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  Association 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.


  The 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.


  The 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.


  Chris 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 wages.

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!


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