizes the new power in Los Angeles and in California -- the marriage of Latinos and labor."

"And when you have those numbers, that organization and those volunteers, it makes an impact," Guerra said. "There is no person in all of California who could get more people out to the street to go do something, either to march or get the vote out."

Although Durazo's frequent political ally Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa was a national co-chair of Clinton's campaign, she said her decision did not represent a serious break between the two, just a difference of opinion.

Durazo and her late husband, Miguel Contreras, who headed the county labor federation until his death in 2005, have had close ties with former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, the third major contender for the Democratic nomination. Edwards helped the federation in 2006 during a national campaign to unionize hotel workers. "He was very active on that campaign and that was very important to us, so it is difficult to make this choice," Durazo said.

Among the factors that influenced Durazo were the Obama endorsements last week by her national home union, Unite Here, along with its big culinary workers affiliate in Nevada. Durazo said she also was motivated by Obama's background as the son of an immigrant father and a U.S.-born mother who raised him as a single parent.

"He wasn't born with a silver spoon in his mouth; he was raised in humble surroundings and that will carry over when he has to make tough decisions," Durazo said.[10]

She then became a national co-chair of the Obama for President campaign committee, and was a pledged delegate for Obama at the National Convention in Denver.

Obama for America, National Co-Chair

February 22, 2012, Obama for America, announced the selection of the campaign’s National Co-Chairs, a diverse group of leaders from around the country committed to re-electing President Obama. The co-chairs will serve as ambassadors for the President, advise the campaign on key issues, and help engage and mobilize voters in all 50 states.

Maria Elena Durazo – Executive Secretary-Treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO , was on the list.[11]

Obama"truth squad"

Barack Obama’s campaign in California formed a “truth squad,” announced via conference call, in January 2008, to counter the attacks that Hillary Clinton’s campaign has leveled in recent weeks. On the call were squad members Bay Area Congressman George Miller, LA Congresswoman Linda Sanchez, Oakland Congresswoman Barbara Lee, and LA County Labor Federation chief Maria Elena Durazo, now a national co-chair of the Obama campaign. Also on the squad are Silicon Valley Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren, LA Congressman Adam Schiff, state Senate Majority Leader Gloria Romero, Assembly Majority Leader Karen Bass, and, San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris.

Miller, one of the top congressional Democrats as head of the House Democratic Policy Committee and chairman of the Education & Labor Committee, noted that the truth squad was formed to deal with a threat that may or may not exist any longer. “We don’t know yet,” he said. “The Clinton campaign may have learned its lesson from South Carolina,” where voters mostly rejected the Clinton tactics, as exit polls make clear. Will former President Clinton, historically popular in California, be a problem for Obama in the nation’s largest primary? “I think there is a rethink underway about what he is doing.”[12]

Vote for Change

Turning its attention toward the November general elections, Barack Obama’s presidential campaign kicked off a massive 50-state voter registration campaign on May 10, 2008.

Thousands of volunteer activists, including many first-time volunteers, gathered in more than 100 locations across the country to launch the “Vote for Change” campaign. The goals, according to national co-chair Rep. Melissa Bean of Illinois, are to “get millions of new voters registered and engage and motivate millions who are registered but don’t participate. This is about the change we will bring, not what Sen. Obama will bring alone.”

Other national Vote for Change co-chairs include Change to Win Chair Anna Burger, Los Angeles County Federation of Labor President Maria Elena Durazo, the Rev. Joseph Lowery, Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.), Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick and musicians Melissa Etheridge, Dave Matthews and Usher Raymond IV.[13]

Labor Campaign for Single Payer

In 2009 Maria Elena Durazo, Exec. Secty-Treasurer Los Angeles Federation of Labor severd on the National Advidory Board of Labor Campaign for Single Payer.

Occupy Los Angeles

On Nov. 27, 2011 Maria Elena Durazo, executive secretary and treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor issued a statement in solidarity with the protestors:[14]

“We are grateful to the Occupy movement for refocusing the country to the issue of income inequality. We call for nonviolence in all acts of civil disobedience by Occupy LA and in professional procedures by the LAPD. We are committed to a long-term movement from the 99 percent to hold Wall Street and the banks accountable for devastating our economy."

UFW 50th Anniversary convention

The United Farm Workers' 50th Anniversary convention was held Saturday, May 19,2012. Rabobank Convention Center. Keene, California.

• A three-hour program (1-4 p.m.) honoring the UFW pioneers, with special segments on the 1962 founding convention, 1965-1970 grape strikers and boycotters, 1966 peregrinos who marched from Delano to Sacramento, the Filipino American grape strikers and the farm worker ministry. Among the speakers were Dolores Huerta, Chris Hartmire and Luis Valdez, whose Teatro Campesino performed old union songs and actos throughout the program.

• Other speakers included California Democratic Party Chairman John Burton and Maria Elena Durazo, former farm worker and head of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor.

Sunday, May 20, Rabobank Convention Center. Keene, California

• Mass at 7:45 a.m. with Bishop Richard Garcia from the Monterey Diocese presiding, honoring the rive UFW martyrs.

• A program highlighting multiple new UFW organizing campaigns among strawberry, vegetable, tomato and melon workers in the Central Coast and Central Valley in the wake of Governor Jerry Brown signing a UFW-sponsored law in 2011. SB 126 says if growers cheat by breaking the law and denying farm workers their union, then the state can immediately certify the union and get the workers a contract. It also speeds up the process so farm workers don’t have to wait two years before starting negotiations and it lets the ALRB general counsel go to court to reinstate farm workers illegally fired during union election drives.

