Oral Histories

Interview of Manuela Ramos

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
Ramos, Manuela
Persons Present:
Ramos 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 and 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. Ramos was then given an opportunity to review the transcript and made a number of corrections and additions. Those corrections were entered into the text without further editing or review on the part of the Center for Oral History Research staff. Ramos provided the biographical information.
2 hrs.
Interviewee Retained Copyright
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 memories of family and life in Guatemala—Raised by grandparents due to mother passing away when Ramos was three and a father that abandoned the family—Limited contact with father but was aware that he was a train mechanic for United Fruit Company—Distinct memories of Bananera as a United Fruit Company town—Bananera's strict racial and class divisions—Memories of father being in a labor union (Partido Guatemalteco de los Trabajadores-PGT) during Jacobo Arbenz's time as leader of Guatemala—Jacobo Arbenz and the coup of 1954—Persecution of PGT when Carlos Castillo Armas took power—Memories of hearing battles between Honor Guard and Army of Liberation—Decision to become a nurse and early experience in working in Guatemalan hospitals—Decision to move to Los Angeles after a friend convinced her—Difficulty in finding work when she first entered the United States and early work as a housekeeper—Relatively easy process of acquiring her legalization papers and Green Card—Memories of her early admiration of the United States when she was a girl in Guatemala due to magazines and television—Losing housekeeping jobs to Salvadorans in the early 1980s as they start fleeing the Salvadoran Civil War—Beginning to work as a janitor in Westwood—Memories of janitorial work force in early 1980s as overwhelmingly African-American with very few Latinos—The practice of cleaning companies firing janitors before they were able to join unions—Pleasant experience working with African-Americans because she was accustomed to living around and socializing with peoples of African descent in Guatemala.
Memories of her first janitor strike in 1976—Musings on early union involvement and that the relationship between the union and workers was not very strong—SEIU (Service Employees International Union) appears after years of buildings increasingly moving to non-union contractors—Importance of organizer Doris Boyd helping workers with immigration problems, work related issues, and organizing—By late 1980s, janitor work force is increasingly Latino due to influx of workers from Mexico and Central America—Fear undocumented workers had about joining the union or appearing subversive—Memories of 1990 Justice for Janitors strike in Century City, did not participate but was shocked by the police brutality—Becomes increasingly involved with union activity in light of 1990 strikes and various injustices in her workplace—Social Security scams used by employers and threats of firing workers over union activity—2000 Justice for Janitors strike and her participation in the major march—Thoughts on being a woman in the union and the belief that class struggles made gender differences less important—Tricks companies would use to pit workers against unions—Mike Garcia's arrival as the leader of the SEIU local in Los Angeles—Switch from SEIU Local 399 to SEIU Local 1877—Explanation of why she remains active in the union even after retirement—Current struggles in the labor movement while in a recession—Overview of her proudest accomplishments while working in the union.