At the San Diego Food Tank Summit, Dani Nierenberg sits down with Keith Maddox, head of the San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council, and Brigette Browning, President of Unite Here Local 30, to discuss the realities faced by local service industry workers.
Maddox and Browning speak about the difficulties of providing for families while working in the labor force, various efforts being made to defend workers against large corporations, and the fundraisers and food drives that make their lives easier.
Having grown up on a corn and soybean farm, Maddox has been involved in the labor movement his whole life. “Workers have to make the choice of a roof over their heads or food on their table,” he says. “They can’t cut their housing costs, but they can cut their food costs.”
The San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council is a group of workers supporting workers and organizes fundraising to help laborers who often struggle with poverty. They supply a food bank for service worker families year-round, but each year around the holiday season, they’re able to provide much more. In addition to the food bank, the Labor Council provides full turkey dinners and holiday toys and gifts for up to 650 families of laborers.
“We move into the season where everyone should be relaxing and enjoying life and having food on the table, and a little bit of money ahead for their kids to have a few toys.” Maddox says. “But you find out, even in the labor movement where we have done so much to try to help people, we have people that are falling behind every day.”
Browning and Unite Here Local 30, San Diego’s hotel and food service union, recently participated in a 37-day strike of Marriott hotels to protest unfair healthcare plans for minimum wage workers. Throughout the six-week period, Maddox’s Labor Council helped subsidize whatever payments Marriott workers needed to complete while they were without paychecks. The strike ended in a win for 160 employees of the Marriott whose wages were bumped from $14 an hour to more than $20.
“One job is not enough for most workers in San Diego,” Browning says. “Immigrants are often having to work two jobs, and it profoundly impacts all of us when people have to work 80 hours a week. I just saw these hotel companies getting richer over these exploited workers, and now we’re on the path to transform the service sector into a middle class.”
Check out a full video of their discussion here: