Labor of Love
United Way’s union liaison brings passion for people to Sacramento
By Jessica Laskey
For the first time in a long while, Lili Bach feels like she’s in the right place.
After spending 14 years on the East Coast as a union organizer, the Napa native is back on her home turf as United Way California Capital Region’s new labor liaison director.
“Activism runs in my blood,” says Bach, a Downtown resident. “I love doing work with labor and changing lives on the frontlines.”
Bach’s first professional interaction with labor was as an intern in Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s office after earning her bachelor’s degree at UC Irvine. In 2009, the Service Employees International Union surrounded the Capitol while Bach was inside—a moment she remembers with excitement and fear.
When the internship didn’t turn into the full-time position, she took a job as a union organizer with SEIU “somewhat out of spite.”
That job led her to Washington, New York and eventually Miami—a city that felt like the perfect fit for Bach’s “big, bright personality.” She worked her way up from political organizer to coordinator to field director for America Votes and ended up back with SEIU as political director for Local 32BJ, representing building workers in eastern states.
Her proudest achievement was advocating for increasing the living wage and improving working conditions for airport employees in Fort Lauderdale and Miami.
“The horror stories would blow your mind,” Bach says. “It didn’t seem like a multi-billion-dollar city in the United States. I couldn’t believe the lack of compassion and humanity. It was a seven-year campaign—a fight—but ultimately, it was a game changer.”
The fight of “four steps forward, 20 steps back” wore on Bach, so she returned to California to be near her parents, who were having health challenges. She landed several jobs but was laid off from Political Data, Inc., the state’s largest provider of voter information, at the start of the pandemic.
“Not one to quit or give up,” she says, Bach saw the listing for a new labor liaison at United Way and knew it was the perfect job.
“This job was made for me,” she says of the position she landed in September. “To be able to use my 15-plus years with labor and as a community organizer to unite and bring new partners together to build a strong community for working people—if I can be the mechanism to bring people together and continue doing this great work, I go to bed feeling blessed.”
Under the leadership of United Way California Capital Region’s new President/CEO Dawnté Early, Bach has a list of goals. She wants to increase collaboration with local unions, strengthen and create partnerships with other organizations and support United Way’s programming that provides free tax prep, health resources, educational tools and direct financial empowerment to families in the region.
“Now more than ever, it’s so important to have this community, to help one another, to be there for each other,” Bach says. “We’re inundated with hate and us versus them, but at end of the day, our struggle is their struggle. We’re living as one and we’ve got to look out for one another. I don’t know how else we move forward.”
For information, visit yourlocalunitedway.org.
Jessica Laskey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento.