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Cesar Chavez day edition

Labor Day 2014: What Work in America Means

John Jones – Fast-Food Manager Wants the ‘Best’ for Son

Name: John Jones

Home city: Oakland, Calif.

What kind of work do you do?

“I was the security guard at a Burger King and got promoted to manager of the store. In spite of the fact that I now have more responsibility and am doing the work of three people, I haven’t got a raise. I still make only $10 an hour and take home only about $300 a week.

“I’m a single father, and I often have to choose between basic necessities. I’m like many people who are choosing between ‘a,’  ‘b,’ or ‘c.’ In reality, I need all three for my family.”

What was your favorite job and why?

“I’ll be honest: My favorite job is actually the time I spend volunteering to make Oakland better. Too many of our people have lost hope and don’t see a way out of the cycle of poverty. But we are blessed right now to be able to do something to help change that by raising the minimum wage to $12.25 on the Lift Up Oakland campaign. This is not about hope – this is about doing.

“The first few words of the U.S. Constitution are, ‘We the People,’ not, ‘We the corporations.’ We’ve got to come together as people and lift ourselves up.

“We have to believe that these present circumstances are changeable, and that the cycle of poverty is not permanent. We have to have faith in change. And by getting involved, I am helping to make that change and hopefully inspire others to do the same.”

What lessons have you learned from your jobs?

“I’ve learned that low-wage workers are the backbone of the economy. The public doesn’t interact with CEO’s – they are interacting with minimum wage workers. And there’s very little respect for us. Which is why we can’t rely on anyone else to lift us up – we need to lift ourselves up.”

What do workers and families need to succeed?

“An increase in the minimum wage is about dignity and will lift up workers and our families, allowing us to buy the necessities. We can make sure that our children have the basics. I want my son to be engaged in programs that take advantage of his gifts, instead of being lured into the streets.

“Right now, I don’t have an entertainment budget. Some might say that’s frivolous, but it’s not. It’s time with my son. It’s laughter that will last forever. I know I’m doing something right to put a smile on his face. Parenting is about more than putting a roof over my son’s head and food in his mouth. Prison can do that.

“Parenting is about creating a positive mind frame so he can do good in the world.

“That positivity should not only be afforded to only those who can afford it. It’s for all of us. Someone who makes $100,000 shouldn’t be saying that their kids deserve more because they make more money. No, my kid deserves the same shot at the American Dream.”

Name of person who helped submit answers: Beth Trimarco of East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy

Lily Wong – Advocating for Communities of Color to Thrive

Name: Lily Wong

Home city: San Francisco

Organization affiliation: Coleman Advocates for Children & Youth

What kind of work do you do?

“My rewarding work with Coleman Advocates allows me the opportunity to advocate for job policies that help working class families that are struggling to survive in San Francisco. San Francisco is an increasingly wealthy city, but has a large income gap.

“My work focuses on issues like the double-digit unemployment rates in communities of colors and the families that are struggling to survive. I see my work at Coleman Advocates as part of a continuum of need that our communities are suffering through.

“On one hand, we are looking toward the future to ensure our communities of color are able to thrive. My colleagues work on empowering youth and families to advocate for a future for children of color in San Francisco.

“On the other, we are looking at ways to ensure they are able to survive today. My work focuses on the jobs they can obtain after graduating from SFUSD (San Francisco Unified School District) and the type of jobs our parent advocates can obtain today to ensure their families can stay in San Francisco.

“This combination of present-future advocacy and organizing inspire me.
”

What was your favorite job and why?

“My favorite job (to date) was as a member of Youth Making A Change. Here, I learned to advocate and the power of my voice in combination with other youth voices all over the city.

“As a freshman in high school, I was accustomed to adults telling me what the right answer was and dismissing my opinions. Growing up in a working-class immigrant family in San Francisco, I felt that America was built for an entirely different group of people and that we were just peripherals in their world.

“At the time, I felt like I was unheard and had no power to influence changes in my community. After joining YMAC, I learned more about my community and the various issues young people face. I became an advocate on their behalf, and spoke to the Board of Education, Board of Supervisors and even had a meeting with the Mayor of San Francisco to advocate for youth needs in the city.

