When I was 16 years old, I got my first paid regular job working as a bagger at the local Kroger grocery store in Cincinnati. My father at the time worked in management at the headquarters, so it wasn’t too hard getting the job.
Among the first things I learned about my new job was that I was now a Teamster.
I started getting mail about attending meetings on the other side of town, but I never really thought much about it other than the union dues that were deducted from my paycheck every pay period, which honestly I wasn’t too thrilled about. I actually asked my parents why I was paying union dues that consumed over an hour’s worth of pay at my then nearly minimum-wage job.
My mother explained that the purpose of the union was not to help me, who didn’t really need the job since I was living with my parents who earned our family’s income, but for those who depended upon their jobs to support themselves, or perhaps even a family, with much-needed benefits such as health insurance, retirement and good sick and vacation leave.
It is for those fundamental needs that there are actually many strikes going on in Los Angeles, but in particular, the UNITE HERE Local 11 hotel workers fighting for pay increases to ensure their workers have a living wage. Additionally, the union is advocating for changes to housing policy to make housing more affordable in Los Angeles for its workers.
When staff first heard about the strikes over the Fourth of July weekend, we immediately mobilized to think through alternate sites but breathed a sigh of relief when we heard the strikes had been suspended after the weekend.
When we learned of rolling strikes and pickets the following week, we realized we had to make a decision and engaged in dialogue with the union and our hotel. Ultimately, the uncertainty of whether a picket line might arise at our hotel led to JACL for the second time in its history moving our convention to another location at the last minute.
With our theme, “Rooted in Community,” this ended up being a positive to our programming, though a nightmare for staff and local organizers. Ultimately, holding all of our major programming at the Japanese American National Museum, Japanese American Cultural and Community Center and the Los Angeles Hompa Hongwanji Buddhist Temple in addition to the already scheduled opening reception at the Terasaki Budokan.
In addition to already catering the Sayonara Gala, local restaurant Azay came through with boxed lunches for the Friday NY/SC Awards luncheon. Sake Dojo provided the space and food for a reception far exceeding what we would have done at the hotel with the quality of food and beverages, though unfortunately, limited in attendance due to its smaller space.
Things may have been a little less convenient, losing the ease of taking an elevator from hotel rooms to meeting space a few floors down and instead depending upon hired shuttle buses and the local public transit system. I cannot say enough about the convenience of the DASH bus system, which for serving Little Tokyo, far exceeds the poor reputation of Los Angeles’ public transit.
Ultimately, programming saw full or overflowing meeting spaces. We saw many people registering to attend sessions with day passes and sold out the Sayonara Gala. Many thanks to David Ono and Jeff McIntyre for putting on a sold-out performance of “Defining Courage” and adding a second show in the evening to meet community demand.
We are especially grateful to our sponsors, particularly State Farm at the Diamond level, AT&T at the Ruby level and AARP, Comcast, MGM Resorts International, the Umami Fund and Verizon at the Sapphire levels. Feedback from sponsors was incredibly supportive of both our decision to move convention due to the strike, but also especially appreciative of the deeper connection we found to the Little Tokyo community because of the changes.
There are so many other thanks that need to be given out. Tamlyn Tomita pulled together an amazing ensemble of women to perform a reading of “Question 27, Question 28,” and she provided much of the support for both performances of “Defining Courage” and emceed the Sayonara Gala.
The Pacific Southwest District and Los Angeles-area chapters provided so much support led by District Governor Ryan Yoshikawa and especially Nancy Takayama, who truly led the local logistics for everything from planning the meals to securing the buses at the last minute to transport people between the hotel and Little Tokyo. And, of course, the hours of work put in by staff led by Cheyenne Cheng.
Moving convention was not without additional costs due to logistics such as the buses. We were able to reduce some expenses, but we had new expenses to add in. We are proud to have supported the Little Tokyo community and stand in solidarity with the UNITE HERE Local 11, but we could also use your support in defraying some of the added expenses of this year’s convention.
Right now, we are looking at a likelihood of around a $30,000 deficit. If you are able, your donation would be much appreciated to help us to ensure that standing by our principles is supported fully by our membership. Please make your donation now by going to our website (https://jacl.org/donate), where you can find information about sending in your check today, or follow the link to donate online.
Thank you in advance for your support, and we look forward to seeing you at the
2024 convention in Philadelphia!
David Inoue is executive director of the JACL. He is based in the organization’s Washington, D.C., office.