By Joel Jiménez
In February of this year, the Pasadena City Council approved an increase to the minimum wage to $15 an hour. Pasadena is one of the early cities within Los Angeles county to make this implementation. This is a result of a long, drawn-out campaign that included a wide array of people in the community and whose objective was to build worker power at the grassroots level. I was part of the campaign since the beginning and it was always inspiring to see the diverse amounts of people that jumped on board and struggled beside the rest of us.
At first, I thought it was only going to be poor people, or low-income people who participate in the campaign but every day the people who showed up to express their solidarity grew more and more diverse. Members of the Black community, Asians, White folks and of course other Latinos of all ages and socioeconomic backgrounds came together to fight for a specific cause.
The struggle for $15 an hour was part of our struggle for survival. We understand clearly that a higher wage would not solve all of our problems. However, the purpose of this struggle is to help us address some basic needs that those of us who earn low wages face every single day.
— Fight for $15 LA (@Fightfor15LA) February 4, 2016
Those of us who joined the #fightfor15, did so for very practical reasons. If you have a miserable salary you are unable to get the clothes you need, you are unable to get the right food for your family, if you have car you are unable to fill up the tank without it being a burden.
I’ve been connected to social justice projects and have considered myself part of the movement for many years. While at first I thought I was alone, through my participation I found many others that have began to work with me. I have joined a broader community who is collectively claiming their dignity and fighting for their rights.
While many day laborers like me took part in the fight for the $15 minimum wage, one of the things we are looking forward to is enforcement and accountability for cases of wage theft. It is astonishing to me how some employers are able to live with themselves, are able to sleep at night while denying hard-working people of wages they have earned. The fight for $15 is directly connected to the fight for wage enforcement.
On one occasion, a fellow day laborer was facing an issue of wage theft. The employer ended up owing him several thousand dollars. We ended up organizing ourselves and traveling to Palos Verdes to face the employer directly and demand that he pay our compañero what he is owed. As we approached the community, I quickly realized that this wasn’t like any other community.
This was an extremely wealthy area, and the man lived in what I can only describe as a mansion. To be someone who has so much money, that lives in a mansion with multiple cars and still not want to pay the workers that you’ve hired is simply unfathomable. We protested outside his house. We passed out fliers through the neighborhood; we let his neighbors know what the situation was.
We had about three marches. On one of them we had a huge balloon in the form of a rat: a symbolic but powerful gesture that made visible the wrong he was doing to our fellow workers.
The energy, confidence and solidarity amongst the workers was something that has stuck with me for years. This is what I’m looking forward to: creating more protections for us as workers and continuing to struggle alongside my friends to get the fair treatment that we so rightly deserve.
Joel Jiménez is a day laborer and worker leader at the Pasadena Community Job Center in Pasadena, CA. The PCJC is part of NDLONs growing network of day laborer and worker centers across the country.
This blog was produced in collaboration with the Nuestra Voz series, coordinated by the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, which highlights the voices of the workers and day laborers who are on the frontlines of the immigration and workers rights debate around the United States and across the continent. It is also part of the blog series Blogging our Victories: An L.A. Story, featuring LIFT Fund worker center grantees, labor and research partners. Check out the LIFT’s webpage and follow us on Facebook and Twitter to see past and upcoming blogs by Victor Narro of the UCLA Labor Center, Flor Rodriguez, Director of CLEAN Carwash Campaign, Kokayi Kwa Jitahidi, Policy Director at the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO, Alexandra Shu of KIWA, among others. LIFT will also release a video featuring some of our esteemed bloggers and documenting their work towards this victory… stay tuned!