Monday, January 29, 2007

She knows who she wants with her

This morning the feisty seventy-six year old co-founder of the United Farm Workers Union, Dolores Huerta, got off a great quip at an interfaith labor breakfast:

If you were on that TV show -- Survivor -- who'd you want there along with you? I'd want a farm worker -- or a service worker! Wouldn't you, if your life depended on it?

The event rallied religious support for the Service Workers Rising campaign of UNITE HERE. The campaign is promoting a "code of conduct" in Silicon Valley where thousands of low wage service workers toil
for big name high tech companies and don't get decent wages or benefits. The Palo Alto Daily News explains their predicament:

Genentech's professional employees command six-digit salaries, regularly get free time to work on pet projects, and enjoy perks such as gym memberships and weekly parties.

But a cashier in the company's cafeteria, Milarose Oriel, 53, said in a Wednesday teleconference she can't afford health insurance and is denied time off to refill her prescription for blood pressure medicine, without which she runs the risk of a fatal stroke.

The catch is that although Oriel works at Genentech, she doesn't work for Genentech. Her employer is Guckenheimer, the contractor that provides the company's food service.

In a survey of more than half of the 150 Guckenheimer workers at Genentech, [a new] report found that a quarter rely on government-funded health insurance or are uninsured because they can't afford the company's plan. The report notes that almost half of the county's residents spend more than a third of their income on housing. Food service workers on average earn 69 percent less than the median income for the area.

Silicon Valley companies say they aren't responsible for the conditions of these essential workers; they blame the contractors. Leaders from a couple of dozen Peninsula congregations who listened to Huerta this morning think these companies can do better. They are asking the companies to extend their good treatment to thousands of mostly overlooked, often new immigrant, workers whose labor makes their "campuses" such attractive places for white collar employees.


sfmike said...

I spent a month working at Electronic Arts once, and ate at the cheap, company-subsidized cafeteria frequently. In fact, I got fat that month because the cafeteria was essentially all-Mexican labor, and though there were yuppieish food groups from many lands on offer, the best food was the fresh Mexican ingredients with cooks who were good at their own cuisine.

But the joy in the food was mitigated the fact that I ate it in a strange zone between two entirely different worlds -- the 90% white computer workers (including myself) and the 90% brown food service workers. In truth, it was the latter group who felt the most human in the alienating Silicon Valley office park atmosphere.

Nell said...

Tangential, almost OT, but UNITE's Clayola Brown was one of the most impressive speakers at the Jan. 27 antiwar rally in DC, and just about the only one to get a good laugh out of the crowd. I want to see a lot more of her in the future.

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