“Today is Martin Luther King Day, and there is no better day than today to begin blogging again and write about my recent work experience.
For the past four months I have had the honor to work alongside Sanitation workers in their plight for justice. As a union organizer my job is to arm them with the tools, skills, and knowledge necessary to stand up for their rights. Its sounds fairly easy, but making someone realize that they have to stand up for their rights because their boss is taking advantage of them is one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do.
There are laws in this country that Employers have to abide to, some of them very basic laws such as allowing employees access to restrooms or having access to potable drinking water. Yet every day, there are many workers, many of them immigrant workers, whose rights are being violating. Even worse than having their rights violated, these same workers were accepting this and conforming to what a corporate scumbag millionaire decided for them. Why were they accepting this? Because they felt there is no other way, they didn’t think they had rights, they felt they had no other choice. But they do, and they deserve better!
The workers I am working with right now deal with L.A. City trash. Some of them are trash truck drivers; others push out trash bins for the drivers, others sort through some of our City’s dirty filthy rotting trash and pick out all the recyclables so that these are not taken to landfills. They are constantly exposed to everything from rotting food, feces, dead animals, used syringes, chemicals and fumes……. Anything that is thrown away, they have to touch it and sort through it. As safety equipment, they only get one pair of cheap 99 cent gloves a day and a thin painter’s mask to cover their mouth. They get paid minimum wage. Some of them have been working for this Employer for more than 20 years and have never received a raise.
Some of them have been pricked by used syringes, some of them have had serious skin infections due to bacteria, some of them have inhaled gas and chemical fumes that weaken their immune system, and some of them have suffered accidents on the job and instead of being sent to the doctor, they have been fired. Many of these situations could have been avoided if the Employer had better working equipment, but more importantly if he recognized his workers as human beings and didn’t treat them like the trash they have to pick up and sort through. I don’t write out what they go through for pity, but instead to note that despite their hardships, they still continue to work, to live, and are now uniting with each other to fight oppression and a better tomorrow.
In one of the meetings my coworkers and I had with them, we asked “what do you believe is the American Dream?” Some of them replied that living the American Dream meant having food on the table for their families. Others said a having a roof over their head. Others said having affordable health insurance. Problem with this is that these things shouldn’t be farfetched dreams; they should be a current reality. In the land of freedom, in this country we call home, every person deserves these things and shouldn’t feel that being able to put food on the table is a luxury, it should be a given.
This mindset of complacency has to be changed and reversed now! It is not ok to accept humiliation, disrespect, or to risk your valuable life to make another man filthy rich. To continue aiding in the growth of someone else’s bank account while your dignity, health, spirits, and morality are being abused and stepped on every single day is an injustice and should not be accepted.
I’ve worked on different type of organizing campaigns, but none has touched my heart nor has motivated me as much as this campaign. I have never seen workers being so exploited and taken advantage of as much as I’ve seen with these workers, but I have also never seen workers with so much heart and strength. More than I could ever teach them, these workers have become my teachers. Day after day, week after week, month after month, every day with them brings on life lessons that I will never forget. They have taught me lessons of love, relentless spirits, bravery, dedication, sacrifice, pride, honor, passion, and strength.
This week is a determining week in our campaign. This upcoming Thursday we are planning a huge action which will be covered by local and national media. In addition to the workers, city officials, members from other unions, community allies, and others will come out to a big action day during which we will demand better working conditions, fair wages, and health benefits for this group of workers.
One of the last things Martin Luther King Jr. fought for was better wages and working conditions for Sanitation Workers in Memphis, Tennessee. He actually died doing this. Using him and all revolutionary leaders as an inspiration and as role models, it is truly an honor not only to know these workers but to continue helping them in their plight for a better tomorrow. As I tell them every day, I can’t stand up for them, but I can stand up with them. Together, hand in hand, and with our head held high, we will demand the respect they deserve.
¡Hasta La Victoria, Siempre!”