On Saturday, I stood proudly with my Mom, my daughter, and thousands of union workers and allies at Freedom Plaza to demand that working people across the country have the right to come together, organize, and fight for fair wages, safe working conditions, affordable health care, and jobs that will ensure the opportunity to prosper and thrive in our communities. Unions are essential to ensuring a strong middle class, especially for workers of color and women. Having worked with legal services attorneys to demand rights for garment workers, car washers, domestic workers, construction workers, nail technicians, and other low-wage workers in California, I know how important unions are to protecting workers’ rights to equitable pay and other benefits we often take for granted.
Today, the Supreme Court hears Janus v. AFSCME Council 31, a case that threatens to cripple the collective bargaining power of our country’s unions. Like many at Freedom Plaza, I will be watching closely to see how the case unfolds.
Washington, D.C. does not have any so-called “right to work” laws—laws that say that unions cannot require a monthly union fee to cover the expenses of representation. In fact, our city has passed some of the toughest labor laws in the country to protect workers’ rights. But we fall short in a very critical way: enforcement of our existing labor laws.
We know that the Department of Employment Services receives a constant stream of labor law complaints, and that the Office of the Attorney General does not have the funds nor the investigators to keep pace. As a result, unscrupulous employers take advantage of workers, fail to comply with local hiring laws, and, in some instances, point fingers at competitors in an effort to distract overextended investigators and divert attention from their own violations. DC Must invest more in oversight and investigations to protect our workers, especially as the city’s many development projects surge ahead.
It’s a matter of record that our Ward 6 Council Member has taken tens of thousands of dollars in campaign donations from developer interests. It’s no coincidence that Ward 6 is home to the most pervasive and expansive development projects in the city. The Wharf is a glaring example: DC gave $300 million in subsidies to commercial developers without ensuring that their projects provided good-quality jobs that pay a living wage to DC residents. As a taxpayer, I am appalled by leaders who vote to subsidize such significant projects without first determining whether financial support was necessary. Moreover, the DC Council allowed the Wharf developer to meet only 10 percent of affordability standards for newly built housing units, down from the 30-percent standard initially set. Labor unions and locals are furious at this boondoggle, and they should be. According to the DC Fiscal Policy Institute, union agreements would have resulted in more than $13.2 million in higher earnings for construction workers, hotel workers, and office cleaners. The workers would also have received healthcare and retirement benefits. Instead, my opponent appeased corporate interests and failed to ensure that every dollar of taxpayer money is spent wisely. At a time when corporate greed is pervasive, and when our confidence in the integrity of our government institutions and elected officials is low, we deserve better.
I’ve posted a picture of my Mom, Silvia. It means so much to me that she joined my daughter and me at Saturday’s rally. Mom is a retired labor lawyer from California and my hero, the embodiment of the American Dream. My mom grew up in a working-class home. She was the first in her family to graduate from college, went on to become a teacher in Los Angeles, and earned her law degree at a time when women, much less Latinas, were far outnumbered by their male classmates.
My mom is a crusader who, as a young lawyer, worked for the California Agricultural Labor Relations Board, enforcing the rights of the United Farmworkers to organize. She helped ensure that the California Agricultural Labor Relations Board protected workers’ rights to organize and unionize for collective bargaining rights. Later, she was a lawyer with both the federal and state agencies that enforce the labor laws passed to protect government workers. She also spent decades as a state Deputy Attorney General. My mom’s career, like her personal story, is one of conviction, strength, and courage.
America’s union workers and their supporters are to be commended for continuing to make their voices heard, strengthening the middle class, and empowering vulnerable communities, keeping alive the hope that someday everyone will be treated with dignity and equity. To my community, I commit to fighting tirelessly to ensure our workers are protected and paid a living wage, to preserve our rights to gather and organize for collective bargaining, and to vote against carelessly diverting taxpayer dollars into corporate subsidies. To my mom for fighting on behalf of vulnerable communities, and for carrying my banner on this campaign, thank you. And, finally, to my daughter who will take up the banner for future generations, I can’t wait to see how far you’ll go.