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California Rep. Norma Torres joined AFSCME this week in a celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month.

Photo: Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images
By Pablo Ros ·
Tags: Our Stories

California Rep. Norma Torres, a former AFSCME member who represents her state’s 35th Congressional District, joined our union this week in celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month.

In a virtual gathering with AFSCME members in Washington, D.C., and California, Torres shared her life’s story of standing up for the Hispanic community and workers’ rights.

Before she ran for elected office, Torres said, she served as a 911 dispatcher for the Los Angeles Police Department, where she was one of a few Spanish speakers. It was there, she said, that she received an emergency call that “forever changed my life.”

The call was from a Spanish speaker, but by the time Torres picked up, all she could hear was a girl’s screaming, loud thumping and, eventually, five gunshots.

In due time, it would become clear that Torres had witnessed the murder of an 11-year-old girl at the hands of her uncle. And that the girl had waited 20 minutes to get help from a 911 dispatcher who spoke her language.

It was a galvanizing tragedy for Torres who, through her union, AFSCME, fought for changes to the police department that included hiring more Spanish speakers while maintaining the language bonus that bilingual personnel received.

Her successes encouraged her to increase her union and political activism. After she heard former AFSCME President Gerry McEntee encourage our union’s members to run for office, she asked herself, “Why not me? Why can’t I accept that challenge and run for office?”

Since then, Torres has served as a city council member and mayor of Pomona, Calif., as well as a California assembly member and state senator. She is currently serving her third congressional term and sits on the House Appropriations and Rules Committee.

As a House member, she introduced the 911 SAVES Act, which seeks to recognize 911 dispatchers for their front-line work by reclassifying them into the same job category as other front-line personnel, including firefighters and law enforcement officers. Currently, they are considered clerical workers.

AFSCME President Lee Saunders noted that the Hispanic community in our nation has nearly tripled since 1990.

“The Hispanic community is a political, cultural, social and economic force in our country,” he said. “And it has played a pivotal role in labor history – most notably the strikes and struggles of the United Farmworkers, led by Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta, who is still a warrior for social justice at the young age of 92.

“The union difference is especially powerful for the Hispanic community,” Saunders added. “According to data from the Labor Department, Hispanic union members earned 33 percent more than their non-union peers last year.”

The event was held in celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month, which pays tribute to the generations of Hispanic Americans who have shaped our nation’s history, culture and achievements. It is celebrated September 15 to October 15.

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