Torres, who was born and raised in East Los Ángeles, serves as the youngest and first Latina President of SEIU Local 99, becoming president at the age of 33.
For Torres receiving this award is a way to recognize her late mother Kathryn Barrera, who died in 2010, for her hard work.
“For me personally it’s an honor and privilege,” Torres said, adding that she is dedicating her award to her mother who worked hard to raise five children on her own after Torres’ father died in 1989 when she was only 8 years old. “This is our award.”
“Going from a two-parent income to one parent income is a difficult change,” Torres said.
Her mother never gave up. “She had five kids to raise. She taught me to stand up for what you believe in.”
“I truly believe we need to be, people need to be the change they want to see in the world,” Torres added.
As president of one of the strongest unions in the Los Ángeles Unified School District, Torres, 35, represents 45,000 education workers in K-12 schools, early education centers and homes, administrative offices, and community colleges throughout Southern California.
As president of the union, Torres brings years of experience working to improve the lives of SEIU Local 99 members.
Torres said she keeps fighting for employees to have equal pay and to be treated fairly in the work place and “be respected for the hard work we do” regardless if that job is teaching or cleaning the bathroom.
“Is such an honor to be able to make California better,” Torres said.
Despite her young age, Torres was instrumental in reaching collective bargaining agreements on behalf of 30,000 LAUSD employees, which raised the minimum wage for all her members to $15 an hour by July 1, 2016 as well as securing a 6.5 percent wage increase for those making over $15 an hour.
Torres said her job with the union is to educate them about their rights.
She currently serves as the Chair of SEIU 99’S Latino Caucus and as a Statewide Democratic Delegate for Assembly District 51.
Torres’ involvement with the union and community has always been on a volunteer basis.
“Everything I do with the union is volunteer basis. It’s a tiring and thankless job. I do this for everybody,” she said.
Torres currently works as a special education assistant at Los Ángeles Academy Middle School in South Los Ángeles and has worked for the Los Ángeles Unified School District since the age of 14, as a student worker, a teacher’s assistant, and special education assistance.
Torres said one of the most regarding things about her job as special education assistance is working with those students in the classroom and “ensure they are treated equal as any other child.”
In the near future, Torres sees herself going back to school to get her bachelor’s degree in political science or history. She said she sees herself teaching history or being more involved in the political field, either running for a public office or working for an elected official.
She added that her nieces are her motivation to work hard and continue to work to make everybody’s life better so her own nieces can have a better life too.
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