With a promise to keep the local labor movement unified and to rally unions against the governor's agenda, former Los Angeles City Councilman Martin Ludlow is set to take charge of the County Federation of Labor.
Ludlow, who was named interim secretary-treasurer of the influential union federation shortly after the May 6 death of Miguel Contreras, had been slated to square off Monday against two other union leaders in an election for the top job.
But Ivan Corpeno Chavez of the Librarians Guild and Kevin Miguel Norte of Local 910, which represents law clerks and research attorneys, have withdrawn, clearing the way for Ludlow.
Corpeno Chavez said he decided to run because he believed Ludlow had been anointed without sufficient input from union members. But he said he pulled out after he and Ludlow talked about opening up the federation's decision-making process.
Norte said he gave up his candidacy when he failed to win enough support from other union leaders.
"It is a good step for the unity of organized labor in Los Angeles," said Ludlow, who still faces a voice vote of union delegates Monday.
Ludlow resigned from the council last month, and an election to replace him will be held in November.
Ludlow takes charge of the county federation -- an umbrella group of 357 unions with about 800,000 members -- when the national labor movement may be on the verge of splintering. Some of the most active unions have threatened to leave the 50-year-old AFL-CIO.
He also faces a stiff test in November helping to lead labor's fight against a series of ballot initiatives during a special election called by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
The election is shaping up to be a contest between the unions and the governor.
And locally, Ludlow will be charged with maintaining the influence of a county labor federation that Contreras was credited with turning into a political powerhouse and national model.
Ludlow, 40, who was a local labor organizer before he was elected to the City Council two years ago, will almost immediately step into the middle of the looming labor schism next week when he attends the annual AFL-CIO convention in Chicago.
The presidents of five major unions representing about a third of the nation's union members have formed a dissident group amid criticism that the labor movement has failed to arrest the steady decline in membership.
Several of those unions -- including Service Employees International Union, United Food and Commercial Workers and Unite Here, which represents garment and hotel workers -- are particularly influential in Los Angeles.
Some believe that the new group could be a prelude to the dissolution of the federation that has spearheaded the labor movement since the '50s. A split nationally could fragment Ludlow's county federation and undermine its clout.
But Ludlow said Thursday he was confident that the local labor movement would remain strong.
"In Los Angeles, no matter what happens in Chicago, there is an absolute commitment by 98% of the labor leaders to not only stay united ... but also to bring in other organizations and unions who have not been part of the process," he said.
County federation President Rick Icaza, who heads United Food and Commercial Workers Local 770, said he, too, was committed to the organization, even if his national union leaves the AFL-CIO.
"We're going to work to keep the County Fed alive," Icaza said, referring to the organization by its abbreviated name. "We are the model."
Ludlow said he would also quickly turn his focus to the upcoming battle with Schwarzenegger.
The governor, whose stiffest opposition has come from unions representing teachers, nurses and other public employees, is championing efforts to curtail the power of the Legislature, which is currently dominated by Democrats close to organized labor, and to stiffen tenure requirements for teachers.
Also on the ballot will be a measure that would make it harder for public employees unions to use union dues for political campaigns.
"We're going to find solidarity with consumer groups, PTAs, Little Leagues," Ludlow said, calling the initiatives being pushed by Schwarzenegger "absolutely abhorrent."
In Los Angeles, Ludlow said he anticipates getting involved in two upcoming City Council races to fill the central Los Angeles seat he gave up and to fill the northeast seat vacated by Antonio Villaraigosa when he was elected mayor.
And he said he plans to work closely with Villaraigosa, a onetime labor organizer who won election despite failing to win the endorsement of the local federation, which backed Hahn.
Ludlow has close ties to the new mayor, having worked for him while he was in the state Legislature. He was also a strong supporter of Villaraigosa's mayoral bid.
Villaraigosa has recently taken pains to portray himself as a centrist, business-friendly leader. But Ludlow said he was unconcerned. "Antonio has working-class values," Ludlow said. "I'm not worried about the mayor turning his back."