Since CCI doesn’t work directly with the immigration process, we focus more on connecting all of the other issues around that. So for me, that’s a lot of worker’s right because the labor situation here is so heavily dependent on immigrant and refugee workers. It’s been like that for a really long time; people don’t really think about things like where our food comes from, who packages things. It doesn’t just arrive magically at your door from Amazon, someone had to make that. If it’s made in the US, you can probably guess that it was made by immigrants, but people just don’t know that, so I try to raise awareness on that. With that, there’s an issue of people being exploited and discriminated against, so my job is to help and coach people to realize their own power. It’s all a matter of realizing that you have rights here and you have worth. I work at developing them as leaders so that they can recognize their worth and work together, focusing on more than your own self-interest. Although it’s hard with mixed-status Latino families that are trying to stay under the radar. People will exploit undocumented people because they know that they are in need of work, so it’s a matter of building people up so that doesn’t happen.
“You have rights here and you have worth.”
These are problems that are facing lots of people, so when people come to us saying that they aren’t getting paid, chances are there are other people in that workplace that are facing this too. It’s a matter of getting everyone to all work together and build camaraderie so you are a stronger unit. It’s kind of like teaching people how to be a union without a union. Really, if you think about it, the workplace structure is like a pyramid in that the workers are the majority, but you’re on the bottom. Typically there are only a handful of people at the top, but they have all the power. The thing is, the top cannot operate without you. If everyone collectively decides that something isn’t working and should be changed, you all have the power to make that change. Of course, that’s going to take some risks, but once people understand the risk and why it’s so important to take the risk then they organize themselves and stand up for their rights.
It all pieces together too because if one person comes to me to tell me they aren’t getting paid it’s really not helpful for their employer to get a call from me, a complete stranger, telling them to pay their employees. What is really powerful is having a bunch of coworkers get together, go into their employer’s office, and refuse to leave until their paychecks get cleared. Bigger crises where you can use public pressure and media to lift that up are really effective. The problem is making that happen, it’s scary and you have to take risks to make it happen. It’s a slow road to build community and trust, but it’s worth it.