Oral Histories

Interview of Peter Olney

Director of organizing for the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and associate director of the University of California’s Institute for Labor and Employment. 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
Gomez, Andrew
Olney, Peter
Persons Present:
Olney and Gomez.
Place Conducted:
Gomez's apartment in West 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. Olney 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. Olney provided the biographical information.
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 to the present day. 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.
Olney’s roots in the Boston area—Remembering his middle-class neighborhood and his parents—His family's history with the Unitarian Church—Father's view of the labor movement—Memories of his anti-war stance in high school—Entering Harvard University and being radicalized during a study abroad in Italy—Dropping out after study abroad and entering the industrial work force—Organizing in different factories and the issue of legitimacy—Moving to California in 1983 and working at Los Angeles Coalition Against Plant Shutdowns—His early memories of Los Angeles and his excitement at the Latino labor movement—His time at UCLA for an MBA—Working to organize garment workers in Los Angeles—Being recruited into Justice for Janitors in 1991—Working with Jesus Jimenez and the importance of immersing yourself in a community when organizing—Reasons for Justice for Janitor victories and the way the movement is remembered—The importance of organizing around existing assets and the concept of Fortress Unionism—The creation of Los Angeles Manufacturing Action Project and its affiliation with the AFL-CIO—Moving to San Francisco to join the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and the Institute for Labor and Employment—Differences between organizing in Los Angeles and the Bay Area—Contemporary labor movement and its affiliation with the Occupy Movement and the Immigrant Rights Movement—Recent history of relationship between unions and immigrant workers by looking at the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 and Proposition 187 in 1994—Future of the labor movement and comparing the port truckers in Los Angeles/Long Beach and the recent BART strike—The challenges of organizing non-union service workers and winning the battle of public perception.