L.A. Activists Share Troublemaker Spirit

The Los Angeles Labor Notes Troublemakers School on June 11 drew 110 union leaders and rank and filers together to learn from each other.

“What I liked about the school was connecting up with the broader labor community, and hearing the issues that are facing other industries,” said Cheryl Deutsch, a University of California graduate employee.

“I could see that what we overcame in our union is not an anomaly but is more of the norm across the labor movement,” added Deutsch, who was elected president of United Auto Workers Local 2865 on a reform slate. She joined a panel on “Building Fighting Unions.”

At the opening session, Sandy Pope, president of Teamsters Local 805 in New York City and candidate for Teamsters general president, told the unionists she was proud of the people of Wisconsin because “working people are angry, very angry. It really inspired the beginning of a movement.”

Donald Sherman, a traffic officer for the city of Los Angeles and a Service Employees steward, said he was at the school because “I want to learn how to activate the members. The city is taking away our rights. The union has not been fighting for our rights.”

A workshop on “Fighting Production Harassment,” led by Pope, drew strong attendance from telephone workers, Teamsters, and warehouse workers, all of whom are facing increased speed-up and monitoring on the job. The workshop emphasized worker safety strategies, information requests, and using the “just cause” language in the contract to challenge discipline that is linked to production goals.

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A Spanish-language workshop on building member-to-member networks, led by Fernando Ramirez from United Electrical Workers and Eduardo Soriano-Castillo from Labor Notes, was geared to a dissident group of janitors who are fighting for democracy in their Service Employees local.

“The issue of corruption in union leadership doesn’t necessarily resonate with all the members,” said Soriano-Castillo. “So you have to identify issues that have broad member support, with the rank-and-file reform group giving leadership on those issues.”

Two recent ILWU struggles were highlighted at the end of the day. Kevin Martz, from Local 30 in the desert town of Boron, California, thanked participants for their solidarity in last year’s contract struggle against the mining company Rio Tinto, which had tried to bust the union through a lockout. Angel Warner from Local 26 thanked the audience for supporting 500 Rite Aid warehouse workers who settled a first contract this spring after a five-year battle.

The Los Angeles Times called the school "part instruction, part pep rally."

Many attendees commented that more Troublemakers Schools are needed in the L.A. area—and one local president offered her hall.


Barry Saks is a retired member of SEIU Local 721 (Los Angeles county employees). Howard Ryan is on Labor Notes staff.