Sunday, April 15, 2007

A matter of pride

Hint to union organizers hunting for the workers who'll fight to the end against the bosses: look for the people who seem proudest of their work!

Last week I attended a couple of labor-sponsored events where this was obvious.

Luz Dominguez is a housekeeper for the Woodfin Suites Hotel in Emeryville, California. She cleans guest bathrooms and changes beds every working day. In 2005, she was honored as Woodfin's worker of the year. But when employees insisted on being paid under the terms of the city's Living Wage Ordinance, passed by the voters in 2005, suddenly Dominguez was expendable. Nobody questioned her immigration status until she started demanding her rights under the law.

"We deserve to work with dignity, pride and rights! For this, we'll keep working to the end, God willing -- we must work to lift our children up," Dominuguez told a rally last week.

In the fall, she told writer and photographer David Bacon: "A Social Security number can't wash toilets or vacuum floors or make beds. Only human beings can do that. Legal documents are very important, but real, physical work is what counts."

Woodfin has now gone to court to try to get the Living Wage law declared unconstitutional. So far, the workers remain on the job under an injunction issued in January that gave the city time to investigate whether the workers had suffered illegal retaliation.

This gentleman, whose name I couldn't catch at a community forum because he spoke in Chinese and the translator didn't spell it, works for Guckenheimer, the giant food service contractor. Guckenheimer supplies the cafeteria labor at Silicon Valley companies like Genentech, Electronic Arts, Gilead, EFI, SRI, and Roche. This worker has been with the company for 5 and half years. He thought he had a great job as a driver, until one day, with no warning or explanation, they made him a dishwasher. He was afraid to question, because he needed the job -- but the arbitrary move made him angry.

"It was like I don't matter, like I was invisible."

After being treated that way, he became a labor activist with the Service Workers Rising campaign of the union UNITE-HERE. The workers are seeking a code of conduct that respects them as people and family members who are committed to doing their jobs. If you listen to them at all, it is clear that respect and knowing they will not suffer from arbitrary actions by supervisors matter to them as much as the higher wages they need to get by.


Jane R said...

Damn, the Woodfin is having as many labor problems as when I demonstrated there with the Interfaith Worker Justice Folks a bunch of years ago when it was a hotel by another name. I gather Seminarians for Worker Justice have been involved pretty heavily there this year. Management changes, problems stay the same. It is the same place, right? Down by the Marina in Berkeley?

Love the pictures. Solidarity forever.

janinsanfran said...

Yes -- it is the same place. They just refuse to comply with the living wage law. Seminarians for Worker Justice seems quite active this year.

Anonymous said...

The Woodfin Hotel has evicted me and my eleven-year-old after we've resided there for 3 years, because of my activism on behalf of the housekeepers.

Here is a link to the KPFA evening news report about our situation:
Our story is at minute 43:00 (you'll see the minute counter at the bottom right, and you have to fast forward to it)