Lorena Lopez knows firsthand the difficulties workers face. More than a decade ago, Lopez was working at Los Angeles International Airport as a gift shop attendant to put herself through college. But the wages were low. She was determined to do something and got involved in efforts to organize the workers and fight for decent pay, leading to one of the first successful living wage ordinances.
“My co-workers had been there a lot longer. They had families and a lot more to fight for,” says Lopez, who later began organizing hotel workers. “I realized how much power we had when we were fighting together. It empowered me to believe that I could be part of something bigger, something more meaningful.”
In her work for UNITE HERE, Local 11, Lopez’s focus always is on the people she meets and helps. she says they are forced to make daily choices: Buy food or pay the rent? Fill a prescription, or go without and risk a worse health condition?
Lopez wants government to stiffen penalties for businesses that break workplace laws, as well as streamline standards and complaint procedures to ensure workers have a voice. “You have to be a lawyer to understand them,” she says. “People lose so much time. People lose confidence in the system.”