Imagine your neighbor, your neighbor’s neighbor and their neighbor . . . plus the most disgusting fast-food joint you can envision (Grade C in the window), the nearest gas station, the local pet store and an auto repair shop to boot.
Now, imagine all their trash coming at you on an endless conveyor belt – faster than chocolates on I Love Lucy .
Your job: to dig in and pull out the recyclables.
Thousands of workers, often immigrant Latinas, do this all day, every day, at material recovery facilities (MRFs) across Southern California. Many of these MRFs are grim, post-apocalyptic jalopy buildings that would have been perfect as sets for Blade Runner.
The workers are called “sorters,” and they’re at the front line of a shadow industry that desperately needs to be reigned in. They sort and sort and sort .
I’m a professional green jobs advocate. On my way out the door every day, I tell whoever will listen that I’m going to work to stop global warming and create thousands of jobs. So what are green jobs?
Since it’s a matter that very much concerns the next generation, I asked a young representative that I found sitting on my couch watching pre-season football.
Even with this important distraction, my 11-year-old son managed: “It’s a job that helps the environment.”
Okay. But what are some examples?
“I don’t know,” said the rep. “Planting trees? Maintaining solar panels?”
That’s more information than the Bureau of Labor Statistics has to offer, although it is reportedly working on coming up with a green jobs measurement. In the meantime, the Brookings Institute released a study that undertook the task of counting green economy jobs. They identified 2.7 million workers nationally in sectors they determined to be green: waste management and treatment,
Last May, at a public meeting the National Park Service held in Oxnard to gather stories about the farmworkers movement, a man in his 50s came up to Martha Crusius. He told her about a rally he’d attended with his parents, migrant workers from Mexico, back in the 1960s.
“He was a little kid back then, and he really didn’t understand it,” Crusius says. “But he remembered that there was this small, soft-spoken Mexican guy leading the rally, and he was someone people really looked up to.” While listening to others testify at the meeting, he realized what he’d witnessed. “That man,” he told Crusius, “was Cesar Chavez.”
Crusius is director of the National Park Service’s Cesar Chavez Special Resource Study, an effort to curate and preserve the legacy of the iconic civil rights leader and United Farm Workers co-founder for future generations. It’s an effort that fits neatly,
I grew up on the western edge of South Central, near Century Boulevard and Van Ness Avenue. My block was full of local government workers—sanitation, probation, school district. I don’t know if the private-sector folks were unionized, but their wages were competitive enough to allow them to buy houses in the area, a scenario made possible by the standards set by unions that, from my perspective, were becoming mainstream. Part of that standard was hiring blacks as a matter of course.
It hardly needs to be said that today’s focused attack by the Right on unions all over the country is an attack on the working and middle classes. Public employee unions are the big target now because the private sector unions have frankly become too puny over the last generation to pose much of a threat any more to the corporate powers that be, which have expanded as rapidly—more rapidly, actually– as unions have dwindled.