“Many of the programs and services we advocated for over 10 years ago still exist today. Were it not for YMAC, I would not be as politically conscious and interested in public service.”

What lessons have you learned from your jobs?

“Though we have come a long way, we still have a long way to go. I’ve seen time and time again the injustice of our employment system, which continually disenfranchises struggling-class communities.

“(There are) simple things, like building a network help those who have those connections, but it is exponentially harder to build networks when you grow up in an entirely different environment.

“On a more personal note, I’ve learned the value of having a supportive and trusting workplace. When starting at a new place, I now tend to be more closed off and it takes me a long time to build trust with my colleagues because of prior negative experiences.

“Working at Coleman Advocates is a blessing, because I feel like I’ve returned to a family who loves me, trusts me and wants the best for me.”

What do workers and families need to succeed?

“For me, this is a trick question. My work deals with policies that are enforced on a city level to ensure families and workers succeed, but city policy narrowly looks at (and funds) based on expected needs in the community.

“Families and workers have a myriad of needs ranging from education (like a high school diploma or GED), English language abilities, paid experiences, child care, transportation to work, a living wage. The list is truly endless. We cannot put individuals into boxes and ‘tracks’ for success. A person who is homeless has vastly different challenges than an undocumented immigrant.

“What I want to see is an increase in direct services that rely on more than ‘placements’ as a measure of success. In addition to these direct services, we need strong advocates to make sure these direct services have enough support to continue their work.
”

Gina Womack – ‘Humanity is Essential in the Workplace’

Name: Gina Womack

Home city: New Orleans

Organization affiliation: Families and Friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children

What kind of work do you do?

“I am the executive director for a statewide membership-based organization that works with disenfranchised families whose children are being push out of school and into the prison system.”

What was your favorite job and why?

“I never thought I’d like being executive director, but I’ve learned to love it because it gives me the opportunity to provide a safe and family-oriented environment where everyone’s opinions are valued and where we can learn from others and develop methods to help our communities.”

What lessons have you learned from your jobs?

“I’ve learned that humanity is essential in the workplace and that great things can happen when you work together for the common good.”

What do workers and families need to succeed?

“I believe that working families need to be heard, respected and valued. We need to be able to have flex times for families so they can take care of children and other loved ones while still maintaining accountability. Families need a living wage and benefits.”

Silvia Velazquez – Loving Her Kids is Best ‘Job’

Name: Silvia Velazquez

Home city: San Francisco

Organization affiliation: Coleman Advocates for Children & Youth

What kind of work do you do?

“I am (was) the floor manager of a gastropub in San Francisco. Being a floor manager often means 11- or 12-hour days. In addition to this, I am a mom. I cook, clean, take care of my kids, take them to school, the doctors office, etc.

“Additionally, I am learning how to do nails because it is a creative outlet. I love doing it, and if I can get paid for doing it then even better.”

What was your favorite job and why?

“Even though I don’t consider it a ‘job,’ taking care of my kids is a job. It is my favorite thing to do. When I see my children grow, smile and learn, I see the direct effect of what I am doing. I can immediately see I am doing a good job. Plus it’s a job that’s 24/7 for a lifetime and what you get in return is amazing.”

What lessons have you learned from your jobs?

“I have learned that when you get a job doing what you love, what your passion is, that’s the most amazing thing. Getting paid to do something you love — not a lot of people can say they have that.”

What do workers and families need to succeed?

“Workers and families need more opportunities to grow in their jobs. We also need more support and recognition and motivation from management. I rarely see this.

“In my job, it took me eight years to become a floor manager. My job in the food industry has also shown me what African Americans face in terms of discrimination on the job, or in trying to get one.

“Our people need more support and motivation because we are working hard and recognition will motivate us to do even more. There is nothing like being recognized for your work.”

Name of person who helped submit answers: Christina Canaveral of Coleman Advocates for Children & Youth

Alfredo Vidal – A Day Laborer who Loves Building Things

Name: Alfredo Vidal

Home city: Los Angeles

Organization affiliation: Central American Resource Center (CARECEN)

What kind of work do you do?

