History was made tonight as the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) inducted Eva Savala of East Moline, IL into the East Central Iowa- North Western Illinois AFL-CIO Hall of Fame
Eva Savala is the first Latina to be awarded this distinction.
Eva Savala has always used her voice to help others: as a wife and mother of five; as a local, state and international union representative; as an advocate for Latino voter registration and education; as a grassroots organizer and supporter of local, state and federal candidates running for office.
The East Moline woman has informed workers across the U.S. of their rights; served as delegate at three Democratic National Conventions; attended two presidential inaugurations; went door-to-door to educate Illinois families about issues affecting their lives; and was recognized with countless awards for leadership and community service.
Savala said all her life she would notice injustices, and would think: ”This is not right. This is not right.”
She started taking action in 1973, three months after she was hired by McLaughlin Body Company. Savala had no experience working on a plant floor, but went to work there because she wanted a better life for her family.
There was nothing easy about the job, and making everything more difficult was sexual harassment she faced from male coworkers. There were times the harassment was so cruel it brought her to tears, she said.
Savala became fed up and reported the sexual harassment to the steward of UAW Local 1414.
He just laughed, she said.
Later, a male coworker reassured Savala that not all men in the plant were like those who were harassing her. She told him she was not going to quit, even though her husband wanted her to do so. She asked the co-worker what she could do. He suggested she run for union steward, an election that was a week away.
She did and she won, making her the first woman elected to a union position.“There comes a time in your life when you have to say enough is enough,” Savala said.
Within two years she was serving on the union’s executive board, as well as the executive board of the Quad City UAW Women’s Committee. She joined the Region 4 steering committee for Bilingual Labor education and was a delegate to the 1983 National UAW Convention.
The UAW noticed Savala’s deep involvement in the community. In 1987 she was hired as the international representative for Region 4, making her the first Hispanic woman to hold the position. A year later, she was transferred to the UAW Top Organizing staff, and in 1992, started working on the National Contract Action team, traveling across the U.S. to organize family support groups for UAW locals.
Savala said her goal was always to help and educate the community, and believes she succeeded. “When people are struggling and you help them find their voice and their dignity in the workplace, it does a lot for them,” she said.
Her work was rough. Savala traveled a lot and missed many family gatherings. There were times when she was followed by police and was arrested twice while trying to educate workers about their rights. “But you do what you have to do,” she said, adding her husband and children were always very supportive.
“It has been a long struggle, but I feel this was my life. It was not my dream, but it was my role in life,” she said.
Article by Hola America staff and Dawn Neuses