Julie Lind jokes she knew the words to “Solidarity Forever” before she knew her ABCs. She keeps her great-grandfather’s union cards framed in her office, displayed on a shelf alongside a childhood photo of herself and her sister on a picket line.
Lind is the fourth generation in a union family, and brings this history with her to her job. The executive secretary-treasurer of the San Mateo County Central Labor Council, Lind represents more than 85,000 workers and families belonging to approximately 100 different unions in the county.
“She is a true believer in the labor movement, and that absolutely comes through,” said Kevin Mullin, who represents District 15 in the U.S. House of Representatives, but was speaking in a personal capacity to discuss his friend. “There’s a real authenticity there, and that’s … part of what makes her so effective.”
Lind has led the Labor Council since 2016, and worked as its political director for six years prior. Her duties as executive secretary-treasurer include coordinating for unions across the county, working on strike support and negotiations, working closely with unions at SFO and running the council’s nonprofit arm with her community service director, Rosa Shields. In addition to political and legislative advocacy, she builds and maintains relationships with public officials and works to form community partnerships.
The council’s AFL-CIO charter is from 1984, but the organization dates back to the 1930s. Its grant-funded nonprofit, the San Mateo County Union Community Alliance, runs a hardship program for union families and hosts monthly community food distributions. It also runs the Trades Introduction Program, a free apprenticeship-readiness class that introduces participants to the construction industry.
Even with her family’s history of organized labor, Lind never assumed she would follow the same path as her father, the head of UFCW Local 5.
“I didn’t initially want to go into anything having to do with labor or politics,” Lind said. “I thought as far as it was going to be was a couple of scholarships that I earned from the union.”
It turns out that labor and politics are where Lind thrives. A college internship with U.S. Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose, kick-started her career. After a brief stint as a substitute teacher, she spent the next several years working for Democratic state legislators.
Thriving in politics
“I thrive on [politics], she said. “It is messy and nutty and exhausting, but fabulous. I love it.”
Lind brought her political savvy to the Labor Council as the political director for her predecessor, Shelley Kessler. It was Lind’s first experience in a union environment, and her background in politics complemented Kessler’s union experience.
“It was a real partnership of different skills,” Kessler said.
Mullin has known Lind since she started working at the Labor Council. Lind uses her background in organized labor and her understanding of politics to act as a “bridge” between the closely related sectors, he said.
“She gets both the union language and the political language, and she’s able to navigate very, very effectively between those two worlds,” he said. “I think that’s what makes her most effective.”
Collaboration and partnerships
Lind is also passionate about collaboration and partnerships. She’s not just the leader of the Labor Council, but sits on multiple boards, committees and commissions. In addition to being the vice president of the California Labor Federation, she sits on the county Workforce Investment Board and, unusually, the Chamber San Mateo County board.
Community partnerships are nothing new to the labor movement, but partnering with business leaders is rare. Lind doesn’t know anyone else in her field who works as closely with the business community as she does.
“It’s a challenging thing to do,” Kessler said. “I wouldn’t have done it. I still wouldn’t do it.”
Lind is able to navigate the chamber board, and Kessler said her successor will continue being able to work in that environment as long as she holds true to the workers she represents.
Lind is proud of her efforts to build this partnership. Labor leaders have to include employers as well as workers in their conversations, she said, so everyone can benefit.
Lind sits on the chamber board with Rosanne Foust, the president and CEO of the San Mateo County Economic Development Association. They don’t always agree on everything, Foust said, but they have built a relationship of trust and support.
“I feel like I can always pick up the phone and call Julie,” she said.
Foust, Lind and Mullin all describe San Mateo County as an area with a high level of collaboration. The county doesn’t have a dominant city, so part of that is out of necessity. Still, Mullin said local public figures pride themselves on the county’s collaborative approach.
“There’s a ‘San Mateo County way’ of doing things, which has served us very well,” he said.
Like any other leader, Lind faces challenges. Time and resources are always scarce, she said, and the unions she represents have been affected by recent economic challenges like the pandemic, recession talks and dwindling city and county budgets. Workers and labor leaders alike also have to reckon with the extreme cost of living on the Peninsula.
“Historical economic challenges have been borne on the backs of the workforce time and time again, and that is not a well that we can continue to come back to,” she said.
Like her predecessor, Lind has also experienced the reality of being a female leader in a male-dominated field. When she attends conferences with a male colleague, Lind is often assumed to be a wife or secretary. When Kessler became head of the Labor Council in 1996, she was the only female labor leader she knew and was paid less than her male counterparts.
“There’s a lot of assumptions made,” Lind said. “This is still a predominantly male environment, so [Kessler] helped me to have more confidence in myself and be centered in my work and in my position.”
Looking to the future
Lind’s family might have a long past of organized labor, but her gaze is turned toward the workers of the present and future. She has worked to start conversations with emerging local industries like biotech and cannabis, and wants to make room for more women, young people and people of color in the labor sector.
“Changing the narrative around the future of work, but also workers of the present, is important to me,” she said.
Local leaders like Lind, Mullin and Kessler agree technological growth has affected and will continue to affect work as we know it.
Technology is displacing workers and businesses don’t pay respect to the workers that built them, Kessler said. She believes labor has to be vigilant and navigate both the good and bad opportunities that arise from change.
As automation, technology and artificial intelligence continue to evolve, Lind wants to create and sustain a “just transition.”
That means training electricians in solar panel installation, having conversations about worker protections in future wind farms, and creating paths into employers like the biotech industry. She emphasizes “family-sustaining jobs”: jobs that offer quality wages, health benefits, a reliable schedule, time to spend with family and an opportunity to retire someday.
“Organized labor has to be strong,” Mullin said. “It has to be a part of the equation in order for us to continue to thrive economically in this county.” A self-described optimist, he believes that the labor movement will continue to make gains.
Lind is at the peak of her powers, Mullin said, and still growing. Wherever she goes from here, his friend has, he said, a “limitless future.”
In the near future, Lind is close to achieving a long-term dream: a county Office of Labor Standards Enforcement. Cities in San Mateo County have had to outsource complaints to San Jose, but Lind is working with Supervisor Ray Mueller’s office to establish an in-county OLSE. Lind wants active enforcement of complaints so employers know they are being watched for potential abuses and workers know they have a place to go if needed.
“It sounds super freaking cheesy, but I feel like I’ve found my place,” she said. “It’s important to me to do everything I can to feel like I’m worth it.”