Back in 2018, when I was writing my book, Beaten Down, Worked Up — which discusses how America’s unions and workers were taking it on the chin — I wanted to end the book on an upbeat note. So I decided to conclude with chapters that highlighted four groups that have had the most success in lifting workers, and here I’m not talking about lifting 500 or 1,000 workers, but tens of thousands of workers. I immediately decided that LAANE should be one of the groups I focused on because LAANE is a model in so many ways.
In its 30-year history, LAANE not only has shown an extraordinary knack for coming up innovative ideas to help a wide swath of workers, but has also displayed an extraordinary ability to mobilize people across L.A. to turn those ideas into reality. LAANE was instrumental in winning enactment of one of the nation’s first and most far-reaching living-wage laws. It orchestrated passage of an innovative $15.37 minimum wage for the city’s hotel workers, and later played a huge role in getting L.A. to enact a $15 minimum wage. LAANE got L.A.’s transit authority to hire more African Americans on once-segregated construction projects.
LAANE spearheaded efforts to get the city to enact a Fair Workweek law, which has helped bring stability and predictability to the lives of 70,000 retail workers, whose lives were often plagued by herky-jerky schedules that changed vastly from week to week, often with little advance notice. LAANE formed a pioneering labor-environmentalist coalition that cut truck pollution by 90 percent at the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles and that later substantially truck pollution from L.A.’s waste-hauling industry. In Beaten Down, Worked Up, I write, “Of all the local worker advocacy groups in the nation, LAANE has been the most effective in allying itself with green groups to help both workers and the environment.”
Not bad for a group that was founded with $60,000 and Madeline Janis as its sole employee. It now has 35 employees and a $4.5 million budget, and its efforts have helped over 500,000 workers.
LAANE has been powered by three extraordinary women: Maria-Elena Durazo, a co-founder, Madeline Janis, its first executive director, and Roxana Tynan, its current executive director. Both of LAANE’s executive directors, Janis and Tynan, are extraordinary and inspiring. L.A. and its workers have benefited greatly because LAANE’s two executive directors have been so expert at strategizing, mobilizing, building alliances, pushing boundaries, writing well-researched reports, explaining things to the media, and speaking movingly and convincingly, whether at a city council hearing, a rally of port truck drivers, or a $5,000-a-table fund-raiser that includes Hollywood stars.
Working with its brilliant staff and many community partners, LAANE has done wonders to help put the city’s and county’s economy on a smarter, better and more equitable track. LAANE has changed L.A. It has lifted L.A. I have long thought that if every major American city had a group as innovative and effective as LAANE, this would be a very different, and much better, country.