Randy Ghan, worker rights leader who fortified Valley’s labor council, dies at 67

Randy Ghan, a longtime advocate for worker rights in the central San Joaquin Valley, appears at an SEIU event in Fresno, California. Ghan died on Dec. 7, 2018.
Randy Ghan, a longtime advocate for worker rights in the central San Joaquin Valley, appears at an SEIU event in Fresno, California. Ghan died on Dec. 7, 2018. Fresno Councilman Luis Chavez

Randy Ghan, a longtime advocate for worker rights in the central San Joaquin Valley and a labor union figure well known to many workers and elected officials, died on Friday. He was 67.

Ghan is credited with fortifying the Central Labor Council in Fresno, bringing it out of debt in the 1990s and turning it into one of the strongest labor councils in the state with multiple union and nonprofit affiliations.

His tireless advocacy was noticed not just by workers, but by elected officials at local, state and federal levels who were well aware of Ghan and his staunch demands for fair worker rights. Ghan is one of the longest serving labor council executives in California, according to those who knew him.

Dillon Savory, who took over as executive director of the Central Labor Council in 2017, confirmed Ghan’s death Saturday. He said Ghan was attending an afternoon Christmas parade with family in Turlock when he suddenly stopped breathing. According to Savory, Ghan is survived by a sister, two daughters and several grandchildren. His wife died three years ago, Savory said.

“Randy was the most passionate and dedicated labor leader that the Central Valley has seen in the last quarter century,” Savory said. “Randy will probably be remembered as one of the labor icons.”

Randy Ghan makes announcements at the annual Labor Day Pancake Breakfast at the Fresno Fairgrounds Monday, September 2, 2013. CRAIG KOHLRUSS Fresno Bee Staff Photo

Along with being his mentor, Savory said Ghan was “exceptionally dedicated” to serving workers in the Valley. Most recently he had worked with the Central Labor Council doing accounting as a secretary-treasurer. He had been a board member since the 1970s and an executive board member from 1992 to 2017, the year Savory took over.

Ghan hired Savory, 35, as a political director fresh out of Fresno State in 2009. Savory remembers Ghan as a jolly, “very Santa-like” big guy who was always in a good mood and never resentful.

“We’re going to have to name things after him,” Savory said. “He set the labor council up to be a very formidable organization.”

By Fresno Councilman Luis Chavez’s assessment, Ghan was a premier labor leader in the Valley. Chavez said nobody fought harder than Ghan for fair wages and adequate rights of workers.

“Nobody gets a free pass with Randy,” Chavez said. “He wanted to make sure that if you were going to represent a city in the Central Valley, you were going to represent the working men and women.”

Chavez saw Ghan’s vigor up close. In 2010, when Chavez ran for City Council, Ghan quizzed him on workers rights. Chavez’s answer apparently half satisfied Ghan, who said Chavez’s explanation was “half right.”

“He wanted to make sure that I understood how important it was for workers to be treated fairly,” Chavez said. Chavez ultimately lost his race to Fresno County Supervisor Sal Quintero, whom he then worked for.

In 2017, Chavez and Quintero were among several elected officials who joined Ghan in recognizing him for his life’s work in labor rights during a “Cheers for Randy” gathering. Ghan was presented with a City Council proclamation that night, signed by all the council members.

“His work and his passion and commitment to working men and women really touched the local, state and federal levels,” Chavez said. “It’s a huge loss for the Central Valley.”

One of the biggest projects Chavez worked on with Ghan was defeating Measure G in 2013, which would have outsourced trash collection in the city. In that fight, Chavez witnessed Ghan’s passionate concerns for the working class.

Chavez and Ghan last spoke about a week and a half before Ghan’s death when Chavez paid the labor council’s office a visit.

Ghan shook Chavez’s hand as usual and offered him coffee. That caring nature was on display every year at the labor union breakfast held at the Fresno Fairgrounds.

“It was so important for him to make sure that breakfast happened every year,” Chavez said.

Cresencio Rodriguez-Delgado: 559-441-6304, @cres_guez