Celebrating a pioneering labor leader in California

Celebrating a pioneering labor leader in California

Q&A with Doug Moore, UDW

By Rachel Warino

In honor of Black History Month, we wanted to spotlight one of California's most forward-thinking labor leaders, Doug Moore. Mr. Moore is the Executive Director of United Domestic Workers of America, AFSCME Local 3930, which is made up of over 91,000 California home care workers. His union has made historical gains under his leadership, expanding membership by the thousands in recent years. When talking to Mr. Moore I was struck by his enthusiasm and seemingly tireless resolve to grow our labor movement. You can tell he cares deeply about his members, the broader workers’ rights movement, and racial justice in our country.  Let’s dive in.

I know you got your start in the labor movement as a shop steward with CWA – what made you want to get involved with your union in a leadership position at the time?

I was working for the phone company. I was young, around 25 and I really took work for granted. I said to myself, I’ll only be here for a couple of years and then I’ll be out of here. That all changed when my union steward at the time pulled me aside and I started attending all of the membership meetings and became a union steward for my building.  I decided to stay and become a steward because I wanted to help my coworkers understand their rights at work.

I stayed in the movement and became even more active after the President of my union asked me to attend a conference in Sacramento – one that no one else from our union had ever been to. It was the state A. Philip Randolph Institute Conference. When I went to that conference, I still remember it was the first time I saw so many African Americans in the labor movement in one room. It was an eye-opening experience for me.  I came back inspired and became even more active in my union and our movement in Southern California. From that time on I really believed in the power of the union.

So you were younger when you got started in this movement. How can the labor movement continue to reach out to young workers today? Particularly when considering studies show millennials have the most positive perception of collective action than any other age group?

Today with technology, things are changing very rapidly, especially in the world of communication. With young workers, you don’t send them a newsletter and have the expectation they read through it all. They are tech savvy, they like information electronically. We realize that at UDW. I think one of our failures as a movement is instead of looking at what’s happening to us today and saying we have to leapfrog in front of it, we’re often in a position of having to catch up. You can never catch up with technology. Technology doesn’t wait on you.

I think there’s also a change happening right now for young workers. There are so many different movements out there that labor should be more engaged in that we’re not. Some leaders like things the way they are. They are comfortable. The status quo for them works. And my view is that we need to be the disruptors of the status quo. If you’re going to have effective change and if you’re going to build a social justice movement you have to be disruptors of the status quo because that’s how you get in front of everything that’s happening today.

With UDW we say we are a community minded union and social justice is part of our culture – be it immigration reform with a path to citizenship, making sure that we have strong environmental standards, equal pay, Fight for $15, Black Lives Matter, and more – UDW members are in all of these movements. It’s all connected. That’s how you continue to reach young workers. That’s how you reach all workers.

As you mentioned in an OpEd last year, Dr. King frequently acknowledged the shared struggles of the workers’ rights and civil rights movements. In your opinion, how can the labor movement continue that legacy today? 

The problem is that we have a bad history. In recent history we’ve reached out to communities when we need something from them – for example when there’s an election, we need a petition signed, etc. And when we get what we want we’re out. That’s the way we’ve operated for decades. We need to stop and sit down and have conversations and get the issues on the table so they can be addressed in the right way and then we need to move forward. We have to listen and we need to support the community. If we don’t engage in the activities they care about – how can we honestly expect them to engage in ours?

I think in some ways it’s also difficult for leaders and members to talk about racial justice. But if you don’t talk about it, it will just get worse. You have to create spaces for open, honest conversations. Have debates. I was very proud of our union last year when we passed a resolution supporting immigration reform and a path to citizenship. Our members also passed a resolution supporting Black Lives Matter. Now at this particular convention in Sacramento where the resolutions were passed, a large proportion of our members at that convention were white. But they understand struggle because they also struggle every day. They are not shying away from these conversations and it makes me proud.