“I was most recently a print shop operator. I am now a day laborer.”

What was your favorite job and why?

“I like doing framing, drywall and taping. It’s beautiful to build things and be able to get your hands dirty with paste.”

What lessons have you learned from your jobs?

“You have to be patient and you must put effort into your work. It is only then that you can succeed.”

What do workers and families need to succeed?

“Workers need work to sustain their families. Overall, there needs to be comprehension in the family unit.”

Name of person who helped submit answers: Daisey Miranda of Central American Resource Center

Alfonso Vargas – A Chef who Never Stops Learning

Name: Alfonso Vargas

Home city: Birmingham, Alabama

Organization affiliation: Immigrant Alabama Movement (IAM Birmingham)

What kind of work do you do?

“I’m currently working as a chef at a local restaurant in Birmingham and I just recently started my own catering business.”

What was your favorite job and why?

“My favorite type of job has been working in kitchens. I love working with food, because you never stop learning, there’s always new combinations, ingredients and recipes you can use.”

What lessons have you learned from your jobs?

“I think in terms of lessons from work, I’ve had the opportunity to learn about other countries through their food and gastronomy.”

What do workers and families need to succeed?

“In order to be successful, people need motivation to work, the opportunity to work by being granted a legal immigration status or social security number and a fair salary.”

Name of person who helped submit answers: Kyle Tharp of Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice

Andrea Paz – Does Work Making ‘Everything Else Possible’

Name: Andrea Paz

Home city: San Francisco

Organization affiliation: Coleman Advocates for Children & Youth

What kind of work do you do?

“I do the work that makes everything else possible. I am a mom. At home I cook, clean, do laundry, look after the kids, help them with homework and fill out all their school and medical paperwork. I take them to their doctor visits.

“In the little free time that I have I knit scarfs, hats and other things that often gives me some extra spending money. I also volunteer a lot at my children’s schools — especially in teaching dancing to the kids, which is something I love to do.”

What was your favorite job and why?

“When I was in Mexico, I sold things from a catalog (like Mary Kay cosmetics). It really taught me a lot, and I enjoyed getting to know people.”

What lessons have you learned from your jobs?

“I have learned some very important lessons both as a mom and as a worker. I have learned to be more responsible with my time and how to manage it well. I have learned how to administer and manage a budget.

“My knitting has really taught me things like investing and how to price things and the discipline I need to make sure I get things done in the time I promised it to my clients.”

What do workers and families need to succeed?

“I think that families need a lot of what I have learned, particularly the financial literacy piece. I was pretty nervous about managing a budget and about spending money. What if I spent it on the wrong thing?

“We are so often living paycheck to paycheck, and it would be helpful to have new creative ways to look at savings and investments. Additionally, I think that for immigrants like me, our job options are often limited, so learning how to create and grow your own business is also very helpful.”

Name of person who helped submit answers: Christina Canaveral of Coleman Advocates for Children & Youth

Lillian Tillman – Wants to Reform Juvenile Justice in La.

Name: Lillian Tillman

Home city: New Orleans

Organization affiliation: Families and Friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children (FFLIC)

What kind of work do you do?

“I advocate for juvenile justice reform.”

What was your favorite job and why?

“I’ve enjoyed working with the elderly.”

What lessons have you learned from your jobs?

“I’ve learned to serve those in need.”

What do workers and families need to succeed?

“Success comes from working together.”

Jose Cruz Martinez – Passion Can Inspire Workers

Name: Jose Cruz Martinez

Home city: Los Angeles

Organization affiliation: Central American Resource Center (CARECEN)

What kind of work do you do?

“I am a security guard.”

What was your favorite job and why?

“In Pasadena, because I was able to secure quality eyewear and be respected by the customers.”

What lessons have you learned from your jobs?

“I have learned how to be an effective communicator.”

What do workers and families need to succeed?

“Desire to succeed. They need to find their passion in order to be committed to their work.”

