Maria Elena Durazo, a major force in political and worker issues as head the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, is leaving that post for a national union position in which she will focus on national immigration reform.
Durazo is shifting from the county labor organization she headed for 8-1/2 years to a become a vice president for immigration, civil rights and diversity at UNITE HERE, the nationwide union for hospitality and casino workers. She previously served for nearly 17 years as head of that union's Los Angeles unit, Local 11.
Durazo said she was taking "the next step in my life's work" because the county organization was well positioned to represent workers on political and economic issues affecting the region.
"I feel that the Los Angeles labor movement is very strong, very progressive, very proactive," she said.
"Altogether, we have accomplished a lot. And there is a passion I have always had for immigration and civil rights. So I have the opportunity to do this and completely focus on those issues."
The county labor group plays an outsize role in local politics, deploying precinct workers and large independent campaign expenditures to help candidates it favors. In her new position with UNITE HERE, Durazo, 61, will continue work from Los Angeles and push for immigration reform nationally and for the rights of immigrant workers, she said in an interview.
She previously has devoted substantial time to immigration issues, serving on the AFL-CIO's national committee on immigrants.
Durazo started in the labor movement as an organizer for the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union. She later succeeded her husband, Miguel Contreras, as head of the L.A. County labor organization after his death in 2005 at age 53.
The county labor federation's top campaign specialist, Rusty Hicks, is considered a leading candidate to succeed Durazo when the federation holds a meeting next month.