Former San Diego Assemblywoman took the helm of the California Labor Federation Wednesday, announcing new initiatives for the organization.
Gonzalez was sworn in around noon as executive secretary-treasurer of the federation at its convention in San Francisco, more than six months after stepping down from her Assembly seat to to head it.
She plans to focus on expanding union representation throughout the state, she said, adding that a union contract can immediately improve workers’ lives.
“We’re going to ensure that we’re lifting up low-wage immigrant workers’ voices and continue to protect middle-income workers,” she said. “We’re going to continue to represent a growing movement of people who want a voice on the job.”
The labor federation includes 1,200 unions that represent 2.1 million workers in manufacturing, retail, construction, hospitality, public sector, health care, entertainment and other industries, according to its website.
It lobbies for labor rights legislation, supports political candidates and coordinates with government and employers to fund job training and prevent layoffs.
Under Gonzalez’ leadership, United Farm Workers will affiliate with the federation after a two-decade hiatus, marking an effort to protect low-wage workers at risk of exploitation on the job.
“For too long United Farmworkers have been on the outside, and we brought them back in,” she said.
The federation aims to build union ranks statewide with a program known as Unionize California to connect workers with labor organizers, provide training and jump-start union drives, however big the worksite and whatever the industry.
On Monday, the federation plans to announce a proposed package of bills to protect farmworkers and fast-food workers and to allow staff in the state capitol to unionize.
It also plans to recruit candidates with labor experience to run for office at all levels of government.
“We’re going to train folks to run for office, run them for office and promote them, whether it’s a water board or the U.S. Senate,” Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez, 50, represented San Diego’s 80th Assembly District for nine years starting in 2013, and was known for sponsoring legislation bolstering labor rights.
She helped pass laws requiring paid sick leave, overtime pay for farm workers, sexual assault protections for janitorial workers and labor rights for professional cheerleaders, as well as legislation criminalizing wage theft and limiting production quotas for warehouse workers.
Before serving in the assembly Gonzalez worked as a labor leader, attorney and organizer, including as CEO and secretary-treasurer for the San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council, AFL-CIO.
She is the first woman and person of color to lead the labor federation and said that milestone was a highlight of the ceremony.
“It was exciting to walk in with women who are housekeepers, farmworkers, who my life aligns with,” she said.