Monday, January 22, 2007

Please Steve, Don't Hurt 'Em

It's been great fun watching Steve Lopez tear L.A.'s transit czar, Jaime de la Vega, a new one over de la Vega's personal vehicle choice: a Hummer. Yesterday's column was the best one yet. Sure, this fracas is one of appearance rather than substance. And okay, it's unfair to scapegoat this one guy's vehicle choice as though he, singlehandedly, were clogging up the Sepulveda pass on a daily basis. But it's yummy (if light) reading for L.A. progressives, and a welcome shot of lefty-juice in a major media market where truly progressive voices are fewer and fewer (seemingly in inverse porportion to the increase in formal influence that L.A. progressives have attained in City Hall).

To be an L.A. progressive reading Steve Lopez is to be reminded of what FDR said about Somoza (or of what Cordell Hull said about Trujillo, depending on who you believe): "He may be a son of a bitch, but at least he's our son of a bitch."

A year and a half ago, when the workers at the Glendale Hilton took the leap of declaring their intent to unionize, Steve Lopez was there. I happened to have been there too. What the workers did took serious, um, balls... walking en masse through the back door, into the manager's office, to tell their employers, face to face, that they demanded a livable wage and health benefits. They knew they were risking harassment, retribution, or maybe outright firing. I saw many of the employess visibly shaking with fear as they confronted their employers. Heck, *I* was afraid, and I had no personal stake in the outcome. I was just there as a supportive community member. And the presence of supportive community and clergy in that office at that moment was important to the workers.

But the presence of Steve Lopez was vital.

Given the risk they were taking on that day, the workers needed the assurance that someone with a big megaphone had their backs. Steve Lopez was the guy with the megaphone. And I believe that helped the workers summon and maintain the courage to tell the owners of the Glendale Hilton what they needed to be told: that they are human beings with families to support, not interchangable parts to be held down to the lowest possible cost-per-unit. And I believe that his presence helped guarantee that the Assistant General Manager (the guy who ended up hearing the workers out) would tread very carefully in responding to the workers' demands.

I'm glad to see that Steve is still kicking some ass.


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