By Rudy Gonzalez | Secretary-Treasurer
A Refreshing Breakfast
Labor Day weekend was a time to celebrate, and this council kicked it off with a flourish.
On Friday, September 1, we gathered with unionists representing nearly every trade and craft from across economic segments at the Intercontinental Hotel in SOMA for the time-honored tradition we call the San Francisco Labor Council Pre-Labor Day Breakfast. Credit is due to SFLC Executive Director Kim Tavaglione, who has really put her stamp on this event.
Sure, the place was crawling with elected officials of all stripes — from school commissioners to the attorney general of California — and yes, elbows were certainly rubbing and being rubbed. For better or worse, a good deal of schmoozing is a big part of this time-honored tradition.
But the 2023 breakfast marked a distinct shift. This year, the political mucky-mucks sat in their seats and, with the exception of the traditional mayoral-greeting-that-gradually-morphs-into-campaign-speech, it was they who were the intended audience this time — not us.
Teamster leaders spoke about their fight to win Assembly Bill 316 and urged the governor to stand with human safety operators in massive autonomous commercial vehicles. Screen actors and post-doc graduate union leaders briefed the crowd on their strikes and struggles against the greed and disrespect of their bosses. Even the teachers got the microphone and, after quieting the room like the experts they are, put SFUSD on notice that it risks flunking out if it doesn’t clean up its act and deal with the $1 million in back pay owed to our 73 members working in facilities across the district.
So, this was a different kind of labor breakfast. It was squarely focused on workers and our union-led campaigns. It was as refreshing as the union-served coffee at the event.
Kudos, again, to Tavaglione for giving us our marching orders, for using the photo ops to tactically wrangle electeds into appearing in snapshots with our signs, and for convincing those same electeds to endorse Senate Bill 799, which gives striking workers access to their own hard-earned unemployment insurance.
SB 799 passed on Thursday, September 14. Every member and every leader an organizer indeed!
Hispanic Heritage? Huh?
Friday, September 15, marks the beginning of National Hispanic Heritage Month… or Week… or something like that. President Lyndon B. Johnson signed a law. In fact, Nixon and Carter — and, hell, even Reagan — all issued proclamations in honor of “National Hispanic Heritage.” None of those guys were Hispanic, as far as any of us know.
So, why? And why does this commemorative month start in the middle, on the 15th? Well, it just so happens that I’m Hispanic, so let me take a crack at answering these mysterious questions.
I learned that this month was meant to commemorate the Cry of Dolores, the hallowed occasion in 1810 on which a Catholic priest named Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla rang his church bell in Dolores, Mexico, to signal the call to arms that kicked off the Mexican War of Independence. (This occurred on September 16, but I guess it’s just easier to dial it back one day and start smack-dab in the middle of the month.)
The war was a direct result of Spanish colonial presence in Mexico and other colonies in Central America that are now the nations of Guatemala, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua.
The real person who secured this month of cultural awareness and celebration was a United Auto Workers organizer from East Los Angeles named Esteban Torres. He was a champion for Latino issues who was brought to the U.S. as a child by his Mexican-born parents. Even after his new country deported his father when he was a little boy, Torres would decide to serve in the U.S. Army during the Korean War.
He went on to live a long and storied life, serving as a U.S. ambassador, congressman, and community leader. He died on January 27 of last year. Scan the QR code on this page to read an NBC news piece on him.
I believe National Hispanic Heritage Month is the perfect opportunity to celebrate the strength that our diversity brings to our unions. The stories of immigrants seeking the American dream and fighting their way into the middle class are the very stories of our own labor movement.
This month is special to me because I get to reflect on my own family stories, like that of my Grandpa Gonzalez. After serving in World War II, he became a migrant farmworker in the Midwest before coming to California to work the crops here. He headed up north and hustled his way into both a union barbershop job and a janitorial position at UC Berkeley.
My grandfather was the proudest American I ever knew, yet he retained so much of our Mexican tradition. He centered his life on his family. To hear it from him, the life that he built was the American Dream in action. With only a sixth-grade education, he was able to own a home and a business, to raise three kids, and to provide for Abuela and himself until his last day.
Finally, I offer congratulations to Cassondra Curiel, president of United Educators of San Francisco (AFT Local 61). She is rightfully being honored at the City of San Francisco's annual Latino Heritage Celebration and Awards Ceremony this year for her civic leadership and steadfast representation of her membership.
¡Felicidades, Hermana Cassondra!hr>
Scan to read about labor organizer and political leader Esteban Torres, who created National Hispanic Heritage Month. Or click here.