Sunday, October 21, 2012

Immigrants and Unions Work together to oust Joe Arpaio.

Jenny Brown  Labor Notes
October 19, 2012

Latino workers in the Phoenix area are fighting back
against the bullying sheriff of Maricopa County, Joe
Arpaio. They've registered over 34,000 new voters for
the November election.

The "Adiós Arpaio" campaign is part of a strategy by the
hotel union UNITE HERE to turn around Arizona's anti-
worker policies, in a right-to-work state where Latino
workers have only recently begun to flex their political
muscles. Maricopa County contains 60 percent of
Arizona's population

Organizers say they feel a seismic shift in the
political landscape. "I've never been part of something
historic before," said Lucia Vergara Aguirre, president
of UNITE HERE Local 631. The union has been growing,
representing workers at the Phoenix airport complex and
at several downtown hotels, and has other organizing
drives underway.

The campaign could have national importance in drawing
the line against politicians who use anti-immigrant
rhetoric to gain office. UNITE HERE members have been
taking time off to work on the voter registration
campaign. Fifty volunteers from the Los Angeles County
Federation of Labor, along with labor activists from
Texas and New Mexico, traveled to Phoenix to bolster the

But a phalanx of Phoenix high school students has formed
the backbone of the campaign. They've been coming into
the union office after school and working four shifts a
day on weekends, heading out to register people in
grocery stores and on doorsteps, making inroads in a
Latino community that has not traditionally registered
to vote in high proportions.

"All these students committed because they have the same
issue inside, that they can't stand discrimination
against Latinos," said Carmen Robles, a Tempe High
School student who, at 15, leads one of a dozen student
voter registration teams. Hers is jokingly called the T
Party, for Tempe.

In October, students led a march to Arpaio's office,
bringing moving boxes to suggest he should get busy
packing up. The action was courageous because some
students have had direct experience with the Maricopa
County sheriff's office. "One of my friends got her dad
taken away," said Robles, who said her mother is

"Some people want to join us but still have that fear,
that Arpaio is going to mess with us," she said. "Our
determination is bigger than Arpaio."

Robles easily made the connection between worker rights
and the immigration crackdown, explaining that her
mother's job options are limited because of her status-
she works at a car wash where she is paid for only a
portion of the time she's at work.


"Sheriff Joe" made a name for himself by confining
prisoners in tents in the desert heat, cutting them back
to two meals a day, and declaring himself "America's
Toughest Sheriff."

But Arpaio's star may be fading. He has been the target
of many investigations, including one where the U.S.
Justice Department concluded his office had "a pervasive
culture of discriminatory bias against Latinos" directed
from the highest levels of the agency.

Always a self-promoter, Arpaio surfaced on the national
radar as America's most anti-immigrant sheriff in 2007,
riding a wave of prejudice that crested with Arizona's
hated SB 1070. Signed into law by Republican Governor
Jan Brewer in 2010, SB 1070 transforms local police and
sheriffs into immigration officers and virtually
guarantees racial profiling.

Vergara Aguirre said her members are afraid they'll be
detained simply because they fit the profile of Mexicans
or because their English is accented. Some are even
afraid to leave work to go home. The visibility of the
movement against Arpaio is reducing that fear, she said.

Still, "the level of fear is extraordinary," said Daria
Ovide of the Campaign for Arizona's Future, a union-
funded political action committee working against
Arpaio. "You can be detained even if you're documented
because you're assumed to be undocumented." And
detention means confinement in one of Arpaio's tents, in
all weather.

Arpaio's constitutional violations were so blatant that
in 2011 the federal Department of Homeland Security
stripped the sheriff's office of its authority to
identify and detain people simply because they have no
papers. It's unclear that Arpaio's agency has changed
much, though.


Some unions have stayed out of the Adiós Arpaio
campaign, though the Food and Commercial Workers are on
board. "Immigration is still a very divisive issue among
unions," said Ovide.

She thinks that's wrongheaded, since Latinos of any
economic status vote better on working people's issues
than even union members who are white do. So it benefits
workers of all races to increase Latino voter turnout,
she said.

Meanwhile, the high school student volunteers are
learning about the union. Vergara Aguirre has found
herself explaining to fascinated 17-year-olds how the
union works, how she got involved, and what a union
contract is. They talk to her about the humiliating,
low-paid jobs their parents have, and ask if a union
could change that.

"These kids are going to be part of our union," she

The sheriff's race is likely to be close. Anti-Arpaio
voters outnumber supporters in the polls, but it's a
three-way race, with a Libertarian candidate in distant
third place drawing some votes away from the Democratic

Arpaio has a formidable campaign budget, since he
garners donations from all over the country for his
inflammatory actions-he even launched an investigation
of President Obama's birth certificate. And he has
support from Phoenix's suburbs, a largely retired,
largely white population.

Vergara Aguirre sees the effort as a long-term strategy.
Increased Latino voter turnout can help the union secure
better conditions at the city-owned airport, by electing
more sympathetic city council members. Looking to the
future, Arizona campaigners hope to emulate the
mobilization in California that changed the state's
political climate in reaction to the 1994 anti-immigrant
Proposition 187.

"If we take Arpaio out of office, that will be a
celebration for everyone," she said, "but if not, next

"The next one will be Jan Brewer," Vergara Aguirre
added. "That lady has to go, too."

Re posted from Portside. __________

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