The Local 600 baseball caps have already made their way to the members at TV news stations in the Pacific Northwest. Raquel Ruiz, the Local 600 business rep who sent those hats, expects to make her way up north soon too.
“They’re getting ready to bargain – electing their bargaining team and distributing the hats as we speak,” said Ruiz who covers the 12 broadcast stations where we have agreements. “It’s so gratifying to watch them get empowered. It’s not me or any staff person sitting at a bargaining table. It’s the membership that actually has the power.”
This is a lesson that Ruiz – a Western Region business rep since November of 2021 – learned a long time ago. During her more than 20 years in the labor movement, Ruiz has repeatedly witnessed the power of solidarity and worked in creative ways to harness it.
Ruiz was still a student at UC Riverside, putting herself through college and working part-time in the emergency room at St. Bernardine Medical Center, when SEIU led a campaign to organize the workers. The event lit a fire in her, igniting what would become a career path in organized labor.
“They fired all of my friends, all my co-workers,” Ruiz recalled. “These were older people and they had mortgages and kids and I didn’t, and it just broke my heart. So, I got involved in the work of striving to get people better wages and better working conditions.”
At one point, while with SEIU, she represented employees at the Community Hospital of San Bernardino – the same hospital where she was born. “They were trying to close it,” said Ruiz. “I led a campaign with community allies and other unions and community organizations to keep it open. We won that fight and kept it open. That’s something I’m really proud of.”
Ruiz eventually took a job as a researcher for SEIU. She moved on to work for other labor unions representing school employees and the powerful California nurses.
Although she had never worked in the entertainment industry, Ruiz was inspired by last year’s IATSE contract campaign, especially the membership’s authorization of a strike. Some of the issues that were priorities for IATSE – workplace safety and rest time – resonated with Ruiz who had encountered similar issues with other workers.
So, when she saw the opening for a Local 600 business rep, she knew she had to apply.
“You have this idea that for people who work in Hollywood, it’s all glitz and glamor, but it’s not,” said Ruiz. “It’s important that we know that the union is fighting for our members. IATSE did a really good job of educating its members around those issues.”
Since joining Local 600, Ruiz has been learning about the challenges faced by the union’s broadcast members. With so-called “citizen journalists” filming events on their cellphones, questions of jurisdiction come into play as the work of Local 600’s professionally trained members are threatened. Over the past few years, news broadcast members have also dealt with the health threats of working during COVID as well as threats of violence when covering civil unrest around racial inequality.
“These are the unique challenges we’re facing, but these types of things can also be opportunities,” said Ruiz. “As a rep or trade unionist, I like to look for things that are outside of the box, so it’s not just filing grievances and paperwork. I’m always looking for ways that we can solve a problem and work together.”
Ruiz replaced longtime Rep Dave Twedell who recently retired after 12 years with the Local.