Employment and Jobs

Organizing and Coalition Building for Structural Change

August 31, 2022  • Economic Opportunities Program & Roxana Tynan

Photo of Roxana TynanRoxana Tynan, Executive Director, LAANE

The Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy (LAANE) has a vision to help build a new economy rooted in good jobs, thriving communities, and a healthy environment. LAANE has led the fight to improve job quality in the region and supported efforts around the state and nationally for nearly three decades. The organization has helped develop and pass innovative policies, published research, and engaged broad coalitions of workers and others to push for change. Through this work, LAANE has helped pass living wage ordinances, developed community benefits agreements, and passed policies that create good jobs and support environmental sustainability.

LAANE’s work is driven by a push for long-term, structural change to the economy. According to Executive Director Roxana Tynan, the hope is that “all people have what they need to live in health and dignity including housing, health care, good food, clean water, and the right and opportunity to live joyous and purpose-filled lives.” LAANE’s first step in the process of advocating for change is always to organize. The organization partners closely with labor unions in its organizing work, and works in key sectors of the LA regional economy to center the needs of impacted workers and community. LAANE also does direct organizing with non-union retail workers and drivers at the port. “We believe that unions currently offer the best way to have a voice, dignity and respect on the job, and we know that we need to leverage the relative power of unions to move policy,” Roxana says. Roxana has a background in union organizing in the hospitality sector so she understands its unique value. Roxana stated:

The fundamental lesson that I have learned throughout my career is that everything must start, continue, and end with organizing. We have built a long term vision at LAANE of the world we want to see, but we are never going to have a perfect plan for how to get there – something that I think all groups need. A wise mentor of mine reminded me when I was struggling with a big strategic question that I just needed to deepen and expand the organizing and that the answer would come out of that struggle – and not from a meeting room.

In addition to directly organizing workers, LAANE organizes people and communities into broad-based coalitions to support its campaigns too. The organization developed a coalition of Long Beach residents that helps advocate for various issues including economic justice and is intentional in building strategies that bring community members and organized labor together. LAANE is currently managing eight campaigns in 2022 that are focused in a broad array of sectors and issues.

Tackling Independent Contractor Misclassification and Wage Theft in the Trucking Industry

LAANE has been collaborating with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters Union for over a decade to improve job quality for truck drivers at the Los Angeles and Long Beach ports. Drivers earn low incomes averaging just shy of $30,000 per year, which are further exacerbated by misclassification of truck drivers as independent contracts and the wage theft that can occur as a result.

Since independent contractors are excluded from some labor laws, they do not have the right to minimum wage and overtime protections. These issues are at the root of some of the supply chain problems we have seen in 2021 and 2022. “The current struggles around goods movement and the supply chain are the result of a crisis of good jobs, rather than a labor shortage,” Roxana stated.

LAANE’s job quality work in the sector is long term. The organization has been engaged in supporting port drivers since 2008, when it helped pass an initiative to phase out old, polluting trucks. The work can also be slow at times, as LAANE and the Teamsters have worked with the State Labor Commissioner and the National Labor Relations Board to secure workers’ rights. There are now over 150 companies at the port who treat the drivers as the employees they truly are, and wages for drivers have increased by more than $5 an hour.

LAANE’s work is centered around organizing the 14,000 truck drivers at the ports with the Teamsters and the Our People Our Port campaign. The campaigns have helped mobilize support behind truck drivers’ strikes and leadership delegations, according to Roxana. LAANE also collaborates with the Teamsters to support drivers in legal action and claims against wage theft and misclassification, resulting in over $35 million in restitution in the last five years. LAANE provides direct support to truck drivers that are misclassified as independent truckers to help them access unemployment insurance too. As the organization looks ahead, more work is undoubtedly needed on misclassification and wage theft, but new rules mean another transition to even cleaner trucks is on the horizon and LAANE wants to ensure that drivers do not shoulder the burden of that transition.

Together with recent victories on statewide legislation giving drivers more leverage to enforce their rights, not least of which is AB5, the landmark legislation fighting misclassification, LAANE sees enormous opportunity in finally shifting this industry from a low-wage, exploitative and polluting one, to one benefiting both drivers and the communities around the port.

LAANE’s organizing and coalition building ultimately helps create better government policies. All of that work is underpinned by research and communications expertise, as well as values around racial equity. According to Roxanna, “LAANE asks every campaign to go through a yearly racial impact analysis and goals process to ensure that each campaign explicitly names the challenges workers face that are grounded in racism, as well as to identify specific policy goals that will begin to address those problems.”

LAANE’s organizing, coalition building and campaigns helped spearhead the passage of Los Angeles’s living wage ordinance and development of community benefit agreements (CBAs) that, among other things, set wage standards and gave people with low incomes priority for employment. LAANE helped create CBAs for projects at Los Angeles International Airport, local sports’ stadiums, and local development projects. Roxana, who also has a background in local economic development with the city, says LAANE and its partners have also successfully gained funding for infrastructure projects focused on environmental sustainability, creating thousands of jobs.

More recently, LAANE has collaborated with labor to help pass policies at the city and county level to support workers during the COVID pandemic. According to Roxana, the city and county passed retention and recall policies to ensure hospitality workers the right to retain their employment or return after the pandemic, protecting the livelihoods of an estimated 200,000 workers. The county designated LAANE as a Certified Worker Organization in 2021 as part of another set of policies that LAANE helped advocate for. The establishment of Public Health Councils also ensures workers in vulnerable industries have the appropriate workplace and whistleblower protections during the pandemic. As part of this initiative, LAANE conducts outreach and engages workers in the hospitality and retail sectors to provide them technical assistance on COVID-19 safety and policies.

“Working people need a living wage, health and retirement benefits, protections from unfair discipline and termination, a safe and healthy workplace, and ultimately a real voice in decision making about how a given company operates,” says Roxana. However, she believes that job quality rarely comes easily and without a fight. “Those of us who come out of organizing are constantly reminded that power does not concede without a demand. We know that rational arguments about how our economy benefits from greater fairness are simply not going to win the day, but the exercise of people power can,” says Roxana.


Organizing and Coalition Building for Structural Change: A Profile of @AspenJobQuality Fellow @roxtynan, Executive Director of @LAANE.

For decades, the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy @LAANE has fought to build an economy rooted in good jobs, thriving communities, and a healthy environment. Read more in this profile of Executive Director @roxtynan, an @AspenJobQuality Fellow.

During the pandemic, @LAANE — led by @AspenJobQuality Fellow @roxtynan — collaborated with labor to help pass local retention and recall policies, protecting the livelihoods of an estimated 200,000 hospitality workers.

“We believe that unions currently offer the best way to have a voice, dignity and respect on the job, and we know that we need to leverage the relative power of unions to move policy.” #JobQuality Fellow @roxtynan, ED @LAANE

“Working people need a living wage, health and retirement benefits, protections from unfair discipline and termination, a safe and healthy workplace, and ultimately a real voice in decision making about how a given company operates.” @roxtynan @LAANE

Learn more

Roxana Tynan is a member of the Aspen Institute’s Job Quality Fellowship, Class of 2022-23. The Job Quality Fellowship is convened by the Economic Opportunities Program.

The Economic Opportunities Program advances strategies, policies, and ideas to help low- and moderate-income people thrive in a changing economy. Follow us on social media and join our mailing list to stay up-to-date on publications, blog posts, events, and other announcements.

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