Hotel union labor leader Maria Elena Durazo, widow of labor chief Miguel Conteras, was named Friday as interim executive secretary and treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, a post held for nearly a decade by her late husband.


Durazo, who is currently president of Unite Here Local 11, becomes the first woman to take the helm of the countywide labor alliance of 356 local unions and 825,000 union members.


Durazo is also the third person to head the County Federation of Labor in the last year. She succeeds Martin Ludlow, who stepped down last month in the face of a mounting scandal over alleged illegal union funding of his 2003 city council campaign. Ludlow had given up his council seat to lead the labor alliance after the death of Contreras.


"We are gratified that Maria Elena Durazo has accepted our invitation to take leadership of the County Fed at this critical juncture," said labor federation President Rick Icaza, who is also president of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 770. "I am sure it was not an easy decision for her, either personally or professionally, given her strong leadership in the national hotel workers campaign."


Unite Here is in the midst of a nationwide effort to boost wages and union representation among hotel workers. The Los Angeles union local headed by Durazo recently launched an effort to unionize hotels along Century Boulevard near Los Angeles International Airport. There was no word as of late Friday on who would take over as president of the hotel workers' union during Durazo's absence.


As for a permanent executive secretary/treasurer for the County Federation of Labor, Icaza said that "in the near future," delegates from each of the County Fed's affiliated unions would meet to nominate candidates for the permanent post and then meet again to elect a leader. He did not give specific dates for either meeting.


Ludlow resigned as federal and state investigators were looking into allegations that the Service Employee International Union Local 99 illegally spent $53,000 to provide cell phones, computers, phone banks and political operatives for Ludlow's council campaign. If charges are brought and prosecuted, Ludlow could face several years in jail and more than $200,000 in fines and penalties.


Last month, the Los Angeles Times reported that Ludlow was considering a plea bargain with prosecutors in which he would agree to pay a heavy fine and not to seek or hold public office or union posts for 10 years.

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