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National Hispanic Heritage Month Profiles: Linda Chavez-Thompson

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Throughout National Hispanic Heritage Month, the AFL-CIO will be profiling labor leaders and activists to spotlight the diverse contributions Hispanics and Latinos have made to our movement. Today’s profile features Linda Chavez-Thompson.

A second-generation American of Mexican descent, Chavez-Thompson grew up in Lubbock, Texas. An oft-told anecdote from her childhood told the story of a young Chavez-Thompson convincing her father that her mother should stay home and care for the household rather than working in the fields. She and her siblings threatened to walk off the job in support of her mother. Her father agreed and Chavez-Thompson got her first organizing victory.

In 1967, she started working as a secretary at the Laborers (LIUNA) local in Lubbock. As the only bilingual staff member, she soon became the union representative for Spanish-speaking LIUNA members. Before long, she was drafting grievances for workers and representing them in administrative proceedings.

Later, she moved to San Antonio and began working with AFSCME. In 1986, she began serving as a national vice president for the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement. Her accomplishments and hard work helped her become an international vice president of AFSCME in 1988, and in 1993, she was elected to serve as a vice president on the AFL-CIO Executive Council. In 1995, she won her election to become the federation’s first elected executive vice president. She was the first person of color to hold one of the AFL-CIO’s top three positions.

During her time as an AFL-CIO officer, Chavez-Thompson focused heavily on recruitment, particularly trying to convince more women and people of color to join unions. She also focused on teaching the importance of unions to young people. Even more successful were her efforts to partner with community groups in recruiting members and fighting back against anti-union efforts. She represented the federation and working people in a variety of organizations, including the National Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice, the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute, the United Way of America and the Democratic National Committee. She also was elected president of the Inter-American Regional Organization of Workers, a part of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions.

Chavez-Thompson retired from the AFL-CIO in 2007.

This blog originally appeared at AFL-CIO on October 15, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Kenneth  is a long-time blogger, campaign staffer and political activist whose writings have appeared on AFL-CIO, Daily Kos, Alternet, the Guardian Online, Media Matters for America, Think Progress, Campaign for America’s Future and elsewhere.


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National Hispanic Heritage Month Profiles: Henry L. ‘Hank’ Lacayo

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Throughout National Hispanic Heritage Month, the AFL-CIO will be profiling labor leaders and activists to spotlight the diverse contributions Hispanics and Latinos have made to our movement. Today’s profile features Henry L. “Hank” Lacayo.

A longtime staple of labor, political and academic circles in California, Henry L. “Hank” Lacayo was a force from his beginnings in the labor movement in the 1950s all the way up to his passing in 2017. He was born in Los Angeles in 1931 but moved to Mexico when he was young. He returned to California for high school. Upon graduating, he joined the Air Force. After his military service ended, Lacayo went to work at North American Aviation (later Rockwell International) in 1953. Within a few years, he not only became involved in UAW Local 887, he quickly rose to a full-time employee of the local and served as editor of its newspaper.

UAW President Walter P. Reuther encouraged Lacayo to continue his labor activism, and in 1962, he was elected president of Local 887, a position he held for 10 years. He represented more than 30,000 working people at Rockwell, both as union president and chief national negotiator for UAW-Rockwell contracts. His hard work led to an assistant director position for the UAW Western Region, covering nine states, along with serving as the region’s political director.

In 1974, he moved to Detroit to work at UAW’s national headquarters. He served as an administrative assistant to three UAW presidents and was appointed national director of the political and legislative department and later national director of the public relations and publications departments. He retired from the UAW in 1986 but continued in public life.

He created H.L. & Associates, a consulting firm representing clients in labor and management, government, community relations, senior citizen advocacy and international affairs. He actively participated in the California State University Channel Islands (CSUCI) institute that bears his name, the Henry L. “Hank” Lacayo Institute for Workforce & Community Studies. He also advised presidential administrations, from John F. Kennedy to Barack Obama. He devoted time to civic duties, including strengthening the Ventura County Community Foundation and establishing the Destino Hispanic Legacy Fund that provides scholarships and other funding to the Latino community. Lacayo received an honorary doctorate from CSUCI and was inducted into the Pacific Coast Business Times Hall of Fame in 2012.

This blog originally appeared at AFL-CIO on October 12, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Kenneth Quinnell is a long-time blogger, campaign staffer and political activist whose writings have appeared on AFL-CIO, Daily Kos, Alternet, the Guardian Online, Media Matters for America, Think Progress, Campaign for America’s Future and elsewhere.


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National Hispanic Heritage Month Profiles: Dora Cervantes

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Throughout National Hispanic Heritage Month, the AFL-CIO will be profiling labor leaders and activists to spotlight the diverse contributions Hispanics and Latinos have contributed to our movement. Today’s profile covers Dora Cervantes.

