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North County union representatives discuss Labor Day state of play

REGION — For most, Labor Day is a day off and a time to recline, barbeque or spend time with family as summer winds to an end. But for those involved in organized labor unions, it’s also a time to celebrate gains, mourn losses and plan for the future.

Within North County, the epicenter of the labor movement resides within the North County Labor Alliance, a consortium of area labor unions which meets monthly to discuss common issues. The Alliance, too, serves as a key endorsement for those running for elected office in the region. Members of the group include teachers unions in both K-12 and higher education, trade unions and public sector unions.

Teresa Laughlin — co-chair of the Alliance, co-president of the Palomar Faculty Federation union and an economics professor at Palomar College — said the Alliance started as a means of teaming up on common regional concerns. A symbol of the Alliance’s wide regional reach, Laughlin’s co-chair is Paula Orbaugh, a vice president of the Oceanside Teachers Association.

“We all have common shared concerns with working people and how working people are treated by management,” Laughlin said. “Each of us support one another in our own goals for our own shops.”

One of the times the group coalesced in a very public way was on Black Friday in 2014. On that day, the Alliance protested in front of a Walmart in Vista to demand a $15 minimum wage for the store’s workforce.

Laughlin credited Palomar College mathematics professor and Palomar Faculty Federation member and Shannon Linehart for her role in creating the Alliance as the regional cousin to the San Diego Labor Council.

Today, Laughlin said a major upcoming focus for the union is who it will endorse in the San Diego County Board of Supervisors District 3 race.

“The supervisors have a lot of power over procedure, in a way, over a lot of different organizations,” said Laughlin. “And so, you want somebody who will have a perspective of someone who will at least be understanding of the labor perspective and listen to the labor perspective, instead of turning a deaf ear to us.”

She also said that, outside of the electoral arena, the Alliance also will aim to ensure that retraining takes place for those jobs that are lost and those which arise due to climate action and regulations. Housing affordability, Laughlin added, is also a mainstay concern of the Alliance.

Another union with a North County footprint is Service Employees International Union (SEIU) 221, which maintains its office in the Kearny Mesa area of San Diego. SEIU 221 represents several thousand public employees, such as city staff in Encinitas, those employed by Head Start school programs, San Diego County employees, as well as classified employees — such as janitors and clerical workers — within the Fallbrook and Grossmont school districts.

Carrying more clout and having more members and money on-hand than the Labor Alliance, SEIU made a major splash when in June it endorsed Democrat Terra Lawson-Remer for the San Diego County Board of Supervisors District 3 race. So far, the union’s political action committee (PAC) has given $70,000 to Lawson-Remer for the primary race, which will take place on March 3.

David Lagstein, political director for SEIU 221, said that beyond the District 3 race, the union is closely following the city of San Diego mayoral race, the San Diego County Board of Supervisor District 1 race ensuing in the South Bay and the race for the 50th Congressional District currently occupied by U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Alpine). Part of the 50th Congressional District sits in Escondido.

In a post on Facebook on Labor Day, the union pointed to a recent Gallup poll showing that public support for labor unions is at its highest in 15 years as a hopeful sign for the future.

“As Labor Day turns 125, we should reflect on what working families can do together — including creating a national holiday to honor the hard work of ordinary people,” wrote David Garcias, president of SEIU 221. “People are realizing that many of the problems that we are now facing, including income inequality and the U.S. pay gap for women and black and brown workers, are made worse by declining union membership.”