of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN)!
During the ACORN 4th Year Anniversary Celebration Banquet this
year, Board member Chris Jones presented the "People's Leader
of the Year" award to California Assemblymember Darrell Steinberg.
During the introduction, Chris said of Steinberg: "When I first
met him, I thought "he must live in my neighborhood-- he always
knows what's going on there!" and "the man is always doing
something for people--he never sleeps!"
This tribute could also be said of Chris Jones and ACORN. I can't
think of a progressive political action event in the last year that
hasn't had Chris as one of the main participants.. If it's a meeting
with a city councilperson, Chris is at the table. If it's a picket
line to support fired workers at a convalescent home, Chris is on
the line and behind the megaphone. Living Wage Rally-- he helped
organize it. The list goes on.
As awards were presented and speakers introduced, it became clear
that Sacramento ACORN had, in addition to its many other accomplishments,
inspired an impressive number of progressive activists and admirable
politicians to join the celebration. ACORN honored its many good
friends on this occasion, and was honored equally in return for
its hard work in the community.
Vizcaya Pavilion is not where ACORN usually meets, but it was a very
splendid location for the celebration of good people doing good things.
During a conversation with Agustin Ramirez, Jack Wyatt (ILWU) and
Lydia Bone (former ILWU, now SEIU Local 250), the subject of Harry
Bridges, founder of the ILWU, came up, and I wondered how Bridges
had come to add warehousemen to what would seem a dock workers'
union. "He was a longshoreman, but he went inland to organize
the warehousemen because he wanted to protect the ILWU's back!"
Jack Wyatt said.
Last Fall, after a major labor dispute involving strikes, lock-outs
and invocation of the Taft-Hartley Act, the ILWU won a six year
contract that gained jurisdiction over port computer technology,
maintained 100 percent employer-paid health care benefits, and increased
pension rates. The jurisdiction over port computer technology is
particularly important because it "protects the back"
of the ILWU as port technology changes.
SEIU Local 250 table. Shown here are members from the Home Health
and Hospital Division. Local 250 has worked with ACORN on the Living
Wage Campaign and has lobbied with them to convince state legislators
not to make cuts in health care services.
Jones, Board member of ACORN described how he came to join ACORN.
Somebody from ACORN arrived at his door and asked if he needed help
with any of the problems in his neighborhood. He got talked into going
to an ACORN meeting and the next thing he knew, a city official was
at his door telling him his street qualified for speed bumps. This
quick attention from the city in response to ACORN action inspired
Chris,and the rest is history...."It opened our eyes and minds
to what we could do!"
ACORN presented a Labor Leader of the Year award to Arturo Rodriguez,
president of the United Farm Workers of America. I think that the
last time Arturo visited the Vizcaya Pavilion (site of this dinner),
he was marching PAST it during the "March for the Governor's
Signature" in August of 2002. That 165 mile march from Merced
to Sacramento was undertaken to pressure Governor Davis to sign
legislation that would require mediation for farm labor contracts.
The legislation passed (in modified form), giving farm workers a
better chance at winning contracts with good benefits and livable
Arturo (seen here with a smudge of Ash Wednesday ash on his forehead),
accepted the award and started his speech by thanking the waiters
who had served us all at this ACORN dinner. We' re all serving someone
in our various jobs, and it's good to extend appreciation to whoever's
in the serving position at the moment.
In thanking ACORN for the Labor Leader award, Arturo noted that
ACORN does its work without a contract-- they work for change in
their communities by exerting moral and legal pressure, but unlike
a Union, have no contract with any agency. "We extend the organizing
hat of the farmworkers to ACORN!" he said as he commended them
for their work.
In closing, Arturo alerted the audience to events in the UFW. The
Western Growers Association and the California Farm Bureau Federation
have sued to block California's recent farm labor mediation law,
claiming that it illegally empowers a state mediator to write farm
labor contracts. The new labor law went into effect on January 1,
2003, and the ALRB is in the process of writing a set of regulations
for it which could be in place by mid April. It is unknown at this
time what effect the Western Growers lawsuit will have, but a new
"Si, se puede" campaign on the part of farmworkers may
be coming up!