Community advocate Lola Smallwood-Cuevas, a passionate labor organizer who has fought on the frontlines of the labor movement over the past two decades, is now running in her first political race as a candidate for the California State Senate.
Smallwood-Cuevas is seeking to fill the seat for the 28th State Senate District, a newly drawn district that stretches from Mar Vista to downtown, from South Los Angeles and West Los Angeles to Culver City. With the June 7 primary election fast approaching, Smallwood-Cuevas is the leading candidate in the race, having already earned the support of a broad coalition of multi-ethnic elected officials, organizations and labor groups.
She plans to bring her many years of experience as a community advocate to enact real change in public policies that impact the lives of residents. Through her longtime commitment to protecting workers’ rights, she understands the essential needs of working communities, particularly during the pandemic and what’s needed for an equitable recovery in the years ahead.
“I am honored to be supported by a broad coalition of elected officials, labor organizations and organizers who are ready to usher in bold progressive leadership into the California State Senate. With a Democratic supermajority and surplus, I believe we can enact transformative change that directly addresses economic immobility and the jobs crisis that is disproportionately impacting the Black community,” said Smallwood-Cuevas. “When we lift the most vulnerable communities, we lift all of California.”
Smallwood-Cuevas is dominating in endorsements by local leaders who represent areas overlapping the 28th State Senate District, including State Senators Sydney Kamlager, Steven Bradford and Maria Elena Durazo; Los Angeles County Supervisors Holly Mitchell and Sheila Kuehl; Assemblymembers Reggie Jones-Sawyer and Isaac Bryan; Los Angeles City Councilmember Marqueece Harris-Dawson; and Culver City Councilmembers Alex Fisch and Yasmine Imani McMorrin.
“Lola is a coalition builder with a proven track record of getting things done. We need her strong voice in the legislature as we work to develop an equitable recovery from COVID-19, deeply invest in working families, and deliver environmental justice for our most vulnerable communities,” said Supervisor Mitchell.
Smallwood-Cuevas has been endorsed by California’s largest union, SEIU California, as well as the California Teachers Association, Los Angeles/Orange County Building Trades, California Professional Firefighters, California Nurses Association, and the Los Angeles Federation of Labor. She is the only candidate in this race to be endorsed by the California Democratic Party.
Her personal and professional life has shaped her deep understanding of the challenges faced by vulnerable workers. Raised by a single mother employed as a home care staffer and LVN while studying to become a registered nurse, Smallwood-Cuevas has lived experience of being from a working family who moved to California in search of better education, good jobs, and a pathway to self-determination.
After graduating from California State University at Hayward, Smallwood-Cuevas started her career as a journalist, with her first union membership with the Newspaper Guild, where she documented the lives and societal interests of working families. She moved on to serve as a researcher and political and community organizer for SEIU Local 1877, where she worked to change the tangible conditions of working families, a mission close to her heart, by then becoming a wife and mother of two. She understands that when workers do well, our communities do well.
Smallwood-Cuevas witnessed the vast disparities in union membership and skilled labor opportunities in the Black community throughout her career as a labor organizer and decided to take action to focus efforts on building a stronger Black working class as a Project Director for the UCLA Labor Center.
There, she incubated the Black Worker Center Project. She later co-founded the L.A. Black Worker Center where she worked to increase access to quality jobs, reduce employment discrimination, and improve industries that employ Black workers through action and unionization.
President Barack Obama recognized Smallwood-Cuevas and the L.A. Black Worker Center as a national model, which would become a flagship for the National Black Worker Center Network. Under her leadership, the L.A. Black Worker Center was a leading force in establishing the City of Los Angeles’ Civil and Human Rights Office to address discrimination. Also, the organization served on the steering committee of the Raise the Wage Campaign that led to the City of Los Angeles passing one of the largest minimum wage policies in the country.
The L.A. Black Worker Center also spearheaded an effort to establish a community benefits agreement to strengthen diversity and inclusion of underrepresented workers on the Crenshaw-LAX rail project in partnership with the U.S. Department of Labor and local unions.
Smallwood-Cuevas currently serves as project director for the UCLA Center for the Advancement of Racial Equity (CARE) at Work. UCLA CARE at Work recently released “Essential Stories: Black Worker COVID-19 Economic Health Impact Survey.” The report, which documents the effects of COVID-19 on Black workers in Southern California, is considered one of the largest ever surveys of the region’s Black workers.
In the area of community service, Smallwood-Cuevas serves as treasurer of the Los Angeles County Workforce Development Board; as a Employment Equity Commissioner for the City of Los Angeles; as a member of the Los Angeles County Ad Hoc Committee on Black People Experiencing Homelessness; and as a taskforce member for the U.S. Department of Labor Hiring Initiative to Reimagine Equity (HIRE). In addition, she is a founding member of the Los Angeles County Worker Center Network, and co-chair of the Black Worker Hub for Regional Organizing.
If elected as state senator, Smallwood-Cuevas would be the only Black woman to serve in the California State Senate. With a focus on hardest-hit communities and disparity-driven priorities, she pledges to work toward an equitable recovery and long-term solutions to economic inequality, the housing crisis, affordable and accessible healthcare, public safety, protecting workers’ rights, more equitably funded educational systems, and a greener and cleaner environment to grow vibrant communities.
Building on years of coalition building, Smallwood-Cuevas will use an intersectional approach to policy development. Her fundamental purpose in serving in the State Senate is to push for bottom-up policies that deliver the resources and tools working families need to build the California dream they want and deserve.
To learn more, visit lolaforca.com.