Research considers cemetery workers’ union efforts

Associate Professor of History Allyson Brantley presents her work on labor activism among Los Angeles cemetery workers on Tuesday in the Quay Davis Executive Board Room. Brantley received her doctorate from Yale University in 2016 with her research focusing on interracial labor and consumer organizing and activism in the 20th century United States. / photo by Amanda Torres
Associate Professor of History Allyson Brantley presents her work on labor activism among Los Angeles cemetery workers on Tuesday in the Quay Davis Executive Board Room. Brantley received her doctorate from Yale University in 2016 with her research focusing on interracial labor and consumer organizing and activism in the 20th century United States. / photo by Amanda Torres

Sheridan Lambrook
Staff Writer

Allyson Brantley, associate professor of history, spoke about her latest research “Justice for Cemetery Workers” Tuesday in the Quay Davis Boardroom, before a group of roughly 10 La Verne community members, with more attending on Zoom.

Brantley, whose research focuses on labor movements is also author of the 2021 book “Brewing a Boycott: How a Grassroots Coalition Fought Coors & Remade American Consumer Activism.”  

For her most recent research, Brantley looks at the unionization of cemetery workers, specifically those employed by the Catholic church between 1988 and 1991.

Brantley said she likes to tell the working class story from the bottom up.

Brantley discussed the working conditions for cemetery workers, which lead to their unionizing effort. Similar to many organizations seeking the help of a Union, 140 cemetery workers, the majority of whom were Latino immigrants, undertook dangerous tasks and worked long hours with the added emotional baggage of working with the dead. 

“Every day they are at their job, it is essentially someone’s worst day,” Brantley said.

But the archdiocese was anti-union. And using anti-union tactics, the archdiocese prolonged the campaign for three years. Ultimately, the cemetery workers lost despite their efforts in the end. 

Brantley said she is often asked why she chooses to study such failed campaigns.

“For the people involved in the campaign, it was still a meaningful experience” Brantley said.

For this project Brantley said she conducted interviews with the organizers of the campaign, she found documents and public records including minutes from union organizing meetings. 

“When I talked to organizers (for this action) they did not know how to work with Catholic workers,” Brantley said. “The talk of religion… The union didn’t know how to have that conversation.” 

Organizers today have a playbook on how to communicate with religious workers,” Brantley said. 

“I did not realize how many different occupations want to unionize,” said  junior political science major Maya Masri, who attended the lecture. 

“I did not think of the perspective of a cemetery worker, it was eye opening,” said sophomore business administration major Harry Barnfather.

To date cemetery workers under the employment of the Catholic church are still not unionized in the Los Angeles area.

Sheridan Lambrook can be reached at sheridan.grenda@laverne.edu.

Sheridan Lambrook, a senior journalism major with a concentration in visual journalism, is photography editor and a staff writer for the Campus Times.

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