Labor's role in environmental advocacy

On January 10, the LA Times reported that the hotel and restaurant workers’ union, UNITE HERE Local 11, has filed environmental objections in recent years to real estate projects in Southern California. That is true. However, rather than recognizing the impacts development has on the air quality, transport, and housing in the low-income communities union members live in, the article insinuates that UNITE HERE’s work is part of a union conspiracy seeking to extort developers. By leaving out the stories of hospitality workers and the challenges working people face in Southern California’s environment, the article turns the world upside down and makes housekeepers, dishwashers and bussers who advocate for a better environment the criminals, while making wealthy developers who cheat our environmental process the victims.

 Southern California is experiencing an unprecedented explosion of development, especially of hotels, event centers, and luxury hospitality. The Times has reported the enormity of this wave in several articles. “Downtown Los Angeles hasn't seen this much construction since the 1920s.”  Many of the development projects receive public subsidies, and those subsidies often benefit luxury hospitality development over the housing, parks and transit construction that low-wage workers need. These needs are not served by the current direction of the development wave and in many cases this wave is exacerbating environmental problems for working people.

 Low-wage immigrant and African-American hospitality workers of Southern California live among the nation's worst environmental justice hot spots, as was reported by this publication in 2015. The Times twice reported on the impact of air pollution on immigrant and African American children, and photographed children playing at a Long Beach school near an oil refinery, freeway, railroad line and seaport. “Children born and raised near inner-city pollution sources can wind up with reduced white matter in their brains and greater developmental and behavioral problems, a study suggests.”

 UNITE HERE’s members and their families live in these neighborhoods and attend these schools because they cannot afford to live in the areas with better air quality. Those workers that have managed to keep their homes in centers of hotel development like Hollywood and Santa Monica are finding the wave of gentrification harder to resist as cranes, construction noise, short term rentals and luxury condominiums pop up all around them.

 We have a responsibility to make sure this massive wave of development improves the environment for working people instead of adding to the problem. California courts have ruled that unions and their members have standing to make environmental claims.

Hotels should have transit plans for workers and customers. They should build trees into the design of the building, they should integrate affordable housing, they should be sensitive to the nearby neighbors, and they should use water-saving machinery. Development subsidies like zoning changes and height limit waivers should be offered more to affordable housing projects than for luxury hotels.

UNITE HERE Local 11 advocates for design, mitigation, and community benefit provisions that improve housing, transport, and the environment in our communities. The Union mobilizes its members to attend hearings and to speak up in favor of projects that serve their needs of to oppose ones that are threats to housing, that force workers into longer commutes through worsening traffic, or that damage the environment we live in.

 There is nothing new or nefarious about Unions advocating for environmental protections. UNITE HERE Local 11 has roots in the movement of the United Farm Workers Union of Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta, who led multiple efforts to ban pesticides used on grapes and strawberries and called for testing grapes in stores to see if they were contaminated with poisonous residues.

 Environmentalists stood with workers in creating OSHA, the first agency dedicated to worker health and safety on the job. The UAW and Steelworkers sponsored the first Earth Day in 1970 and supported some of the first environmental laws including the National Environmental Policy Act, the inspiration for the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

 Today, the blue collar-green alliance in Los Angeles is strong. Unions and the environmental movement have fought for cleaner trucks and sustainable jobs at the Ports of Los Angeles. UNITE HERE has stood with Natural Resources Defense Council and other environmental organizations to support progressive zoning in Los Angeles and Santa Monica that will create new housing, including affordable housing near transit. These are efforts that should be celebrated, and expanded.

 Ada Briceno, Co President of UNITE HERE Local 11 and Member of the South Coast Air Quality Management District’s Environment Justice Community Partnership Advisory Council

Allen Hernandez, Executive Director, Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice (CCAEJ)

Caroline Farrell, Executive Director, Center on Race, Poverty and Environment (CRPE)

Antonio Diaz, Executive Director, People Organizing to Demand Environmental and Economic Rights (PODER)

 David Pettit, Senior Attorney, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC)

As US District Judge Holds Ruling on DACA, Union Vows to Keep Fighting

As US District Judge Holds Ruling on DACA, Union Vows to Keep Fighting

UNITE HERE Local 11 stands with immigrant workers

Today, as US District Judge Andrew Hanen in Texas declined to issue a temporary injunction against DACA renewals, he also hinted that he’ll rule against DACA’s constitutionality in three weeks.  UNITE HERE Local 11 leadership continues to stand with its members who have DACA and keep up the fight, regardless of his eventual ruling.

“One thing we can agree on with Judge Hanen: we need Congress to take action and resolve the legal limbo that DACA recipients find themselves in,” said Ada Briceño, co-president of UNITE HERE Local 11.  “It isn’t right to change the rules every few months for people who’ve been contributing to the US almost all of their lives.”

Bevonnie Bailey is a member of Local 11 and a DACA recipient. “It’s stressful to go through these legal battles, not knowing what will happen to me and my US-born children. We need to be prepared for the next challenge, and the next challenge. I can’t trust that judges are going to get it right; I need to continue to fight for myself and my family.”

UNITE HERE Local 11 Statement

UNITE HERE Local 11 Statement

UNITE HERE Local 11 denounces the US Supreme Court’s ruling on the “Muslim Ban” case, initiated by travel bans announced by the Trump administration in the spring of 2017.

