Delegates from a cross section of Los Angeles unions on Thursday solidly backed three aggressive initiatives proposed by county labor chief Miguel Contreras, including a campaign to subsidize local community college students through a new business tax.
About 850 delegates, meeting at the Los Angeles Convention Center for a first-ever regional labor congress, also agreed to increase members' contributions to the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor to build a $1-million defense fund to help unions on strike.
They also approved a plan by the federation's political department to "adopt" Nevada for intense get-out-the-vote efforts leading up to the November presidential election.
With a victory by labor-backed Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John F. Kerry virtually assured in California, labor strategists said the political expertise and phone-dialing equipment in Los Angeles could be put to better use in a state still up for grabs.
The county federation alone has 50 speed-dialing lines that can reach thousands of households in one night, said Contreras, its executive secretary-treasurer. Other unions in the region have more than twice that capacity. Next week, Contreras said, volunteers in Los Angeles will start calling 60,000 union households in Nevada to identify Kerry supporters or persuade undecided voters. On election day, the voters will be called and reminded to go to the polls.
Details of the plan for subsidized community college education also emerged at the daylong gathering. The federation is proposing a 1.5% increase in the business utility tax in Los Angeles, which would generate about $59 million a year for a fund that would grant each student about $1,000 a year for textbooks and tools, said Sacramento-based consultant Richie Ross, who helped fashion the plan with Contreras.
The federation hopes to put the proposal on the Los Angeles city ballot in the summer of 2006 by gathering at least 85,000 signatures on a petition. Ross said the proposal would require a two-thirds majority to pass.