Black Los Angeles: American Dreams and Racial Realities

By Darnell Hunt; Ana-Christina Ramón | Go to book overview

Chapter 15
A Common Project for a Just Society
Black Labor in Los Angeles

Edna Bonacich, Lola Smallwood Cuevas, Lanita Morris, Steven Pitts, and Joshua Bloom

On September 7, 2007, a standing-room-only reception was held in the lobby of the Los Angeles Sentinel.1 The energized scene included Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles), Kwanzaa founder and chair of the US Organization Maulana Karenga,2 and the activist Rev. Eric Lee, head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference3 (SCLC) of Greater Los Angeles. They had come together to honor the appointment of Faith Culbreath, an African American firebrand from Detroit, as president of a newly formed security officers union.

“I am here because of you,” were the first words uttered by the impressive thirty-something woman. As the new leader of the Service Employees International Unions (SEIU)4 highly financed campaign—which was one of the largest national organizing drives of black men in decades—Culbreath spoke not only with humility; her statement also was a loud testament to the complex relationship between labor and Black Los Angeles in the first decade of the 2000s.

Consider that many of the community leaders attending the reception had used their political and moral capital over the past six years to organize the workers of a security union called SEIU Security Officers United in Los Angeles (SOULA) Local 2006. They had mounted a vigorous fight against Los Angeles commercial building owners who contracted with security firms notorious for paying low wages and offering unaffordable healthcare. The community leaders had participated at key junctures of

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