In nearly 30 years in the labor movement, Cervantes has participated in nearly every aspect of the fight for the rights of working people, and she has a distinguished career that is still going stronger than ever. Cervantes joined the labor movement in 1989, when she became a reservations agent for Southwest Airlines in Houston. Before long, she was an active member of Machinists (IAM) Local 2198, serving as an organizer, shop steward, recording secretary and then vice president.

After a decade of dedicated service, she was chosen to serve as an apprentice organizer for Air Transport District 142 and then became a general chairperson for the district the following year. Tom Buffenbarger, then-IAM international president, later appointed her to serve on IAM’s 2002 Blue Ribbon Commission. In the following years, she served as a special representative in the Transportation Department of the IAM Grand Lodge and then Grand Lodge representative.

In 2012, Cervantes was chosen to serve as assistant secretary to then-IAM General Secretary-Treasurer Robert Roach Jr. The next year, she became the first Hispanic woman to serve as a general vice president for IAM. In 2015, she became IAM’s 12th general secretary-treasurer, the first woman to direct the union’s finances. She continues in this capacity today.

She also serves as a national board member for the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement, is an active member of the Coalition of Labor Union Women, is a member of United Against Human Trafficking and is a trustee for the National IAM Benefit Trust Fund and the IAM National 401(k) Plan.

Cervantes holds a bachelor of arts degree in labor studies from the National Labor College and helps teach the Spanish leadership series for the William W. Winpisinger Education and Technology Center and the IAM-Aviation High School Partnership Program.

This article originally appeared at AFL-CIO on September 25, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Kenneth Quinnell is a long-time blogger, campaign staffer and political activist whose writings have appeared on AFL-CIO, Daily Kos, Alternet, the Guardian Online, Media Matters for America, Think Progress, Campaign for America’s Future and elsewhere.


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National Hispanic Heritage Month Profile of Labor Leader Ernesto Galarza

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Throughout National Hispanic Heritage Month, the AFL-CIO will be profiling labor leaders and activists to spotlight the diverse contributions Hispanics and Latinos have contributed to our movement. Today’s profile features Ernesto Galarza.

Ernesto Galarza was born in Jalcocotán, Nayarit, Mexico, in 1905 and immigrated to California with his family after the Mexican Revolution began. As a youth, he assisted his family during harvest season, gathering his first experience as a farmworker. Because he had learned English in school, other Mexican migrant workers asked him to speak to management about polluted drinking water, providing him with his first experience in organizing and activism.

Galarza attended Occidental College on a scholarship and worked summers as a farm laborer and cannery worker. After graduation, he attended Stanford University and earned a master’s degree in history and political science. He continued his graduate studies while on a fellowship at Columbia University, where several of his research reports were published. 

Because of his experiences and education, he began to focus his efforts on improving the living conditions of working-class Latinos. This led to him being hired by the Pan American Union (later the Organization of American States) as a research associate. When the union created a Division of Labor and Social Information, Galarza was chosen to lead it. 

In the late 1940s, he was recruited by the National Farm Labor Union, which later became the United Farm Workers, to be director of research and education. Over the next several years, he helped direct numerous strikes and fought back against “right to work” laws. He became a leading figure in exposing abuse of Mexican American workers in government. 

In the ensuing years, Galarza became a leading writer on the plight of Mexican and Mexican American workers and the abuse of farmworkers. During his career, he wrote more than 100 publications and was a professor at the University of Notre Dame, San Jose State University, University of California, San Diego, and University of California, Santa Cruz. 

As an activist, scholar and organizer, it is hard to overstate the impact Galarza had on working-class Mexican American families and our broader culture.

This blog originally appeared at AFL-CIO on September 21, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Kenneth Quinnell  is a long-time blogger, campaign staffer and political activist whose writings have appeared on AFL-CIO, Daily Kos, Alternet, the Guardian Online, Media Matters for America, Think Progress, Campaign for America’s Future and elsewhere.


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National Hispanic Heritage Month Pathway to Progress: The San Antonio Pecan Strike

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History has long been portrayed as a series of “great men” taking great action to shape the world we live in. In recent decades, however, social historians have focused more on looking at history “from the bottom up,” studying the vital role that working people played in our heritage. Working people built, and continue to build, the United States. In our new series, Pathway to Progress, we’ll take a look at various people, places and events where working people played a key role in the progress our country has made, including those who are making history right now. In honor of National Hispanic Heritage Month, today’s topic is the San Antonio pecan shellers strike.

In the 1930s, pecans grown in Texas accounted for half of all of the nation’s production. San Antonio was the center of the industry in Texas, as half the state’s commercial crop grew within 250 miles of the city. The dominant company was the Southern Pecan Shelling Co., which produced as much as one-third of the nation’s entire crop, depending on the year.

Working people in the industry faced low wages (averaging between $2 to $3 a week) and terrible working conditions. Shelling factories suffered from inadequate ventilation, poor illumination and a lack of indoor running water or toilets. The pecans produced a fine brown dust that contributed to diseases like tuberculosis. San Antonio had one of the highest rates of TB in the country as a result.

