Kent Wong

Director, UCLA Center for Labor Research & Education and Chair, LAANE Board of Directors

As we celebrate the 30th anniversary of LAANE, we acknowledge LAANE’s historic role in the transformation of Los Angeles labor.  This is especially crucial at a time of unprecedented worker upsurge, and when Los Angeles has emerged as a focal point of the new American labor movement.  

In 1991, Gilda Haas and I launched the Community Scholars program at UCLA, an initiative to bring together labor and community activists and UCLA students to conduct research on economic justice.  The very first research project centered on the tourism industry of Los Angeles, in partnership with the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees #11 (HERE #11).  The report, entitled “Accidental Tourism,” addressed the extreme disparity between the major corporations who profit from tourism and the workers on the front lines who make poverty wages.  

HERE #11 President Maria Elena Durazo used this report to launch a new non-profit organization called the Tourism Industry Development Council, that was later renamed the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy.  Maria Elena was elected as the first President of the board, and I served as the Secretary.  Madeline Janis was recruited as the first Executive Director, who did phenomenal work to launch and build an organization that has steadily grown in scope and impact over the years.  In 2012, the talented Roxana Tynan assumed leadership over LAANE, and its extraordinary multi-racial and multi-generational staff.  

LAANE’s contribution has been to coalesce an eco-system that has aligned unions with broader social justice movements.  Over the past three decades, LAANE has skillfully combined research, policy, and organizing.  These three pillars of their work have established a national model of movement building, and LAANE has inspired union-aligned non-profit organizations across the country through work with the network “PowerSwitch Action.”

LAANE has partnered with the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, UNITE HERE, the United Food and Commercial Workers, the United Teachers of Los Angeles, the Service Employees International Union, and the Teamsters, among others.  These partnerships have brought enhanced research, policy, and organizing capacity to unions, and have engaged union leaders to expand their vision of what the labor movement can and must accomplish to win.  

LAANE advanced the “Living Wage” movement to secure L.A.’s place at the forefront of the national fight for economic justice, and against economic inequality.  LAANE helped to popularize “Community Benefits Agreements” in urban development projects to advance community-based demands for local hire provisions, affordable housing, greening the environment, and a living wage.

The work of LAANE has also expanded the geographic reach of Los Angeles labor.  LAANE has worked closely with the labor movement to mobilize grassroots campaigns in Santa Monica and Long Beach that have shifted the balance of power in those cities.  Through the launch of the Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice, LAANE has built lasting partnerships with faith-based organizations to bolster a spiritual and moral framework to labor’s agenda. 

We are entering a period of vibrant growth of union organizing and working-class struggle.  From public schools and higher education, fast food and the gig economy, and companies as diverse as Starbucks and Amazon, we are witnessing a new generation of young people, women, and workers of color organizing to challenge corporate greed and economic inequality.  LAANE is needed now more than ever to continue to advance research, policy, and organizing to grow the U.S. labor movement, and to secure a better future for generations to come.