It’s important to acknowledge that union members are engaged in social justice movements whether their union is or not. At UDW, we call what we do everyday building a movement. During a recent staff meeting, I told our staff that this movement is like a bicycle wheel. The wheel is our membership. You have spokes on your wheels – and the spokes are all of these different social justice movements. There’s always going to be a movement our members can engage with. If it’s the fight for disability rights, Fight for $15, Black Lives Matter, and more. These movements keep our members moving forward. When the incidents started happening in Ferguson, I didn’t look at the news clips to try to figure out what was going on – I traveled there and talked to people who live there. We need to be engaged with this. Because what’s happening in Ferguson is also happening in communities where our members live. We can’t ignore it. If it’s Ferguson, South East San Diego, Escondido, these issues are happening. We need to be there.

You’ve been recognized on several occasions for your ability to build bridges and establish partnerships with community allies. What are some strategies you’ve found to be successful and how can labor better engage with our communities and continue to build the social justice movement?

During the Civil Rights movement, throughout the country gathering places were in churches and union halls. Our union halls have since moved out of those communities. They have moved into the suburbs and in some instances it’s hard for members to get to them. We have over the years systematically disconnected ourselves from the community. I don’t think enough folks today consider union halls to be the place to go to talk about issues impacting them and their families. We’re just not in those communities anymore.

We made a conscientious effort at UDW to change this. We moved our headquarters from downtown San Diego to a community where we are within a three mile radius of several thousand of our members. We bought a church to be our new headquarters – and that was done on purpose. We invite community groups and organizations to use our community room or board rooms free of charge. The Rolando Community Council meets there for example. We invite them in, we don’t shut them out. We don’t tell community members what we want from them, either. We listen to what the needs are of the community and we see if we can accommodate. For example- we heard from the community that a food bank is needed. Our union operates a food bank once a month and our goal is to increase that to two Fridays a month.

We’re also committed to addressing mass incarceration. Just last month we started a pilot program- the UDW Culinary Arts Academy. Some of our members are formerly incarcerated because the only work they can get is being a homecare provider for a relative. We have 15 students (10 members, 5 formerly incarcerated low level offenders) signed up and it’s going great. The program is six months long and it’s free of charge. It’s all about skill building. At the end of the program participants will be certified bakers. With this program, they can learn how to bake and sell fresh goods at a farmer’s market to make some extra money for themselves and their families.

Your union, UDW, has a strong social media presence and uses technology in exciting ways to grow the union. How strong of a role do you see social media and technology having in the fight for racial justice and also for workers’ rights in the years to come?

We always have to keep in mind that UDW has no “worksites”. So with that we have to be creative. With technology we don’t just look at what’s happening today but we’re also constantly asking ourselves: what is the next thing coming out? And then we go for it.

In January 2014, we started out with 8,600 email addresses for our members. Today we have 65,000. That same year we had 464 phone numbers signed up for text message updates. Today we have 12,454. On Facebook we went from 1,200 likes in 2014 to over 9,000 likes today. We believe in technology. We are always looking at other ways to reach our members and figure out the best way to serve them.

I’m proud that even in our current environment of Right to Work under the Harris v Quinn decision in 2014, we were able to grow our membership from 37,000 to 61,000.

As a labor leader in California, what are some of your accomplishments you’re most proud of?

I would say the most recent would be the overtime victory for homecare providers. They have been denied that right for over 75 years and the only reason they were denied that right was because 75 years ago the homecare providers looked like me. And the powers at be didn’t want to pay them for their overtime. I’m so proud we played a big role in overturning that.

Who are some of the labor and civil rights leaders that inspired you when you were growing up? 

A Philip Randolph and Cesar Chavez. UDW stands on their shoulders. Both of those unions were started by people of color. So was UDW. That’s our legacy. We’re the 3rd union started by people of color.

Also I would have to say Fannie Lou Hamer. And Ophelia McFadden. I saw her give a speech when I was first getting started as a steward and she just lit a fire under me. Had it not been for Gwend Johnson I would have gone another way in life. She was the CWA District Representative when I worked there and she mentored me.  She educated me on how unions work. I remember her saying to me: you need to figure out what you want to do and go for it. She has always been supportive of my career. To this day, she’s still so supportive.

I have to also include Flo Walker with AFSCME. When I worked with her she tutored me but at the same time, she didn’t try to change my style.

And thank goodness for that.