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Spotlight on coalition building

Janel Bailey, LA Black Worker Center, and Aquilina Soriano Versoza, Pilipino Worker Center

In this post, leaders from the worker rights movement share insights from their efforts to advance rights and protections for California’s workers. Read more conversations with leaders here.

The pandemic and movements for racial justice have primed this as a potentially game-changing moment in coalition building. The Worker Equity Initiative (WEI) is one such push to translate input from labor, workforce, and worker rights leaders into policy recommendations as the state recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic. We talked with two leaders in the WEI, Janel Bailey, Co-Director of the Los Angeles Black Worker Center (LABWC), and Aquilina Soriano Versoza, Executive Director of the Pilipino Workers Center of Southern California, about the opportunities — and their hopes.

The James Irvine Foundation (Irvine): Does this feel like a different or better time for results from coalition building?

Janel Bailey (JB): I don’t know if I can speak to different or better, but you see more sincere coalition building. People are coming to the table who don’t have time to be at the table, who you may not have seen come together before. Folks need each other and it’s very sincere.

Aquilina Soriano Versoza (ASV): There are more people really grounded in the needs and realities of marginalized communities that are working in the state and local government departments.

It’s been powerful to have a diverse coalition of worker centers and community legal organizations bringing their experience together with the Labor Commissioner’s Office. The impact we are having on the [care] industry is so much elevated from five years ago.

Irvine: Janel, how are you experiencing the WEI from the vantage point at LABWC?

JB: I’m excited that people are gaining clarity on how it benefits them to move toward pro-Blackness. I appreciate that [now U.S. Deputy Secretary of Labor] Julie Su said it was not just about being anti Black-racism, but being pro-Black. Because everyone benefits from that.

Irvine: Aqui, what does increasing equity look like for the Pilipinx worker community?

ASV: Equity looks like improving the working conditions and compensation of the jobs that [the Pilipinx worker community] are doing, like work in hospitality, home care, and restaurants. Additionally, our immigration system makes immigrants more vulnerable to exploitation. Equity for Pilipinx workers also looks like opening up all programs to all Californians no matter their immigration status.

Irvine: Is there any progress the WEI has made that you can share? Is there anything you’re feeling hopeful about?

JB: It’s important that the main priority of the WEI is that change gets to the workers. It does no good to have a policy win that workers know nothing about.

ASV: What makes the WEI coalition so special is that we are able to talk directly with leadership and staff in the state workforce development programs and in the larger Department of Industrial Relations. WEI is also not thinking of ourselves as just an academic body…[we’re] dedicated to seeing that our visions of equity become a reality in the lives of workers and their families.