Maria Elena Durazo

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Maria Elena Durazo
Maria Elena Durazo.jpg
Born María Elena Durazo
San Joaquin Valley, California
Residence Los Angeles, California
Nationality American
Ethnicity Mexican
Alma mater St. Mary's College
People's College of Law
Organization AFL–CIO

Miguel Contreras

Married in 1988
Children Mario Contreras
Michael Contreras

María Elena Durazo is an American trade union official. Since May 2006 Durazo has served as the Executive Secretary-Treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor. She also serves as the Executive Vice President of the governing Executive Council of the national AFL-CIO and as a Vice Chair of the Democratic National Committee of the Democratic Party.


Early career[edit]

Like many others who have come to play a role of the labor movement in California, Durazo got her start amongst farmworkers. As the daughter of Mexican immigrants, she spent summers in the Central Valley fields picking peaches, strawberries, and grapes. Cesar Chavez, founder of the United Farm workers of America, inspired her to get involved in the fight for equal rights. Durazo attended St. Mary's College in Moranga, California and graduated in 1975. In 1985, she earned a law degree from the People's College of Law in Los Angeles, before beginning her involvement in the labor movement as an organizer for the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union.[1]

In 1983, she joined the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Union (HERE) Local 11. In 1987, Durazo led a reform slate against the entrenched local leadership of Andrew (Scotty) Allen whose administration had resisted efforts of immigrant workers to participate in local governance. Durazo appeared to have the upper hand , but the election was set aside by the international union, and the local was placed in a trusteeship led by Miguel Contreras. In 1988, she married fellow union activist Miguel Contreras whom she met while at HERE Local 11. Soon thereafter, in May of 1989, Maria Elena ran for and was elected President of Local 11. She served in that capacity from 1989 to 2006. Years later, Durazo won the local presidency with 85% of the vote becoming one of the first Latinas to lead a major union.[2] From May 1989 until March 2006, Durazo served as the president of Local 11. In 1993, during the union’s campaign against the New Otani Hotel, (the first hotel to be built non-union in downtown Los Angeles) Durazo led workers on civil disobedience protests. Her participation in the sit-in protest led to her being arrested along with several other New Otani workers, many of which were dragged away by police officers. She was later elected onto the executive board of HERE International Union in 1996, and in 2004 was elected Executive Vice President of UNITE-HERE International.

From 2000 to 2004, she served on the National AFL-CIO's Immigration Committee and is now the current Chair of the committee.[3] In 2003, Durazo became the National Director of the Immigrant Workers' Freedom Ride.

Executive Secretary-Treasurer[edit]

In 2005 she became the widow of Miguel Contreras, who preceded Ludlow as the executive secretary-treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO. The Los Angeles County Federation of Labor represents 600,000 workers, and it reached the climax of its influence under Durazo, its first women leader. Durazo helped land allies on the Los Angeles City Council and county Board of Supervisors and recently pushed through a minimum wage law requiring large Los Angeles hotels to pay workers at least $15.37 an hour one of the nations highest base wages. Durazo was appointed as the interim Executive Secretary-Treasurer following the resignation of Martin Ludlow in February 2006, and was voted as the permanent replacement on May 15, 2006.[4] On August 4, 2010, she was reelected as Executive Secretary-Treasurer of the AFL-CIO.[5]

In October of 2014, Maria Elena Durazo left the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor to take a national union job promoting civil rights and campaigning for immigration reform. With her lead, the Los Angeles labor movement has indeed been a powerful voice and effective force for working families, she was active in elections and policy debates as well as at the workplace.

On January 15, 2008 Durazo endorsed Barack Obama for president, and took a three-week leave of absence from her job as Executive Secretary-Treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor in order to campaign for Obama.[6] She then became a national co-chair of the Obama for President campaign committee, and was a pledged delegate for Obama at the National Convention in Denver.[7] She served as Vice Chair on the 2008 Democratic National Convention Committee.

On August 11, 2008, Durazo was elected to serve as the new chair of the UCLA Labor Center advisory committee. The vote was by acclamation.

In 2010, Durazo was elected onto the national AFL-CIO Executive Council as an Executive Vice President. She was elected as a Vice Chair of the Democratic National Committee in 2013.


Capitol Weekly named Maria Elena the third most influential non-elected California official in its 2010 Top 100 List.

Maria Elena Durazo was named Most Valuable Local Labor Leader by The Nation magazine in their 2014 Progressive Honor Roll.

Maria Elena Durazo was conferred an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from the California State University Board of Trustees. "We are very proud to award Maria Elena Durazo the honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters for 2014. Her significant impacts on the quality of life in this region demonstrate what can be achieved through dedication, hard work, and a commitment to community," said President William A. Covino.

The New York Times acknowledged that “as the executive secretary-treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, she presides over what is widely perceived as the most successful group of unions in the country."

Los Angeles Times’ featured stories reporter Joe Mozingo wrote that “Maria Elena Durazo is probably the single most influential individual in Los Angeles politics.”

CNN’s top news anchor in the Spanish language, Ismael Cala, stated on-air that “We are proud that a woman who has had on her life story the opportunity to see from the field the issue of immigrants’ rights has become a voice for so many who cannot raise their own voices.”


  1. ^ Marita Hernandez, "Organizer Wins Post of President," Los Angeles Times May 6, 1989
  2. ^ Marita Hernandez, "Organizer Wins Post of President," Los Angeles Times May 6, 1989
  3. ^ Press release by the AFL-CIO
  4. ^ Press release by the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor announcing the election of Maria Elena Durazo to Executive Secretary-Treasurer
  5. ^ Press release by the AFL-CIO announcing the reelection of Maria Elena Durazo to Executive Secretary-Treasurer
  6. ^ Abcarian, Robin (January 16, 2008). "Obama gets major labor endorsement". Los Angeles Times. 
  7. ^ "California Democratic Delegation 2008". 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Preceded by
Martin Ludlow
Executive Secretary – Treasurer,
Los Angeles County Federation of Labor

2006 – 2014
Succeeded by
Rusty Hicks