The daughter of Mexican immigrant farm workers, Maria Elena Durazo learned the importance of hard work and determination at a very young age. As a child, she traveled from Oregon to California with her parents and nine siblings to work in the fields.
Maria Elena started working at the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Union (HERE) Local 11 as an organizer in 1983, and soon after launched a campaign to transform the local into a democratic organization that was truly accountable toward its membership. She was elected as President in 1989, and helped to build Local 11 into one of the most active unions in Los Angeles County. Maria Elena was the first Latina to be elected to the Executive Board of HERE International Union in 1996.
In 2003, Maria Elena became National Director of the Immigrant Workers’ Freedom Ride, a national campaign to address the nation’s immigration laws.
On May 15, 2006 Maria Elena Durazo was the first woman elected Secretary-Treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO, a position she would hold for the next nine years. At the Federation, she represented the interests of more than 300 local unions and over 600,000 workers in every key industry. In 2010, Maria Elena was elected a Vice President of the national AFL-CIO Executive Council, where she served as the first leader of a local labor movement on the highest body of the AFL-CIO. She was also Chair of the National AFL-CIO’s Immigration Committee.
On January 1, 2015, Maria Elena began her next chapter in life as International Union Vice President for Civil Rights, Diversity and Immigration with UNITE HERE. UNITE HERE currently represents 270,000 members working in the hotel, gaming, food service, manufacturing, textile, distribution, laundry, transportation, and airport industries in the U.S. and Canada.
Maria Elena has been elected to numerous national positions within the Democratic National Party. She has served on several Los Angeles City Commissions under mayors Tom Bradley, Richard Riordan, and Antonio Villaraigosa. She sits on various boards, including LAANE; the Los Angeles Tourism & Convention Board; the Los Angeles Coalition; and United Way.
A resident of Los Angeles, Maria Elena is the mother of two sons, Mario and Michael, grandmother to Seneka and Sydney, and the widow of Miguel Contreras. Maria Elena is a graduate of St. Mary’s College in Moraga, and earned a law degree from the People’s College of Law in 1985.