Yvanna Cancela is being honored as a Champion of Change for her efforts as an Immigration Reformer.
It is a tremendous honor to accept the Champions of Change Award because the life and work of Cesar Chavez inspires me every day. Chavez's legacy continues on in the hundreds of thousands of workers who come together to demand justice. I am proud to call these men and women my union sisters and brothers.
When staying at a hotel, most people don't think about the housekeeper who made their bed, the kitchen worker who cleaned their plate, or the cook who prepared their meal. UNITE HERE has worked for decades to ensure these “invisible workers” and their basic needs – good healthcare, decent wages and job security – are not overlooked. The union has provided thousands of people the opportunity to provide better lives for themselves and their families. In Las Vegas, the Culinary Workers Local 226 has helped build the city's middle class. The union has focused on empowering its members to win their contracts and ultimately their future.
However, the work of the labor movement goes beyond the workplace. My work is centered on ensuring workers have a strong voice in their communities. I was lucky to land in Las Vegas as a neighborhood organizer during the 2010 elections. For most of five months, I spent every day knocking on doors and talking to voters in predominantly Latino neighborhoods. This gave me a clear understanding of local issues facing Las Vegans, including a weak education system and lackluster housing market. In my time at the union, I have been able to work with members and tackle these challenges head on.
During the 2011 Legislative session, Local 226 founded an organization called Nevada Students Unite Here. I directed a campaign to support education funding and prevent budget cuts. Our campaign led to over 8,000 contacts with students, parents, and union members who were deeply concerned with the issues. Ultimately, by working with community and political allies, we were able to guarantee that devastating cuts were not made to the education budget. It was tremendously empowering to represent our members and their families on such an important issue. As the Legislature convenes again this year, I am working on helping to pass legislation that protects underwater homeowners. I’m also focused on bills that will improve the quality of care in Nevada’s healthcare system.
The most important work I am doing involves union members and immigration reform. As the daughter of immigrants, it is tremendously important for me that comprehensive reform be made a reality. It is easy to understand why UNITE HERE has been at the forefront of the immigration debate. My union represents workers from more than 100 countries. In Vegas alone there are workers from 84 nations. These members came in search of a better future, one with good jobs and opportunities for their families. Ten years ago, my union organized the Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride as part of a national campaign for comprehensive reform. We have stood by the DREAMers, hosted DACA application fairs, and will do whatever it takes to support the Administration’s push for reform. I have the privilege of speaking to workers about this issue and mobilizing them into action.
Cesar Chavez envisioned a world where all workers, regardless of their job or nationality could have dignity in the workplace. By training union members to be leaders at work and in their communities, I believe UNITE HERE is making Chavez’s vision a reality.
Yvanna Cancela is the political director at UNITE HERE’s Local 226, the Culinary Workers Union.