Donna Kandel – Union Leader Calls for Equity for Teachers

Name: Donna Kandel

Home city: Nipomo, Calif.

Organization affiliation: Lucia Mar Unified Teachers Association

What kind of work do you do?

“I’m a teacher in a public high school in the Central Coast of California. I’m also the president of my local teachers union.”

What was your favorite job and why?

“My job as a public school teacher is a second career for me, and it is the best and hardest job I’ve ever had. I look back at my own teachers, especially in high school, as some of the most memorable and impactful people in my life, and I want to contribute to the education and mentorship of youth in that same way.

“Soon after I became a teacher, I began to work as a union rep for my school site. Currently I am in my third year serving as our local union president, representing over 500 teachers and educational support personnel. This involvement with my union — representing, defending, and advocating for teachers — is a second and related job for me, and I’m passionate about that work as well.

“It is clear that public education and public sector unions are under assault, and it is equally clear to me that the quality of education for our students is intrinsically linked to the ability of teachers to maintain due process, collective bargaining rights and academic freedom — all of which are supported and protected by the union.”

What lessons have you learned from your jobs?

“I’ve learned that we have to be honest and active in advocating for fair and equitable conditions in our workplaces. I’ve also learned that the impact I have as a teacher isn’t always apparent in the short term, and that it’s important to reach out and make an effort with every student who crosses my path.

“I recently had an interesting encounter with a former student. I was in a local Starbucks and a young man approached me and said, ‘Hello, Ms. Kandel! I just wanted to shake your hand and thank you for teaching me math!’ He explained that he had been my student in a remedial algebra class in his freshman year of high school — and that he had actually failed the class.

I said, ‘Well, nice of you to thank me then, even though you didn’t pass my class!’ He said, ‘Your class was the first math class I ever had where I understood that math isn’t just numbers on a paper. You taught us all kinds of things, like the Fibonacci sequence, and that got me really interested. Now I read and study things like that on my own, because I find it interesting.'”

What do workers and families need to succeed?

“We need equitable treatment and protection from arbitrary or discriminatory decisions by management. The inequity in pay between management and workers in America is astronomical, and it will take solidarity and collective action to begin to make a change in this area. We need courage and leadership to organize working families and re-establish some fairness in our economic structure.

“When working families are optimistic and have some assurance that they can meet their most basic needs — food, housing, a living wage, health care, etc. — all of society will benefit. The best way to achieve these goals is to work together to revive and expand the union movement in our country.”

Salvador Lomeli – A Dad Working to Open College Doors

Name: Salvador Lomeli

Home city: Chicago

Organization affiliation: Mujeres Latinas en Accion

What kind of work do you do?

“My most important work is advocating for my son and daughter and getting other parents to advocate for their children. My son is 14 years old and just beginning high school. When he first entered school, I was lost in the school system trying to figure out things like the GPA (grade point average) and class schedule.

“I took Mujeres Latinas en Acción’s Parent Support class and learned how important it is for parents to advocate together for their children’s health and education and that we can make a change in the schools. I decided that I needed to take a leadership role in the school to not only advocate for my son, but to give other parents information that they could use to help their children succeed.

“Last year, I was elected to be the secretary for my school’s Parent Advisory Council. I led workshops for many immigrant parents who didn’t know about the opportunities available for their children to go to college. Being new to this country, they had trouble navigating information about scholarships and FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid).

“I noticed that mothers would come to school events. So, I started encouraging fathers to attend and get involved in their children’s education.”

What was your favorite job and why?

“Although I have worked in many different places, my favorite job was a temporary position as a coordinator for Parent’s University, a summer program bringing parents to different colleges throughout Chicago. Many parents came to this program not knowing anything about the process of applying to college.

“When I brought them to the different campuses in Chicago, their eyes opened. They realized that their children could go to college with the right assistance. It was meaningful seeing the change in parents from being uncertain about their children’s future to having hope for a better one.”

What lessons have you learned from your jobs?

“When I came to the United States 14 years ago, I worked in a warehouse, construction and landscaping. It was hard work and very labor intensive, but I worked with others and together we learned how to cooperate and help each other. I learned teamwork and accountability to other people.

