I’ve been an electrician since 1999. I’ve worked on many kinds of jobs, the most rewarding being a few schools I helped build from the ground up. But those jobs are rare these days. These are the toughest times I’ve seen, and it doesn’t look like it’s about to let up.
The recession has hit construction so hard we can hardly believe it. In the last few years, I’ve only worked about four months out of the year. I’m on the list at the union hall. There used to be enough work to keep most of us busy, but now when a job opens up there are about 80 people on the books ready to take it. I think I’m number 82, so I’m not expecting a project to come through for quite a while.
Four months a year isn’t enough to get by on.
When I woke up this September 11 I turned on MSNBC. It was replaying the news coverage that took place that day 10 years before. I found myself glued to the TV once again. I felt sad not only for the innocent lives lost in 2001 but also for what followed. The wars, the death of innocent civilians, the torture and the greed for oil sent our country down a very ugly path. We have been trying to find our way back ever since. Today we have to live with the impact of 9/11, but we also have to deal with the impact of reckless financial practices fueled by greed that has resulted in the Great Recession.
Most would agree that our country will never be the same as a result of what happened on 9/11. Yet it can also be argued that the current recession will equally alter “the American way of life” forever.
On the alternate Earth where some pundits live, the worst thing to ever befall Americans during the Great Depression was the New Deal. To them, federal recovery programs were wasteful extravagances that straight-jacketed men of wealth from creating jobs while inventing a nation of loafers. Some revisionist historians have even suggested that the Depression wasn’t as bad as people say it was – at least not Grapes of Wrath bad. These Depression deniers and the fairy tales they spread on talk radio and in blogs help explain why today’s political wilderness rings with the sound of falling axes as Congress merrily chops down the social programs that protect the poor, unemployed and injured.
Men and women grow old and die, but there are documents, both large and small, that loudly declare these new interpretations of the Depression to be the myths they are. One of the small but forceful records is White Collar,
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.
The Frying Pan recently visited John Hernandez, the owner of a State Farm Insurance agency in Pacoima, a blue-collar community located in the North San Fernando Valley. He is also a member of the Pacoima Chamber of Commerce, Arleta Neighborhood Council, Pacoima Neighborhood Council, LAPD Foothill Area Booster Association and a member business of Icon Community Development Corp.
Frying Pan: You opened your insurance office in July 2010 — why open in such tough economic times?
John Hernandez: I guess you could say I have that entrepreneurial spirit — being in the business for over 20 years, I felt the need to open my own. I wanted to come to a community where there was no presence from other major carriers. I felt like there was a need in Pacoima for affordable insurance and a preferred carrier. I have four employees, so I was also focused on bringing some jobs to the community.