In 1909, the American Federation of Labor passed a Resolution stating that the Sunday preceding Labor Day should be dedicated to the “spiritual and educational aspects of the labor movement.” To honor that resolution, SEIU-USWW along with our partners at Silicon Valley Rising held a Labor Day rally and mass at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church’s historic McDonnell Hall in San Jose.
There could not have been a more fitting venue for the Rally. McDonnell Hall is where a young Cesar Chavez first learned the principle of organizing. In his autobiography, La Causa, he credits Father McDonnell and Fred Ross with teaching him the art of organizing, and his first organizing effort was turning a “little Puerto Rican hall” (McDonnell Hall) into a church because there were no churches in the area delivering services in Spanish.
There’s another reason why McDonnell Hall was a fitting venue for renewing our commitment to fight for the dignity of working people, and that is the growing income inequality in Silicon Valley. There are two sides of Silicon Valley. The first is the side that everyone knows about. Silicon Valley is the place of innovation, and the booming tech economy is where millionaires are made every day, and six figure salaries are the norm.
Then there is the other side of Silicon Valley, the side that is largely ignored. On this side are the service workers that keep the lavish tech campuses running, the security officers, janitors, drivers, food-service workers and groundskeepers. On this side, workers are often forced to work two or even three jobs to make ends meet. On this side, unscrupulous contractors will engage in wage theft, forcing workers to file claims to get paid for the work they have done. On this side come the unbelievable statistics — like how30% of children in Silicon Valley are living at or below the poverty line.
On this side of the Silicon Valley economy there are workers like Ozzie. Ozzie is a Security Officer with Universal Protection Service (UPS), a contractor that provides security for many giants in the tech industry including Huawei, Citrix. Palintir, Broadcom and Synaptics. Ozzie lives with his mother in Morgan Hill, and helps her out financially because she lives on a fixed income. He has a ten year-old daughter that lives with him on the weekends. His whole life revolves around raising his daughter. His job gives him weekends off, and he works the early shift in order to pick her up from school on Friday afternoons.
When Ozzie started with UPS, he was making $15 per hour and working Monday through Friday. However, through no fault of his own, Ozzie was forced to go to another site, and had his pay cut by $2 per hour. This is not uncommon. As unscrupulous contractors continue to bid lower and lower to get contracts, it is predominantly the workers that suffer.
Ozzie is now facing a life-changing dilemma. Facing an over 13% pay cut, he is no longer able to help his mom financially. He has begun looking for other work, but due to the nature of most security jobs, he is unable to find a job that doesn’t require working on weekends. If he takes a slightly higher paying job, he will lose the precious little time that he has with his daughter. Ozzie is now actively working to organize his fellow workers. He hopes that a union contract will protect him against the arbitrary way his employer moved his worksite and cut his wages.
As we take time to reflect on the spiritual and educational aspects of the labor movement, it is critical that we renew our commitment to, and our passion for, fighting inequality and poverty wherever it is punishing people that work hard for themselves and their families. In the words of Cesar Chavez “I am convinced that the truest act of courage, the strongest act of manliness is to sacrifice ourselves for others in a totally non-violent struggle for justice.” We need to continue to hold unscrupulous employers accountable, especially in Silicon Valley, one of the wealthiest places on the planet.