“In Mujeres’ Parent Support class, I learned how to transform these teamwork skills to my home life. In my family, we view each other as a team, living and working together.”

What do workers and families need to succeed?

“Families need to have a vision of making their lives better and this can be done through education. To do this, both families and workers need information about the opportunities that exist. But the opportunities also have to exist. Low-income and first-generation students need more grants and scholarships to be able to make this happen.”

Name of person who helped submit answers: Claire Denton-Spalding of Mujeres Latinas en Accion.

Brandon Askew – A Chicago Worker Who Cares for Family

Name: Brandon Askew

Home city: Chicago

Organization affiliation: Action Now

What kind of work do you do?

“I currently work in a warehouse, boxing cups and getting them ready to ship.”

What lessons have you learned from your jobs?

“Nothing in life is free.”

What do workers and families need to succeed?

“Better pay. The pay at most places is minimum wage or barely above that. We need a minimum wage that would allow me to take care of my family.”

Name of person who helped submit answers: Aaron Krager of Action Now

Gloria Davis – A Mom who Backs Employers With a Heart

Name: Gloria Davis

Home city: Chicago

Organization affiliation: Chicago Coalition for the Homeless

What kind of work do you do?

“For the past six months, I have worked day labor at a meat-packing plant. I averaged 32 hours a week, and was paid the $8.25 Illinois minimum wage. I also began working part time in the office at the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless (CCH), one to two days a week, earning $15 an hour. I’m in my mid-50s and have held a variety of jobs over the years, including working four years as a bus coordinator at a South Side elementary school.”

What was your favorite job and why?

“My favorite jobs were the three years I worked with developmentally-delayed adults at a school. I also loved the year I worked as a paid intern in the event management office at the McCormick Place convention center. For me, to be able to see something from the beginning to the end was kind of cool, to see it blossom into an event, such as the Black College Fair, the dog show and the auto show.”

What lessons have you learned from your jobs?

“I learned that you need to be dedicated and enjoy what you’re doing to be successful. I also work part time at CCH now, and I like the people here. I feel part of something. I started out as a volunteer community leader. It helped me to find out that I have a voice, and I can speak out for those who don’t know they have a voice.”

What do workers and families need to succeed?

“They need a fair living wage and an employer that has a heart for families. My two sons are grown, but some people have issues with day care, or sick leave. Through CCH, I advocate for an increase in the minimum wage because I know that it’s very much needed. It’s a difficult position to be in to go to work every day but you cannot afford an apartment.”

Name of person who helped submit answers: Anne Bowhay of Chicago Coalition for the Homeless

Anthony Dade – Youth Intern Ready to ‘Inspire Others’

Name: Anthony Dade

Home city: San Francisco

Organization affiliation: Coleman Advocates for Children & Youth

What kind of work do you do?

“I am a paid youth intern at Coleman Advocates for Children & Youth. I organize events, do student outreach, recruit members, plan and facilitate meetings and workshops, and more.”

What was your favorite job and why?

“I haven’t had other paid jobs before but my dream job in life is to be a chef and to own my own restaurant. I will be able to do what I love most and also provide good jobs for other people.”

What lessons have you learned from your jobs?

“I’ve learned a lot about what it means to be a good leader. You have to be able to inspire people and hold their attention and get people involved even when they have a million other things they have to do.

“You have to plan every little detail of events or actions way ahead of time and imagine what could go wrong and plan for that. I’ve learned that if you are confident and believe in yourself that others will want to follow your lead.”

What do workers and families need to succeed?

“Well, I can speak about what youth need. There should be jobs set aside for youth. The whole community needs more jobs but there should be special jobs just for young people because a lot of times we have to help support our families, even when we are still in high school and also because we need to build our resumes so we can get a job when we graduate.

“We also need more support in preparing to look for jobs and apply for jobs – help with resumes and interviews, that kind of thing.

“Families need this kind of support, too. And also day care.”

Name of person who helped submit answers: Kevine Boggess of Coleman Advocates for Children & Youth


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