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Hispanic Great Debaters Profile: Miguel Contreras

Nov 24, 2017 8:00:00 AM Erik Fogel Miguel Contreras

"What we will do here will set the pace for organized labor across the country" - Miguel Contreras

Miguel Contreras never underestimated the power of a voice. Born on September 17th, 1952 in California's agricultural region, his parents were immigrants from Mexico. They did farm work (picking grapes) in order to sustain the family. Miguel himself began working the fields at age five. Having grown up amongst a rich culture of Hispanic-American field workers, it was easy for Contreras to see how he could impact the community using the power of well-run, efficient, and organized group of laborers. 

By the 1960's, Miguel Contreras was actively participating in local and national politics. At a rally for then Presidential nominee, Robert Kennedy, Contreras met Cesar Chavez. Chavez was a long-time labor leader and activist. He organized campaigns for the Community Service Organization and co-founded the National Farm Workers Association. Contreras was immediately drawn to the cause and began work as an activist for the United Farm Workers. Miguel Contreras worked diligently on the national grape boycott. He organized lettuce workers, and even led a strike by hotel workers in San Francisco. 

Contreras went on to represent the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Union. From there, he became political director for the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor. Contreras held a significant post within the Federation until his death. Over the course of his influential career, he led Los Angeles janitors in a successful strike, and working alongside Jesse Jackson, Contreras put pressure on the LA Transportation Authority to comply with Union standards. Miguel Contreras's lifelong commitment to providing a voice to marginalized people is an inspiration to us all. He is one of many Hispanic-American leaders who have contributed to the betterment of our nation.

A high school in Los Angeles, the Miguel Contreras Learning Complex, is named in his honor. For his recognition, UC Berkeley and UCLA established the Miguel Contreras Labor Program (MCLP) to support labor education.

Erik Fogel

Written by Erik Fogel