Rising Stars: Shubhangi Domokos, California Labor Federation

Shubhangi Domokos. Photo by Scott Duncan, Capitol Weekly

The Capitol community is blessed with a wealth of incredibly bright and passionate younger people driven to make their mark in the public policy realm. Today we start a regular feature taking a closer look at some of those rising stars under age 30.

In just a few years out of college, Shubhangi Domokos became a chief of staff for first, a state assemblymember and then one of the largest labor federations in the country.

Domokos, 28, said she never planned her career to work out this way. “All I knew was I wanted to be an anti-poverty advocate,” she said.

Her life moved into high gear in 2018 when she was hired as a legislative aide by Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher, who was then an assemblymember representing southern San Diego. Gonzalez Fletcher ended up promoting her to chief of staff in 2020 and then bringing her along in the same post to the California Labor Federation last year when Fletcher became executive secretary-treasurer.

“I didn’t give Shubhangi anything; she earned it,” Gonzalez Fletcher said, adding that Domokos was a star right from beginning. “She quickly distinguished herself with an absolute ability to deal with the most complex legal issues, her unmatched work ethic, and her unrelenting commitment to working people and the labor movement.”

Gonzalez Fletcher didn’t hesitate to offer Domokos the chief of staff position at the Assembly when it became available.

Domokos, 28, said she never planned her career to work out this way. “All I knew was I wanted to be an anti-poverty advocate.”

“Despite having no previously managerial experience and being the youngest COS in the building, Shubhangi stepped into the role flawlessly,” she said. “Along with her unmatched policy chops, she has developed a keen understanding of politics as well.”

Domokos says she’s just lucky. “I totally acknowledge I’m not special at all,” she said. “I work hard and that’s it.”

She credits her husband Andy Domokos, a Hungarian immigrant getting his doctoral degree in pharmaceutical chemistry at UC Davis, with helping her stay grounded. She met him in high school and said he, and her family, are her source of stability amidst a career of constant change.

A native of Lucknow, India, Domokos immigrated with her family to Texas when she was 2. The family lived in several states as her father took different computer-related contract jobs and her mother served as a homemaker. Another daughter was born and eventually, the family settled in Sacramento.

Adapting to life in a new country was challenging, especially since the family had no relatives here. Domokos spoke Bengali and Hindi and didn’t learn English until she was in second grade.

“Being in preschool and not being able to communicate with my teachers was a struggle,” she said.

The family made frequent trips back to India, and for a long time, didn’t really identify as American, Domokos said. However, they stayed up with the news and voted in every election after they became citizens.

Domokos chose to study political science at UC Davis and was accepted to a one-year political action program at the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees California. Before then she didn’t know much about labor unions, but she soon immersed herself in learning about labor history and labor politics. She came to believe that working with unions was the best long-term solution to ending poverty.

After that, she worked as a policy advocate for the United Domestic Workers of America, which helps the poorest workers in the state. She thought she would never leave the labor movement, but decided to make a change when she heard about the opening for the legislative aide position for then Assemblywoman Gonzalez.

“She was the premiere labor legislator,” Domokos said. “Of course, I was a huge fan girl.”

Domokos said she was in heaven spending her days working on labor bills. She admired the assemblywoman’s focus. “I think Lorena was one of the most effective legislators because she never lost sight of what would actually make a difference in Californians’ lives.”

Domokos was humbled and surprised when she was asked to take the chief of staff position. She learned a lot about the art of negotiation and staying true to your goals. “It’s not worth it if you’re diluting what you’re fighting for,” she said. “It’s OK to fail. It’s about being principled and not straying from those principles.”

Now she’s happy to be back in the labor movement and working to get more young people involved, especially those that don’t have experience with unions.

“It’s not worth it if you’re diluting what you’re fighting for…It’s OK to fail. It’s about being principled and not straying from those principles.”

In her rare free time, she enjoys painting, hiking, playing with her dog and visiting with her parents and in-laws, who live within a 30 minutes drive away.

Though she spends her days interacting with the public, she she’s an introvert at heart. “It’s really important to me to have solitude, time to meditate and to get away and not socialize,” she said.

Fletcher is delighted to have Domokos work with her at the California Labor Federation. “She now helps me manage a statewide staff, a multi-million dollar budget and one of the most aggressive legislative and political programs in the nation,” Gonzalez Fletcher said. “She’s really quite phenomenal.”

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