• Among the speakers were U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis, United Auto Workers President Bob King, Univision anchor Maria Elena Salinas and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.[15]

Anti-Walmart Protest

In June 2012, in Los Angeles there are many protesting the possibility of a Walmart branch being erected in the Chinatown area of the city.

L.A. Union Aficio reported that Tom Morello, fellow musician Ben Harper, civil rights leader Dolores Huerta, U.S. congresswoman Judy Chu, and L.A. Labor leader Maria Elena Durazo marched with union workers during the protest which started at the Los Angeles State Historic Park and led all the way to the intersection of Broadway and Cesar Chavez Blvd.

United Food and Commercial Workers international union president Joe Hansen told the crowd, “Our demands are clear. Walmart must provide a living wage, quality health care, demonstrate respect for local communities, and uphold workers’ rights here and around the world.”[16]

"Latinos Need Barack Obama"

Rep. Linda Sanchez posted an article on the Huffington Post blog September 17, 2012, co-signed by several leftist California activists, and legislators, supporting Barack Obama for president;

We support comprehensive immigration reform and we believe President Obama is on the right track. He favors an immigration policy that rewards hard work and responsibility and lifts the shadow of deportation from young people who were brought here as children, through no fault of their own, and grew up as Americans. And given congressional inaction, the President and the DHS implemented a stop-gap measure that temporarily lifts the shadow of deportation from DREAMers.

The economic recovery is not yet complete, but we recognize President Obama's work to help our communities. From the Latina back in school thanks to expanded Pell Grants to the family that can now afford health care for their child with a preexisting condition, all Latinos need a leader that will stand by his word and respect their pursuit of the American Dream.

Sadly when Mitt Romney speaks to Latinos today he will not answer our Grito de Verdad y Liderazgo because he stands on the wrong side of every Latino voter priority. Latinos know that what we need is a President who will lead our community with respect and value our contributions and that the contrast between Romney's campaign rhetoric and four years of action from this administration is clear: the man we need to lead us is Barack Obama.

Immigration rally arrest

More than 20,000 people - including thousands of unionists -- who marched down the Washington, D.C., Mall on Oct. 8, 2013, to demand the U.S. House immediately pass comprehensive immigration reform. And 200, including 90 union leaders and union members and eight members of the House of Representatives were arrested when, in an act of civil disobedience, they blocked a street in front of the Capitol.

Arrestees included Lisa Bergmann, SEIU 1199 member Delphine Clyburn and activist Joelle Fishman, both also from Connecticut, Communications Workers Secretary-Treasurer Annie Hall and Political Director Yvette Herrera, The Newspaper Guild's president, Bernie Lunzer, and Paul Booth, the top assistant to AFSCME's president. Among the nation's top labor leaders also taken into custody were AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Tefere Gebre, AFT President Randi Weingarten, Unite Here President D. Taylor and Maria Elena Durazo, executive secretary treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor.

Among the lawmakers arrested were Reps. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.), John Lewis (D-Ga.), Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), Joseph Crowley (D - N.Y.), Al Green (D-Texas), Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) and Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.).

Unions, led by contingents from the Service Employees and their Local 32BJ, the Laborers and Unite Here, contributed a large share of the demonstrators. Other unions represented included AFSCME, the Communications Workers/TNG, Labor Council for Latin American Advancement, AFT and the United Farm Workers. [17]

References

  1. CALIFORNIA AND THE AMERICAN DREAM movie webpage
  2. LA Weekly, Crunch Time The race to succeed Richard Riordan — and to reshape Los Angeles — comes down to the wire Harold Meyerson published: March 29, 2001
  3. PWW, May Day Supplement May 2, 1992
  4. PWW "MAPA endorses pro labor candidates", Rosalio Munoz, May 2 1993 page 2
  5. Dem. Left, Jan./Feb. 1994, page 17
  6. Democratic Left, Fall 2000
  7. [Announce Oct. 20: Progressive LA Conference announce-admin at comm-org.utoledo.edu announce-admin at comm-org.utoledo.edu. Tue Oct 16 10:22:22 CDT 2001]
  8. PLAN website, accessed October 2011
  9. [http://www.calbuzz.com/tag/maria-elena-durazo/, Calbuzz, Untold Story: How the Latino Vote Hit Critical Mass, November 15th, 2010, By Richie Ross]
  10. [http://www.latimes.com/news/politics/la-na-labor16jan16,0,656548.story?coll=la-home-center, LA Times, Obama gets major labor endorsement, By Robin Abcarian Los Angeles Times Staff Writer, January 16, 2008}
  11. Judy Chu for Congress, February 22, 2012, OBAMA FOR AMERICA ANNOUNCES REP. JUDY CHU AS. NATIONAL CAMPAIGN CO-CHAIR
  12. Bill Bradley's New West Notes, January 27th, 2008
  13. PW. Vote for Change registration drive kicks off in 50 states, May 17 2008
  14. Big Government: #OccupyLA Deadline Comes, Many Say They Won’t Go; Breitbart Shows Up, Nov. 27, 2011 (accessed on Dec. 8, 2011)
  15. Talking Union, U.F.W. 50th. Anniversary Convention,Posted on May 2, 2012 by dcampbell1
  16. Thousands Rally to Stop “Walmartization” of Los Angeles Jobs, LA AFL-CIO blog, June 30, 2012
  17. [PW,More than 200 arrested at immigration rights rally in D.C. by: Mark Gruenberg October 9 2013 http://peoplesworld.org/more-than-200-arrested-at-immigration-rights-rally-in-d-c/ ]