Oral Histories

Interview of Justo Cuevas

Immigrant from Guatemala. Involved in the Service Employees International Union’s Justice for Janitors campaign.
Donde Haiga un Trabajador Explotado, Ahí Estaré Yo: Justice for Janitors' Workers, Organizers, and Allies
Social Movements
Labor Movement
Biographical Note:
Immigrant from Guatemala. Involved in the Service Employees International Union’s Justice for Janitors campaign.
Gomez, Andrew
Cuevas, Justo
Persons Present:
Cuevas and Gomez.
Place Conducted:
SEIU-USWW Local 1877 Union Hall in Los Angeles, California.
Supporting Documents:
Records relating to the interview are located in the office of the UCLA Library's Center for Oral History Research.
Interviewer Background and Preparation:
The interview was conducted by, Andrew Gomez, a Ph.D. student in UCLA’s history department with a specialization in United States working-class history. Gomez prepared for the interview by reading Tom Waldman’s Not Much Left: The Fate of Liberalism in America , David Halle’s New York & Los Angeles: Politics, Society, and Culture: A Comparative View , Raphael Sonenshein’s Politics in Black and White: Race and Power in Los Angeles , Ruth Milkman’s L.A. story: Immigrant Workers and the Future of the U.S. Labor Movement , Lydia Savage’s Justice for Janitors in Los Angeles and various archival articles from the Los Angeles Times .
Processing of Interview:
The transcript is a verbatim transcription of the recording. It was transcribed by a professional transcribing agency using a list of proper names and specialized terminology supplied by the interviewer. Cuevas was then given an opportunity to review the transcript but made no corrections or additions.
1 hr.
Regents of the University of California, UCLA Library.
Series Statement:
This series documents the Justice for Janitors movement in Los Angeles from the 1980s through the early 2000s. Justice for Janitors is a labor organization of the Service Employees International Union that has historically sought to improve the working conditions and bargaining power of workers in the janitorial services industry. The movement has taken various forms in different cities, with Los Angeles serving as the largest center of activity. By including interviews with labor organizers, politicians, and rank-and-file members, the series aims to offer a comprehensive picture of the Justice for Janitors movement in Los Angeles. In addition to documenting Justice for Janitors, the series also explores many of the participants' experiences in Central America before immigrating to the U.S. and interviewees' involvement in other facets of the labor movement in the U.S. and Central America. This project was generously supported by Arcadia funds.
Early life in Antigua, Guatemala—Memories of growing up very poor—Family life and occupations—Extreme poverty and the consequence of not having a childhood—Memories of working odd jobs as a child—Working in a bakery and early experiences in a union—Union-based activities dating back to 1950 in Guatemala—Unions in Guatemala and the threat of violence from business owners —Union battles over seven-day work week and overtime—Memories of Guatemalan Civil Wars—Decision to move to the United States in 1987—Los Angeles in the late 1980s and Cuevas' neighborhood in South Los Angeles—Employment in janitorial work from the moment he arrived in Los Angeles—Introduction to the union through Ana Navarrete in 1990—Century City marches of 1990 and 1991—Service Employees International Union (SEIU) strike of 2000—The union as a place of community—Mike Garcia and his leadership in SEIU/USWW (United Service Workers West) Local 1877—New contract negotiations and the future of the union—The labor movement and the contemporary immigrant rights movement.