Response by UNITE HERE Local 11 regarding Disney bonus announcement

Response by UNITE HERE Local 11 regarding Disney bonus announcement

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Statement by Ada Briceño, co-president of UNITE HERE Local 11, regarding the Walt Disney Company’s announcement Tuesday to give 125,000 U.S. non-managerial staff a one-time $1,000 cash bonus and seed an employee education program with $50 million.

Walt Disney Company stands to reap an estimated $2 billion after the tax cuts passed late last year. The company says they will spend less than 10% of this tax bill windfall—$175 million this fiscal year—starting an education program and giving bonuses to its employees. 

Disney says it “will work with union representatives regarding potential distribution plans for employees currently working under existing union contracts.” UNITE HERE Local 11 can tell Disney our position now: the company should pay the bonuses immediately, without forcing conditions or holding them subject to our ongoing contract negotiations.

Local 11 represents 2,700 cast members at Disneyland who have been negotiating with Disney since December 2016. The largest group of these members are housekeepers, whose starting wage is the state minimum of $11 per hour. After ten years, a Disneyland housekeeper earns $13.50 per hour. By contrast, starting wages for housekeepers at the nearby Sheraton Park and Anaheim Hilton are both over $16 per hour.

Our members are negotiating for real improvements: raises that take us out of poverty, affordable family health care, and humane workloads. Disney should agree to all of these improvements as part of a fair contract settlement. A one-time bonus will not alter our focus or resolve.

UNITE HERE Local 11 Statement on Pardon of Joe Arpaio

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UNITE HERE Local 11 strongly condemns President Trump's decision to pardon former Maricopa County, Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio.

In 2012, UNITE HERE partnered with local community organizations to create Adiós Arpaio, a movement of young leaders and workers who mobilized to register 35,000 voters in Maricopa County.

In 2016, Maricopa County voters overwhelmingly voted Sheriff Arpaio out of office after 26 years because they were tired of Arpaio's lack of respect for the law. From deplorable conditions in county jails to hundreds of unsolved rape cases, Arpaio was finally handed a criminal conviction for contempt of court because he defied a federal order to stop using racial profiling to detain Latinos. Arpaio’s conviction simply verified what thousands of us have known all along: he didn’t care about the rule of law and worse, he used his office to terrorize the very people he was sworn to protect.

President Trump has chosen to tie his own legacy to the very actions that Maricopa County voters rejected in 2016. Working families, students, citizens, and non-citizens will continue to unite and organize against the latest bully. We did it once, and we will do it again.


UNITE HERE to Court: Lift Injunction Blocking DACA and DAPA

UNITE HERE to Court: Lift Injunction Blocking DACA and DAPA


Contact: Ofelia Carrillo, 323-817-9804;

Today, community and labor leaders from across Los Angeles rallied to raise their voices along with hundreds of activists, asking to restore relief to millions of immigrants by allowing the President’s new DAPA and DACA program expansion to proceed. 

Check out images of the conference on Facebook here: 

The call to action was answered with mobilizations throughout the country, uniting in their demands that the court of appeals to allow DAPA and DACA to move forward. A panel of three judges in New Orleans can decide the fate of about 5 million immigrants lives in the country. 

This morning, as the first day of oral arguments were being heard at the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, statements in support of lifting the injunction were made by Maria Elena Durazo, General Vice President of Immigration, Civil Rights and Diversity at UNITE HERE, Zocorro Vazquez, Clergy Leader at LA Voice Faith Leaders, Maegan Ortiz, Executive Director at the Institute for Popular Education in Southern California (IDEPSCA), Mariano Hernandez, day laborer and member at the Central American Resource Center(CARECEN), Cristina Navarro, housekeeper and member of UNITE HERE Local 11, and Yahayra Rojas, DACA-mented senior at the School of Justice at Miguel Contreras Learning Complex.     

“Anti-immigrant politicians are using every delay tactic to stop the implementation of DACA and DAPA, but the law is on our side,” says Maria Elena Durazo, the General Vice President of Immigration, Civil Rights and Diversity with UNITE HERE. “At stake in this lawsuit are the lives of millions of hardworking immigrants who should not have to work or live in fear.”

Nationwide, UNITE HERE represents thousands of people working in hotels, casinos and food service industries who will be directly impacted by the expansion of DACA and DAPA. Despite delays, UNITE HERE reconfirmed their commitment to press forward with efforts to assist immigrant workers and their families. Community organizations present like IDEPSCA, CARECEN and LA Voice Faith Leaders, also enlisted their organizations for the future implementation of the DACA/DAPA expansion. 

In the coming months, UNITE HERE will be rolling out a plan to help women and men apply for legal status and work permits. See images from the press conference on Facebook:

MVP Labor Leader, Maria Elena Durazo

By John Nichols,
The Nation Magazine, Dec 22, 2014

At a time when organized labor has faced an unrelenting assault nationwide, the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor has gone from strength to strength under Durazo’s leadership. The veteran secretary-treasurer of the federation of unions representing 600,000 workers is credited by the Los Angeles Times with having “lifted an already strong [LA] labor movement to a preeminent position of influence in civic affairs.” Read more

Most Influential in 2014: Ada Briceño

By Leonar Chan
OC Register, Dec. 21, 2014

In 2014, Local 11 pushed through an L.A. ordinance requiring at least $15.37 an hour at the city’s large hotels, one of the most successful campaigns to raise wages in the nation. In Anaheim, the union won union recognition of 900 food service workers at Angel Stadium. Briceño is also a founder of Orange County Communities Organized For Responsible Development, a nonprofit that has helped 2,500 immigrants gain citizenship. Read more.