Owners had little or no regard for workers. One owner said: “The Mexicans don’t want much money. Compared to those shanties they live in, the pecan shelleries are fine. They are glad to have a warm place to sit in the winter. They can be warm while they’re shelling pecans, they can talk to their friends while they’re working…. If they get hungry they can eat pecans.”

Pecan shellers soon joined the International Pecan Shellers Union No. 172, a chapter of the United Cannery, Agricultural, Packing, and Allied Workers of America, which belonged to the newly formed Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO). On Jan. 31, 1938, the workforce of shellers, mostly Hispanic women, walked off the job. The 12,000 workers engaged in a three-month strike. The strike began after the Southern Pecan demanded pay cuts for the workers. Shellers, who had previously earned 6 or 7 cents a pound, saw their wages cut to 5 or 6 cents a pound. Crackers went from 50 cents per 100 pounds to 40 cents.

The strike was originally led by Emma Tenayuca, who was active in various efforts to combat discrimination against Mexican Americans. She joined the women’s auxiliary of the League of United Latin American Citizens in high school and was first arrested for protesting when she was 16. After high school, she worked several jobs, but her true calling was organizing. She began to organize with the Workers Alliance before later helping the pecan shellers.

Local officials were not happy about the strike. Police Chief Owen Kilday believed that the strike was part of a Communist plot to gain control of the west side of San Antonio. Tenayuca was arrested as soon as the strike started. Kilday said of her: “The Tenayuca woman is a paid agitator sent here to stir up trouble among the ignorant Mexican workers.” She was neither, her family had deep roots in San Antonio and her strike efforts were unpaid.

Other leaders feared that Mexican American laborers would become aware of their own power and would become more active. Protesters picketed over 400 local factories, but Kilday cracked down, eventually making more than 700 arrests. Gov. James Allred urged the Texas Industrial Commission to investigate the strike and the industry’s reaction and found that police interference with lawful assembly was unjustified.

In the end, both sides agreed to arbitration and the initial settlement was for a 7- to 8-cent wage. The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) was passed soon after that would establish a minimum wage of 25 cents an hour. The CIO was afraid that the big jump in wages would lead to massive layoffs, and they joined with employers to lobby Congress to give the pecan industry an exemption.The exemption was denied, however, and over the next three years, 10,000 shellers were replaced by machines. While the pecan strikers ultimately failed to sustain the industry, their efforts were pivotal in expanding both labor rights and justice for Hispanic working people, in Texas and beyond.

This blog was originally published by the AFL-CIO on October 15, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Kenneth Quinnell is a long-time blogger, campaign staffer and political activist. Before joining the AFL-CIO in 2012, he worked as labor reporter for the blog Crooks and Liars.


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The Labor Movement Celebrates National Hispanic Heritage Month

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Image: Mike Hall

According to the 2010 Census, 50.5 million people or 16% of the population are of Hispanic or Latino origin. This represents a significant increase from 2000, which registered the Hispanic population at 35.3 million or 13% of the total U.S. population.

Since its inception in 1972, LCLAA has remained a grassroots organization driven and directed by Latino labor leaders who understand the importance of unionization in helping workers secure rights and protections on the job, empowering them to become voices for justice and change in their communities. Here are some historic photos from LCLAA, including ones of César Chávez at the LCLAA Convention.

 National Hispanic Heritage Month (Sept. 15 to Oct. 15) honors the contributions made and the important presence of Hispanic and Latino Americans to the United States and celebrates their heritage and culture. The Labor Council for Latin American Advancement (LCLAA) is tweeting daily on milestones for Hispanic workers and Latino labor leaders. You also can find out more on its Facebook page.
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The AFL-CIO and LCLAA are co-hosting a reception Monday, Oct. 6, from 5–7:30 p.m. at 815 16th St., N.W., Washington, D.C. for National Hispanic Heritage Month. If you’re interested in attending, RSVP to Sara Walling.

This blog originally appeared in AFL-CIO Blog on September 29, 2014. Reprinted with permission. http://www.aflcio.org/Blog/Other-News/The-Labor-Movement-Celebrates-National-Hispanic-Heritage-Month

About the Author: Mike Hall is a former West Virginia newspaper reporter, staff writer for the United Mine Workers Journal and managing editor of the Seafarers Log. He came to the AFL- CIO in 1989 and have written for several federation publications, focusing on legislation and politics, especially grassroots mobilization and workplace safety. When his collar was still blue, he carried union cards from the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers, American Flint Glass Workers and Teamsters for jobs in a chemical plant, a mining equipment manufacturing plant and a warehouse. He also worked as roadie for a small-time country-rock band, sold my blood plasma and played an occasional game of poker to help pay the rent. You may have seen him at one of several hundred Grateful Dead shows. He was the one with longhair and the tie-dye. Still has the shirts, lost the hair.


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