L.A. County Fed joins labor groups calling for cease-fire in Gaza

Hundreds of protesters gathered on the stops of Los Angeles City Hall
Staffers and members of multiple Southern California unions gathered on the stops of Los Angeles City Hall on Feb. 10 to call for a cease-fire in the Israel-Hamas war and to urge union leadership to back their protest.
(Jireh Deng / Los Angeles Times)

The Los Angeles County Federation of Labor has joined the growing ranks of labor groups calling for a cease-fire in the Israel-Hamas war following pressure from its rank-and-file members and staff of local Southern California unions.

“The death toll in Gaza has already been unbearable, and it threatens to spiral exponentially if the course of the war is not altered,” the federation said in a recent statement. “We cannot bomb our way to peace.”

The statement by the powerful Southern California labor group, which represents more than 300 local unions and other labor groups, reflects a shift among prominent American unions that have shown more willingness in recent months to speak out about the war.


Like the U.S. government, many major unions have long backed Israel and have been largely supportive since it declared war after Hamas militants attacked on Oct.7, killing about 1,200 people, most of them civilians, and taking more than 240 others as hostages.

Israel’s bombardment and ground attacks have killed 33,000 Palestinians, around two-thirds of them women and children, according to Palestinian health officials. International aid officials say catastrophic hunger has gripped about one-third of Gaza’s population.

As the humanitarian crisis has deepened, labor leaders and politicians, including President Biden, have faced more pressure from activists to call for a cease-fire.

The United Auto Workers in December became among the first major union to do so, with others following suit.

In February, the L.A. Fed’s parent organization, the AFL-CIO, issued its own statement calling for a “negotiated cease-fire in Gaza” while condemning the attacks on Oct. 7 and calling for “the immediate release of all hostages and provision of desperately needed shelter, food, medicine and other humanitarian assistance to Gazans.”


In November, the 42-member executive board of the L.A. Fed declined to allow discussion among its delegates of a statement calling for a cease-fire, sources close to the union said.

The board changed course in March, approving a cease-fire proposal brought by SEIU United Healthcare Workers West that was supported by the organization’s hundreds of delegates.

“We stand in solidarity with all workers fighting for justice and peace and join our union siblings worldwide in calling on President Joe Biden and Congress to push for an immediate cease-fire and end to the siege of Gaza,” the federation said.

Repeated attacks by Israel’s military on healthcare facilities, killing Palestinian doctors, nurses and other healthcare staff, was the impetus of the resolution, said Maky Peters, a regional political organizer at SEIU-UHW who helped to draft the statement.

“What moves the needle is the conditions,” Peters said. “There was a movement of workers that created an atmosphere that made it impossible for the organization representing the voice of workers in the largest county in the nation to ignore.”

Kristal Romero, a spokesperson for the L.A. Fed, said she could not comment on the board’s decisions, adding that meetings are confidential.


“Numerous resolutions on any number of subjects outside of Gaza and a cease-fire are introduced to these bodies, and a lot of times just get voted up or down,” she said. “There is no one reason as to why it got voted through this time, it’s luck of the draw.”

Cliff Smith, business manager of the United Union of Roofers, Waterproofers and Allied Workers Local 36, said action by leaders at the AFL-CIO and by the L.A. Fed has overdue.

“Due to the complete destruction of [Gaza’s] infrastructure and attacks on their hospitals, it’s an absolute atrocity and an embarrassment to the AFL-CIO for not having condemned this immediately,” Smith said.

Major Hollywood unions, including SAG-AFTRA, issued statements in the fall condemning the Oct. 7 attacks by Hamas, but have remained silent on the subject of a cease-fire, reflecting divisions among members over how to respond to the war.

Members of SAG-AFTRA last month joined more than 1,000 protesters who converged on Hollywood, blocking traffic ahead of the Academy Awards ceremony to protest the war.


“We are a union of storytellers and artists, it is amazing that we aren’t able to recognize the shared humanity of what’s going on,” said Sunil Malhotra, a voice actor who attended the rally. “I think it’s long past time to find moral courage and clarity and step up.”

“The current conflict in the Middle East is an important and sensitive issue to many of our members and SAG-AFTRA has received several requests for public statements. Those requests are currently under review by union leadership,” SAG-AFTRA spokesperson Pamela Greenwalt said in a statement.

Steve Smith, a spokesperson for the AFL-CIO, said it takes time for union leaders to consider a range of input before issuing a statement.

“We don’t make unilateral decisions,” he said. “For some folks it might not have happened soon enough; for others, they might have preferred it happened later — but that’s union democracy.”

In February, the Animation Guild — a local of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees — reportedly emerged as the first Hollywood union to publicly call for a cease-fire, citing similar stances taken by other labor organizations.


Times staff writer Christi Carras contributed to this report.