AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREBasketball roundup: Sierra Canyon, Birmingham set to face off in tournament quarterfinalsDurazo said she has not decided whether to give up her position as a vice president with the national UNITE-Here union that represents hotel workers and has voted to break away from the AFL-CIO. At this point, Durazo – who worked last year to keep her union and the Service Employees International Union as part of the County Fed’s political operation – said she is not going to worry about the national labor issues. “At some point in the next year, we will have to deal with that,” Durazo said. “Right now, I want to focus on expanding the labor movement. When I read figures about Los Angeles being the poverty capital, it’s because people aren’t getting fair pay. “We have a construction boom going on, but that doesn’t mean the workers are all getting good pay. We want to go to the building trades and get them more involved. We are working to improve conditions for hospitality workers and those in the food service industry. There are lots of areas where we think we can make inroads.” Union leaders persuaded Durazo to step into the interim post after former union leader Martin Ludlow – named to the job after Contreras’ death – resigned and pleaded guilty to federal campaign violations in his 2003 City Council election. Taking the helm of Los Angeles County’s largest union, Maria Elena Durazo said Tuesday that she will concentrate on expanding a labor movement her late husband built into one of the nation’s most powerful. The fiery leader of hotel and restaurant workers had been acting secretary-treasurer of the County Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO, but was elected late Monday to a four-year term leading the umbrella union her husband, the late Miguel Contreras, grew into a potent political force that includes more than 300 affiliates and 800,000 members across Southern California. Durazo takes over as the union has been divided by national disputes since Contreras’ sudden death last year, and while city employee unions are demanding equitable treatment in the wake of lucrative raises given to Department of Water and Power workers. “The labor movement in Los Angeles has come a long way, and I played a role in that,” Durazo said. “It has taken many years to get strong and build a coalition within the African-American community and the immigrant community. I did that in my own union and I think we can do it with the County Fed.” “This was something I never thought about when Miguel was alive and even after he passed away, I didn’t think about it,” Durazo said of leading the AFL-CIO. “But things have happened, and they came to me and asked that I come on in an interim basis. At that point, I thought I should seek this job.” Durazo has close ties to Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa – both grew up in the labor movement – and she said he has helped her and the County Fed in the past. During her years as head of the Hotel and Restaurant Employees, Local 11, now called UNITE-Here, Durazo was known for her tough negotiations and sometimes controversial efforts to bring attention to her workers. It was Durazo who developed a campaign using television commercials to urge conventions to avoid Los Angeles because the city did not have a contract for her workers as it was trying to rebuild from the 1992 Rodney King riots. “I’m not going to change,” Durazo said. “I’m going to remain committed to making sure my members get fair wages. But we are also going to be focused. We know what we have to do to target a certain employer without having a general strike.” Durazo was also an instrumental figure in other labor actions over the years that heightened her visibility and helped broaden the union movement into service sectors that now include home-care workers, janitors and security guards. “I don’t think you will see her soften her tactics, but I think a lot said about her misses the point,” City Council President Eric Garcetti said. “She is an attorney and she doesn’t lose sight of what she’s looking for. She knows how to close a deal. “She can be one of the most vocal, articulate speakers who can get people going. But she also knows how to negotiate.” Councilman Herb Wesson, who has worked closely with Contreras and Durazo over the years, said he believes being in a leadership position will change some of Durazo’s tactics. “When you’re a leader, you have different things that you are looking for,” Wesson said. “To be effective, you sometimes have to take a back seat. She knows what she has to do and she will do it well.” [email protected] (213) 978-0390160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!