Maria Elena Durazo, seen here at a rally at the Santa Monica Car Wash, told Town Hall Los Angeles her mission is to bring full-time workers out of poverty and into the middle class.
In her first speech since her candidate for Los Angeles Mayor was defeated, the head of the powerful Los Angeles County Federation of Labor told an audience of civic leaders Tuesday they need to close the city's growing economic divide.
“There’s an ever-widening gap in L.A. between the very wealthy and the workers who create that wealth," Durazo said at a lunchtime gathering of the group Town Hall Los Angeles.
Away from the podium, reporters asked her about Wendy Greuel's loss to Eric Garcetti in the race for mayor, despite $425,000 in spending by Durazo's group.
“Look, if I could predict ahead of an election what’s going to happen, that would be great. I’m not going to go back and try to undo what the process was at the time," she said. "We did what we did based on what the relationships were at the time between the candidates and the various unions.”
She said she doesn't regret the spending or choices. Three labor-endorsed candidates were elected to the Los Angeles City Council and City Attorney’s Office and another two won their school board races. But unions focused the most resources on Greuel.
“We just want to move forward on figuring out more fundamentally what do we do about middle class jobs in the city of L.A.,” she said.
In Los Angeles County, 28 percent of full-time, year-round workers make less than $25,000 a year, Durazo said, citing statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau.
“Instead of divisions backed on black or white or brown, as much as those remain, the separateness and inequality is now defined by the extremes of rich and poor,” Durazo said.
The goal of labor unions is to move those workers into the middle class and keep them there, she said. Doing so requires labor groups to support political candidates who in turn will support projects, like reforms in the trucking and waste management industries, which will help employees.
However, Durazo acknowledged to the audience that labor groups have not done a great job of communicating to the public what their members do. That often leaves unions open to criticism when it comes to issues like pay and benefits.
“Public sector workers have become an easy target and I think we have to do a better job of talking about the work that they do and not just through the leader of the union or the name of the union,” she said.
She pledged to work with Garcetti, but acknowledged she has yet to speak with him since he was elected three weeks ago.