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Thousands attend downtown L.A. labor rally

Police estimate 5,000 to 8,000 teachers, nurses, Teamsters, electricians, actors and others marched to support their peers in Wisconsin and oppose any similar organized-labor restrictions in California.

March 27, 2011|By Kurt Streeter, Los Angeles Times
  • Rigo Valdez leads United Food and Commercial Workers members in a chant as they march from the Los Angeles Convention Center to Pershing Square on Saturday.
Rigo Valdez leads United Food and Commercial Workers members in a chant… (Christina House, For The…)

Alarmed by recent union losses in a Wisconsin labor battle, thousands of organized workers marched through downtown Los Angeles on Saturday, vowing to fight a similar fate here in cash-strapped California.

Police estimated between 5,000 and 8,000 people attended the protest, which ended in a packed rally at Pershing Square. The event comes in response to the Wisconsin Legislature's approval of a bill this month that curtails the collective bargaining rights of many unions and follows a weeks-long battle.

Marchers cheered speakers such as Teamsters General President James P. Hoffa; Maria Elena Durazo, secretary-treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor; and Mahlon Mitchell, president of the Professional Fire Fighters of Wisconsin.

The Wisconsin bill, which was signed by Republican legislators without the support of Democrats, exempted firefighters and other public safety workers. However, Mitchell told the crowd that his union still opposes the action.

"This is a direct attack" on all unions and the entire middle class, Mitchell shouted, warning that similar policies could soon be introduced by politicians in California, which is grappling with an estimated $26-billion deficit. "An injury to one is an injury to us all!"

Mitchell's words were met with loud cheers, chants and beating drums. Flags and placards waved in the air, many of them bashing wealthy corporations and conservative politicians.

Protester Ruben Najara, 49, said he has been working at the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power for just over two decades. A Covina resident who holds an associate's degree from a trade college, Najara said the union job has given him a secure, working-class life and the ability to comfortably raise three children.

He said he fears that on the heels of the Wisconsin law, union collective bargaining power will be steadily eroded throughout the country. "We are willing to make concessions," he said. "But you have to have two sides at the table to bargain."

The march began just outside Staples Center, which served as a staging area for thousands of union members. Leading much of the procession was a sea of burly, black-shirted Teamsters. Behind them, stretching back several city blocks, were nurses, telephone technicians, electricians, truckers, screenwriters, actors, longshoremen, teachers and others.

Among those who showed up to voice support were a group of parents whose children attend Eagle Rock Elementary — a facility they said suffered from inadequate funding.

"Enough is enough," said Amanda Millet, who has two kids at the school. "This year we stand to lose some of our best teachers, the very best. It's amazing that the teachers and their union are being blamed for what is happening with the economy right now.... I see a lot of very nice new buildings housing the LAUSD administration. They should get out of those offices and see what's happening at a school like ours, a place that needs to keep all the good teachers it can."

kurt.streeter@latimes.com

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