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Ludlow Is Likely to Be Labor Chief

The L.A. councilman is the front-runner to replace the late Miguel Contreras in the influential union federation post.

June 07, 2005|Patrick McGreevy and Steve Hymon | Times Staff Writers

City Councilman Martin Ludlow has emerged as the leading contender to head the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, the powerful union organization that was left leaderless with the sudden death of Miguel Contreras.

Rick Icaza, president of the county federation, said Monday that he has called a special closed session of the executive board for today to ask the panel to recommend the executive secretary-treasurer's job be offered to Ludlow.

"He's got my support," Icaza said. "I'm really excited about the potential of him coming on board."

Icaza is so confident the board will approve Ludlow, an ally of Mayor-elect Antonio Villaraigosa, that he and other labor leaders have scheduled a noon news conference to announce their pick.

The next head of the federation, which represents 345 local unions with 800,000 members, will take over an organization that is struggling to maintain its influence in Southern California. Organized labor suffered a significant setback last year when the supermarket strike failed to win the concessions that union leaders demanded.

If the executive board recommends the first-term councilman, more than 300 federation delegates would vote June 20 on Ludlow, and the board would vote once more to ratify it, said Icaza, who is also the president of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 770.

Ludlow, the federation's former political director, is seriously considering whether to resign his council position and accept the job if it is offered, sources said. With the behind-the-scenes maneuvering still playing out, the councilman would not comment.

Herb Wesson, the former state Assembly speaker, is reportedly considering a run for Ludlow's seat if he takes the labor job.

Others who have been mentioned as possible contenders for county federation chief include Charles Lester, who is the acting secretary-treasurer of the federation, and Tyrone Freeman, president of Service Employees International Union Local 434B, which represents homecare workers.

However, in a widely distributed e-mail, Mike Garcia, the head of Service Employees International Union Local 1877, wrote that Lester had agreed Monday not to compete with Ludlow.

"This leaves an open road for Martin Ludlow. We had garnered over 70% support for Martin," Garcia wrote.

A two-thirds vote is needed to give Ludlow the job.

Among those pressing Ludlow to take the influential job, union sources said, is Maria Elena Durazo, Contreras' widow and the president of Unite Here Local 11, which represents hotel workers and others.

Contreras, who is credited with building the federation into a powerful political force in the county, died at 52 from a heart attack on May 6.

Garcia, Lester and Freeman did not return calls for comment.

Freeman was an outspoken supporter of Mayor James K. Hahn's unsuccessful run for reelection.

Ludlow has been getting calls from labor leaders urging him to go after the job. "He is an organizer at heart, and it takes a very dynamic approach, which he is capable of, to resolve conflicts and bring people together," said Fred Lowe, business manager of Laborers Local 777 and a Ludlow supporter.

For Ludlow to be considered, the federation might have to change a rule that requires the head to have served for at least the last three months as a delegate, said to Jim Hilfenhaus, spokesman for Laborers Local 300. "I think they will try to change the bylaws," he said.

Icaza said the federation needs a strong leader to counter moves by labor activists at the national level that could reduce funding and scale back the membership of federations.

The county federation has had some successes in recent years, including the election of Ludlow and Villaraigosa to the City Council. However, Contreras and the federation backed Hahn for reelection last month, only to see many of the group's members desert their leaders and vote for Villaraigosa.

Given that it backed the losing candidate for mayor, hiring Ludlow, who is a close ally of Villaraigosa, could be a smart move by the federation, said Dan McCrory, president of the Communications Workers Local 9503 and another Ludlow supporter.

"He's a dynamic person and we wouldn't have to go through all the kissing and making up for backing the wrong candidate," McCrory said.

Others said the move to hire Ludlow, who is African American, could create some internal tension.

"He would not represent the majority of workers active right now, which are Hispanics," said Jack Kyser, senior vice president of the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp.

But some Latino activists, who praised Ludlow for working closely with their community over the years, said Ludlow's ethnicity is not an issue. They said his appointment would be a logical next step in building a political coalition between African American and Latino leaders, many of whom worked together to elect Villaraigosa.

"In no way are we bothered," said Nativo V. Lopez, president of the Mexican American Political Assn. "He is competent to do the job."

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