City and Pepperdine recognize the 29-year career of Labor Exchange Center Director Oscar Mondragón
By Emmanuel Luissi
Special to The Malibu Times
Oscar Mondragón has spent half of his life working in Malibu. He was a member of the United Farm Workers dating back to the 1970s. He then became a board member of the UFW and worked with Cesar Chavez for over 10 years before joining the Malibu Community Labor Exchange in January 1993.
Serving as the director of MCLE, Mondragón, 74, was honored by the City of Malibu on May 9 with a plaque of recognition for his 29 years of work with the Labor Exchange.
“Oscar Mondragón has served the Malibu Community Labor Exchange since its inception in 1993 and has remained steadfast in making it a safe and convenient place for workers to connect with prospective hires,” Malibu Mayor Paul Grisanti said. “We consider Oscar Mondragón a pillar of the Malibu community. The City of Malibu thanks him for his dedication and commitment.”
Mondragón humbly accepted the award and praised the work of his organization, calling it a team effort. He said the gratification of his work comes from knowing that his nonprofit organization has helped thousands of workers as well as the City of Malibu.
“Twenty-nine years may look like a long time, but when you love what you do, it’s just time,” Mondragón said.
Pepperdine University also presented Mondragón with a recognition award of their own on May 17. University President Jim Gash and Seaver College Dean Michael Feltner spoke at the ceremony.
MCLE President Robin Perrin was present at the ceremony and said Pepperdine wanted to thank Mondragón for what he has done for their students.
Perrin, who is also a sociology professor at Pepperdine, said the university has helped students volunteer with Mandragón at MCLE.
Perrin said that Mondragón’s work has been critical to the success and survival of the organization.
“Oscar [Mondragón] is the Malibu Community Labor Exchange,” Perrin said. “When they [Malibu] give us compliments and pat us on the back, of course Oscar is the main one that gets most of those pats — and he’s the one that deserves them.”
Mondragón found his way to Malibu with the help of his friend, actor Martin Sheen.
Sheen had become a supporter of Cesar Chavez and UFW in the late ’80s and this is when Mondragón and Sheen met. Shortly after Mondragón left the UFW, he was contacted by Sheen, who helped him get hired by the MCLE in 1993.
He said Sheen has since been a supporter of the MCLE.
“He is a very, very good friend,” Mandragón said. “He is a great human being and he’s always helping people.”
Since joining the organization, Mondragón estimates that they have helped at least 25,000 workers with employment.
He expressed his gratitude to Malibu for accepting them and extending their support over the years.
“At the beginning we faced resistance because of misconceptions of who we were,” Mondragón said. “We worked with people who were homeless or without papers, and we wanted to help; now we are an iconic symbol of Malibu.”
Mondragón and the MCLE continue to operate today in a trailer office near the Malibu Civic Center and County Courthouses.
Mondragón is in charge of the location and his duties, include meeting new laborers, registering them, getting to know them and the skills they bring to the community, and finding the most suitable workplace for them. He said that his work provides a sense of safety and security for both the laborers and employers. He is proud of the fact that the organization is nonprofit, and the organization facilitates jobs at no cost to either the laborers or the employers.
He explained that the organization’s work has also been important in times of crisis for Malibu. He said that in years where homes in Malibu were threatened by fires and heavy rains, laborers who worked through the MCLE were there to help with fire-related work and sandbagging the community and he believes this has saved people’s homes.
He also expressed pride in the organization’s efforts to help laborers during the pandemic. He said that the organization was very active in raising money for laborers and their families. He believes that the organization was able to raise over 100 thousand dollars for these families during the pandemic.
“Though employment and resources were scarce for workers throughout the pandemic, Oscar and the Labor Exchange continued to support all in need,” Grisanti said.
Laborers who have worked with Mondragón said his work has created opportunities in the lives of so many people that may not have been possible otherwise.
Sebastian Hernandez, a worker who specializes in drywall and painting, said he respects Mondragón and admires his nature of helping others.
“Señor Mondragón is an excellent, respectful person. He understands the needs of all people,” Hernandez said. “He’s a great person who’s always thinking about how to help us and has opened doors that help us survive.”
Antonio Mendez, a handyman who also specializes in landscaping, said Mondragón’s work and reputation have created a platform for laborers to find success in Malibu.
“He [Mondragón] is a collaborator, a moderator for us,” Mendez said. “His work shows our employers who we are and what we do, and that they can have confidence in us.”
Mondragón said he is proud of his organization’s contributions to the community and is happy that he’s been able to help so many people over his time in Malibu.
“We help people get ahead. They go on to make their own companies, some become self contractors and the satisfaction is that we have helped a lot of people,” Mondragón said. “I love the city, I love the people. It’s a caring city. It’s a part of me, it’s part of who I am and has been for the last 29 years.”