In my day job, I am the president of Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 26, which unites close to 6,000 property service workers in the Twin Cities metro area. As president, I lead the organizing, legislative and political activities of the local union representing Minnesota’s union janitors and private security guards. I also do a good amount of work as a political strategist and appear regularly on local political talk shows as a progressive commentator.
Local 26 is focused on negotiating member contracts, uniting new members, and developing new leaders. In the past five years, as a result of three public contract campaigns, Local 26 won affordable healthcare for janitors and security officers, along with dramatic wage increases. In addition, the local has participated in national campaigns, including traveling to Houston in 2006 to support 5,000 newly united janitors. In Houston, I was arrested with SEIU members and leaders and spent 37 hours in jail after engaging in an act of civil disobedience; although the mounted Houston police met the protest with violence it ultimately led to a first janitorial contract in Houston.
As a leader in the immigrant rights movement, I’ve stood up to Republican attacks on immigrants in the state, publishing Opinion Page editorials in the statewide newspaper, the Minneapolis Star Tribune. In 2008, I was honored to receive the Progressive States Network’s 2008 Progressive Leaders Award for State Legislative Immigration Campaigns. In 2010, I took a six-month leave of absence from the local union to serve as SEIU International’s National Immigration Campaign Director, where I helped establish a political and communications infrastructure to deepen the union’s internal and external engagement on the fight to win federal immigration reform.
I am also active in electoral politics, having played a critical role in the elections of the first Muslim elected to the US Congress, Keith Ellison, as well as the first Latina elected to the Minnesota State Senate. I am a regular political commentator on public broadcasting’s political talk show “Almanac” as well as ABC’s local affiliate Sunday morning show, “At Issue” and an occasional contributor to Fox 9 News. I have also been an occasional panelist on Minnesota Public Radio’s “The Daily Circuit.” In 2011, I was appointed by Governor Mark Dayton to serve on the Minnesota Legislature’s Sunset Advisory Commission, and in 2012 I was elected by the Democratic Farmer Labor Party to serve a four-year term representing Minnesota on the Democratic National Committee.
In 2013 the DFL honored me with the Paul Wellstone Lifetime Commitment to Labor Award. I was and remain overwhelmed to receive an award named after a personal hero. (I also hope the Lifetime Commitment doesn’t mean 43 is the new 70).
In what now seems like a past life, I was previously a historian and anthropologist, teaching courses in Latin American History, Comparative Colonial Cultures, and Globalization at Carleton and Macalester Colleges. I was a Fulbright Scholar back when my ambition was to be an academic, and I have a Bachelor’s Degree in History from Yale University. I live on the West Side of St. Paul with my partner and best friend John, our dog Diego and cats Nacho, Stevie, and Raheem.