Oral Histories

Interview of Ernesto Guerrero

Immigrant from Mexico. Union organizer and leader of the Service Employees International Union’s Justice for Janitors campaign in San Diego.
Donde Haiga un Trabajador Explotado, Ahí Estaré Yo: Justice for Janitors' Workers, Organizers, and Allies
Social Movements
Labor Movement
Biographical Note:
Immigrant from Mexico. Union organizer and leader of the Service Employees International Union’s Justice for Janitors campaign in San Diego.
Gomez, Andrew
Guerrero, Ernesto
Persons Present:
Gomez and Guerrero.
Place Conducted:
SEIU-UHW Union Hall in Commerce, 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. Guerrero 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.
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.
Being born in Mexico City and parents' work—Parents movie into working at the Instituto Mexicano del Seguro Social (IMSS)—Father's work as a shop steward at IMSS—Labor organizing in Mexico as opposed to Central America—Father's involvement with the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI)—Remembering his displeasure at politics as a child—Memories of growing up in Mexico City in the 1970s—Organizing his first strike in middle school—Going to business school—Organizing a strike against the porras problem while at college—Family history in the United States and his grandfather's involvement in the Bracero program—Deciding to move to the United States—Working at a sweatshop in downtown Los Angeles—Remembering other immigrants and feeling alienated in Los Angeles—Becoming the manager of the sweatshop and feeling conflicted about the labor practices at the factory—Deciding to leave the sweatshop and work as a truck driver for Guerrero Tortilla Company—The poor wages and working conditions for drivers lead him to decide to try and organize his fellow drivers—Meeting with the Teamsters and Union-busting campaign and ultimate recognition of the union—Working as a shop steward—Going on strike in 1996 and being assisted by Peter Olney and the Los Angeles Manufacturing Action Project—Winning the strike and deciding to work for the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).
Beginning with the SEIU in 1998—Working for a brief time with steelworkers of SEIU Local 2028—Comparing Los Angeles and San Diego in terms of demographics and organizing—His experience in organizing an external campaign—The 2000 Justice for Janitors strike in San Diego—Memories of the 2000 marches and raising awareness about working conditions to the general public—Moving the campaign to the suburbs after 2000—The inherent difficulties of organizing in Southern California—Applying the Justice for Janitors model to middle-class workers—Leaving San Diego and joining Justice for Janitors in Los Angeles—His work as an internal organizer and explaining the fall in energy that follows a major labor battle—Organizing for the next contract and the role of non-union buildings—The immigration debate and the Justice for Janitors movement—Organizing and negotiating a contract during the Great Recession—The future of the labor movement in the United States—Using social justice as a broad issue for the labor movement—Remembering Justice for Janitors and its importance to organizing strategies.