L.A. Labor head Ron Herrera resigns; federation joins calls for councilmembers to resign
Facing outrage over a controversial leaked audio recording, Los Angeles County Federation of Labor President Ron Herrera resigned Monday night, and the organization’s remaining leaders demanded Tuesday that the three City Council members involved in the scandal submit their resignations as well.
“Racism in any form has no place in the House of Labor. It is unconscionable that those elected to fight for our communities of color would engage in repulsive and vile anti-Black, anti-LGBTQ, anti-Asian and anti-Oaxacan remarks that pit our working communities against each other. These sentiments will not be tolerated by our organization or those who we represent,” the chair of the federation’s executive board, Thom Davis, who has taken over as interim president, said in a statement Tuesday.
A leaked recording of L.A. City Council members and a labor official includes racist remarks. Council President Nury Martinez apologizes; Councilmember Kevin de León expresses regret.
“The Executive Board of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor also calls on those elected officials who were present to follow President Herrera’s example by immediately resigning as well,” Davis said.
The federation, which represents 800,000 workers across 300 unions, has been at the epicenter of the crisis rocking Los Angeles’ political leadership over the past two days.
“Obviously, I’m deeply disappointed in what took place and what was said. This is not what the labor movement is about,” said Chris Griswold, secretary-treasurer and principal officer of Teamsters Local 986 and vice president at large of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.
Griswold sits on the county federation’s executive committee, which comprises dozens of vice presidents from unions around the Los Angeles region.
“We’ve all recognized that this was a betrayal to all of us,” Griswold said of the leaked conversations. The federation, he added, has “issues, and they have to be addressed — not only the board, but the staff as well.”
At the federation’s MacArthur Park headquarters on Tuesday, labor staff asked about attending protests related to the controversy and were assured that they could do so, federation spokeswoman Stephanie Saporito said.
Criticism has also come down from the labor movement’s biggest halls of power. AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler said in a statement Sunday, “We will gather all the facts, but the hateful speech reported in that meeting is inexcusable.”
“We are a movement of large organizations and deeply ingrained processes,” Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher, president of the California Labor Federation, which is separate from the local federation, said in a tweet Monday night. “But, we ultimately prioritize working class solidarity across all racial groups above all else. It’s now time for our labor movement to come together and start the hard work to heal.”
Herrera — along with Los Angeles City Councilmembers Nury Martinez, Kevin de León and Gil Cedillo — had participated in an October 2021 closed-door conversation at the federation’s offices at which Martinez said Councilmember Mike Bonin handled his Black son as though he were an “accessory” and described the child as “Parece changuito” (like a monkey).
Other racist and derogatory remarks were made during the conversation, which largely focused on the city’s once-every-decade redistricting process and preserving and maintaining Latino political power.
“The hateful language used during this meeting, held within the walls of the House of Labor, was entirely unacceptable, as was the very nature of the meeting itself — scheming to disenfranchise Black and Asian voters by way of redistricting, the practice of which is deeply rooted in racial discrimination,” the executive board of American Federation of Musicians Local 47, one of the federation’s officials, said in a Tuesday statement. “These are not the values of the labor movement, nor are they the values of Angelenos.”
The conversation remained private for roughly a year before exploding into public view Sunday in a report by The Times. The leaked audio was originally posted on Reddit, which declined to comment on the posts or the controversy.
The labor federation internally described the leaked audio as part of a “serious security and privacy breach” at its offices involving “illegal” recordings of “many private and confidential conversations in private offices and conference rooms,” according to text provided to The Times.
The federation has not publicly addressed the source of the recordings apart from initially attacking The Times for publishing the contents. That defensive approach, rather than immediate condemnation of the racist content, angered some of the organization’s leaders.
“When I saw that, I about threw my phone,” one of the federation’s vice presidents said Tuesday, requesting anonymity to criticize internal decision-making.
L.A. councilmembers’ leaked audio reveal racist conversations on Mike Bonin’s son, Oaxacans in Koreatown, George Gascón and Mark Ridley-Thomas.
Herrera’s resignation came after snowballing demands that Martinez, De León and Cedillo step down from the City Council and that Herrera leave his post at the head of one of the nation’s most powerful and influential labor organizations. Martinez, who had been City Council president, announced Monday morning that she was resigning her leadership post and said Tuesday that she was taking a leave of absence from the council.
“It’s so disappointing,” Griswold said of the councilmembers. “They don’t represent labor in any way.”
Support for Herrera’s withdrawal had spread broadly across the labor movement Monday, including among the leaders of eight Service Employees International Union California branches with Los Angeles-area members, United Teachers Los Angeles, Unite Here Local 11 and the California Nurses Assn.
Shortly before Monday night’s meeting, Herrera’s home local, Teamsters Local 396, joined other Teamsters locals in calling for him to quit his federation post.
Herrera did not attend the Monday meeting, which was held over Zoom, and instead a statement was read by Davis, according to two sources who attended. One source said most members were more concerned about the fallout than about who recorded the conversations.
Herrera and Davis did not respond to interview requests.
“If you’re a political figure, or whether you’re elected, or you’re a labor leader, you ought to be very careful what you say behind closed doors,” said a source who attended the meeting.
Times staff writer Julia Wick contributed to this report.
Audio of Councilmembers Nury Martinez, Kevin de León and Gil Cedillo speaking with labor leader Ron Herrera quickly became a new and incendiary issue in the Nov. 8 election.
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