Head of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor from 1996 until his death in 2005, Contreras was responsible for transforming the Los Angeles labor movement into a political force by mobilizing the immigrant workforce. Born into a family of farm workers, he started his career in labor as an activist and organizer for the United Farm Workers union. 
Miguel Contreras' funeral took place on May 12, 2005, at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels with Cardinal Roger M. Mahony as Principal Celebrant. Pall Bearers were Mario Salazar, Alex Contreras, Antonio Contreras, David Contreras, Juan Contreras, Pablo Contreras, Charles Lester, and Arturo Rodriguez.
After meeting Cesar Chavez at a rally for Robert Kennedy, the Contreras family because active in United Farm Workers in the late 1960s. By the time he was 17, Contreras and his brothers were driving to San Jose on weekends to hand out grape boycott leaflets at grocery stores.
After stints working on the grape boycott in Toronto, Canada, organizing lettuce workers in Salinas and helping lead local hotel workers in a month-long strike in San Francisco, Contreras was recruited as a national organizer for the International Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Union. The job brought him to Los Angeles in the late 1980s.
The hotel workers' Local 11 was embroiled in a power struggle, and Contreras was charged with sorting out allegations of ballot fraud. Organizer Maria Elena Durazo, who was challenging the local's leadership, led her supporters in rowdy picketing, protesting Contreras' involvement. She eventually was elected president of the local, and her views on Contreras changed the two married in 1988.
In 1994, he was tapped as the Federation's political director and immediately sought to reshape the unions' role. Contreras applied himself to winning over the often-quarreling local union leaders and insinuating himself into the city's power structure.
Since Contreras was elected Secretary-Treasurer of the Federation in 1996, becoming the first nonwhite to win the seat, the unions' ranks have grown by 125,000 to more than 800,000, an increase fueled mostly by the city's burgeoning Latino immigrant population.
In 2000, Contreras helped lead a strike by janitors, many of them poor immigrants, against building owners in Los Angeles. The work stoppage ended with a new contract for the janitors that was touted as a model for blue-collar labor organizations across the country. Union members celebrated with a march through the city.
Fred Ross influence
Fred Ross conceived the voter outreach strategy that not only elected Ed Roybal as Los Angeles’ first Latino Councilmember in 1949, but also laid the groundwork for the Obama campaign’s Latino voter outreach campaign in 2008. Ross trained UFW organizers Marshall Ganz, Miguel Contreras and Eliseo Medina in voter outreach strategies to reach “occasional” voting Latinos, and these three took what they learned to California politics. Ganz and Medina then brought this voter outreach model to the Obama campaign.
Medina, Contreras friendship
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.
Los Angeles Martinez Jobs Bill support rally
On October 18 1997, Matthew Martinez, State senators Hilda Solis and Diane Watson, City Councilman Richard Alarcon, Miguel Contreras, executive secretary-treasurer of the Los Angeles Federation of Labor and Geraldine Washington, president of the Los Angeles NAACP addressed a Los Angeles "show us the living wage jobs" rally, as part of a national day of action, calling on Congress to pass the Martinez Jobs Bill. there were concurrent rallies in nearly 20 cities, organized by the Communist Party USA dominated National Labor-Community Coalition For Public Works Jobs. Pastor Cecil Murray of the First AME Church in South Los Angeles sponsored the rally.
Socialists organize to "challenge for power" in Los Angeles
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."
Cesar Chavez rally
On November 6 1999, a rally was held in Los Angeles, at Placita Olvera kiosk, calling for a holiday to mark the birth of Cesar Chavez. Contact for the rally was Evelina Alarcon of the United Farm Workers and the Communist Party USA.
Speakers included Dolores Huerta of the UFW, and Majority leader of the California State Senate, Richard Alarcon, who introduced Senate Bill-984, which would make March 31, Chavez's birthday a paid public holiday.
Also speaking were Los Angeles Board of Supervisors member Gloria Molina, who introduced a similar measure at county level, Art Pulaski, of the California State Federation of Labor executive, Los Angeles City Council member Jackie Goldberg, Los Angeles Federation of Labor executive member Miguel Contreras, and Paul Chavez, son of Cesar, and president of the National Farm Worker Service Center.
Former Speaker of the State Assembly Antonio Villaraigosa made history on March 4 2003, when he won an East Los Angeles seat in the 14th council district of the nation’s second largest city.
Villaraigosa, a former organizer for the United Teachers of Los Angeles, ascended with 56 percent of the vote, taking the seat away from Councilman Nick Pacheco, and, for the first time in the city’s history, defeating an incumbent councilman in a primary election.
“We are going to organize families and work together to elevate the quality of life of this district,” said an emotional Antonio Villaraigosa to hundreds of labor union and community supporters who filled the Plaza del Sol hall in Boyle Heights, a working class, Mexican American and immigrant community. “This victory clearly says that we will not be forgotten. We are human beings and we deserve respect,” he continued as volunteers cheered, cried, and chanted, “Si se puede!”
“This is just the beginning,” said the jubilant Miguel Contreras, executive secretary treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, who chaired the election night celebration.
- ↑ CALIFORNIA AND THE AMERICAN DREAM movie webpage
- ↑ SPARC Mural, M. Contreras bio bio, accessed Jan.8.2013
- ↑ BeyondChron Blog, National Campaign Urges Obama to Award Presidential Medal of Freedom to Legendary Organizer Fred Ross, by Randy Shaw‚ Feb. 13‚ 2013
- ↑ Implications of the SEIU/UniteHere Settlement, by Randy Shaw
- ↑ [http://www.calbuzz.com/tag/maria-elena-durazo/, Calbuzz, Untold Story: How the Latino Vote Hit Critical Mass, November 15th, 2010, By Richie Ross]
- ↑ PWW, October 11, 1997, page 6
- ↑ PWW, October 30, 1999, page 3]
- ↑ PW, Labor leader wins Los Angeles Council seat Evelina Alarcon, March 13 2003