Big year ahead for organized labor on west coast

Organized labor in the Southland faces unprecedented challenges as approximately 228,000 workers will have contract negotiations pending over the next year. "These are difficult times for working people. Jobs offering a middle-class standard of living and health care coverage affordable to wording people are under attack," said Maria Elena Durazo, the former union organizer who now heads the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO.

"Never before have so many workers had so much at stake going into bargaining for new contracts," she said at a breakfast at the downtown Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels. "Never before has L.A. labor faced such a challenge," she said. "The future of the labor movement in L.A. depends on what we do next year. We must mobilize every resource. We must rally every activist. We must tap every ally in the trying year ahead."

Durazo, who once organized hotel workers in downtown Los Angeles, is the widow of Miguel Contreras, the former head of the county Federation of Labor who died unexpectedly in 2005 at age 52.

Unions that represent about 228,000 workers in the greater Los Angeles area - including actors, electricians and longshore workers - will negotiate new contracts in the next year, according to union officials.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who once organized a teachers union, was also at the breakfast, where he helped serve up food.

"When you work hard and you play by the rules, you ought to have health care, you ought to have a decent wage, you ought to be able to maintain a family," he said.

However, this time, Villaraigosa will be on the other side of the bargaining table as contracts for city workers are among those coming up for renewal.

On Monday, thousands of union members were at a march, rally and picnic in Wilmington in Southern California's only Labor Day parade.

"We are the union," they chanted as they marched to Banning Park.

Cardinal Roger Mahony blessed workers and their tools at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in downtown Los Angeles. During his homily, Mahony expressed disappointment with Congress for not updating immigrating laws to provide a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants.

"The first sign in big letters says ‘come, help wanted, help desperately needed here.' Down farther on the sign it says ‘no trespassing,"' he said.

President Bush made reference to the continued economic boom in his Labor Day speech.

"Productivity is high, consumers are confident and incomes are rising across our country," Bush said. "Our economy has experienced one of the fastest growth rates of any major industrial nation.

"More than 8.3 million jobs have been created in American since 2003 and the unemployment rate remains low. My administration is committed to promoting pro-growth economic policies, keeping taxes low and support small businesses to keep our economy strong and growing."

Bush also made a surprise stop in Iraq on his way to an economic conference in Australia.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the first Labor Day was celebrated in New York City on Sept. 5, 1882. Oregon became the first state to formally recognize Labor Day in 1887.

In 1894, Congress passed a bill designating the first Monday in September as Labor Day and a legal holiday in the District of Columbia and territories.


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