The L.A. Woman Questionnaire: Karla Salazar

The union leader and Democratic delegate looks to Martin Luther King Jr. for inspiration

Karla Salazar is a busy woman, so take a deep breath before reading these highlights from her resume: In her capacity as Director of Strategic Initiatives at the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations she works to get progressive, pro-union candidates elected, as well as promote legislation that benefits workers (such as the Raise The Wage Campaign). Salazar is in her third term as a delegate for the Democratic Party and a member of the Women’s Caucus of the California Democratic party. She’s not stopping there. Creating a Women’s Democratic Club for Los Angeles County is at the top of her to-do list.

We asked her to answer our L.A. Woman questionnaire.

Place of Birth: South-Central L.A.

How did you get interested in your field: When I was 16, I volunteered with the Clinton/Gore campaign. I studied political science in college and then I got into organized labor. But before that I was a union member, because while I was in college, I was working at a hotel. I didn’t have a nice manager and so I always read the union contract. My mom always says, “When you leave this world, you need to leave it better than you found it.” I try to do what I can.

Kickass moment: About two years ago I got arrested outside of a Walmart in Chinatown with 55 other people. We made history—I think we were the largest civil disobedience against Walmart in the nation. We were helping the grocery workers because they were getting treated really badly. When I’m at career days with kids, I show them this picture with my fists up in the air before I got arrested, but I say the only way that I’m going to be arrested is making a difference. I’m not going to get arrested for stealing or for doing something that I’m not supposed to; I’m only going to get arrested for supporting other people.

KarlaSalazar2Current frustration: A lot of the youth don’t really know the history of what organized labor has done. The history of AFSCME [the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees] goes back to 1968, when Martin Luther King was marching with the sanitation workers in Memphis. The next day he was assassinated. People forget that Mahatma Gandhi, Mandela, Mother Theresa— they were always advocating for the worker. 

How female-friendly is your field: I’m probably one of the few female labor leaders in Los Angeles County. The majority of women that want to get into the labor movement do get in, but then they get married, they have children and then they kind of leave because of how heavy our workload is. The Coalition of Union Women makes sure that we talk about those kinds of issues, because when we provide women the tools, they are great presidents; they are great leaders.

Future goals: I want to run for office. But I’m not ready. A lot of people have approached me to run for office but I feel like I still need to lay the groundwork.