An establishment-backed labor leader running for a Democratic National Committee seat called non-Hispanic employees "gringos" and terminated employees based on age, according to a lawsuit.
When Ada Briceño (née Torres) was president of UNITE HERE Local 681, a jury convicted the hospitality labor group of discrimination and illegal firing. According to the 2003 lawsuit, Briceño referred to non-Hispanic employees as "gringos," disparaged employees' work-related medical conditions, and terminated workers based on age, telling a union vice president "I'm going to fire these f—ing old ladies, and we can get someone else for less money."
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Briceño's union went on to pay nearly $1 million in damages and legal fees stemming from the lawsuit, a ruling the organization unsuccessfully appealed. She did not return requests for comment.
Despite her history of discrimination as a labor leader, Briceño is now running for the DNC on a platform of inclusivity, receiving widespread support from the Democratic establishment. California Democratic representatives Gil Cisneros, Harley Rouda, and Mike Levin have all endorsed Briceño, as have California's secretary of state and treasurer. Though all of Briceño's top endorsers have spoken against workplace discrimination, none have addressed the labor leader's discriminatory practices. They did not return requests for comment.
Center for Union Facts spokeswoman Charlyce Bozzello said the lawsuit should raise red flags for Democratic leaders.
"For someone who touts her achievements on behalf of workers, Briceño certainly seems to be a common denominator among organizations accused of employee abuse," said Bozzello. "Instead of sweeping her misdeeds under the rug, Briceño's past offenses—and her connection to current allegations—should make the Democratic party question what kind of leadership she'll bring to the national committee."
According to the lawsuit, Briceño routinely subjected non-Hispanics to differential treatment. In addition to calling employees "gringos," Briceño failed to discipline Hispanic staff members who were late to work despite requiring all employees to sign a document ensuring their punctuality. Briceño also held union meetings that were conducted only in Spanish with no translation for non-Spanish speakers, calling those who complained "contra."
In addition, Briceño discriminated against staff members based on age and disparaged employees over their medical conditions. After one worker took time off for work-related medical conditions and injuries, Briceño "made her feel she was wrong and not entitled to do so," causing the employee to cancel doctor's appointments in an attempt to make up for missed time. Briceño went on to terminate multiple employees after stating she was going to "fire these f—ing old ladies" and "get someone else for less money." She described the fired workers as "old and slow and time to go."
While a California jury convicted Briceño's union of illegal firing and discrimination against its employees, Briceño's career continued to advance. The labor leader retained her job as president of Local 681 following the lawsuit. The union later merged with other UNITE HERE chapters to form Local 11. Briceño served as Local 11 co-president in 2017 and 2018, collecting more than $200,000 in compensation, according to federal labor filings. She also serves as vice president of UNITE HERE international, which represents more than 270,000 workers.
Since launching her DNC campaign, Briceño has avoided criticism over her history of discrimination. Her campaign site states that Briceño "believe[s] in uniting people across our differences" and that "Democrats win when everyone has a seat at the table." A recent profile of Briceño did not mention the 2003 lawsuit.
The toxic work environment described by Briceño's union underlings has allegedly extended past her union work. Activists at Orange County Communities Organized for Responsible Development (OCCORD), a coalition Briceño co-founded, have accused the group of mistreatment. OCCORD has experienced mass departures, with organizers accusing leadership of developing a "working environment characterized by burn out, long hours, lax professional development and stale wages."
The DNC did not return request for comment.