BY LEILONI DE GRUY, Staff Writer
Workers will take to the streets Tuesday for a three-day demonstration calling attention to the need for living wages and better benefits.
Thousands of workers will march from the La Brea Tar Pits to the Port of Los Angeles beginning Tuesday in an effort to demonstrate their need for wages that meet today’s cost of living, for proper equipment to do their jobs, full benefits and a safe working environment.
The march will cover 28 miles and is expected to last three days.
Along the route, workers and supporters will talk to people they come in contact with about the fight for middle-class jobs, the rights of workers to organize labor unions and the impact voting has on their ability to acquire those jobs. At night, the group will camp out in designated areas along the route.
The marchers will hail from various sectors, such as longshoremen, actors, health care workers, teachers, janitors, security officers, port drivers, construction workers, hotel employees and car washers.
To many in the labor movement, Los Angeles is the low-wage capital of the United States. An estimated with 3.7 million people live in poverty in the greater metropolitan region. This year alone, more than 300,000 area workers will see their union contracts expire.
Couple that with a slumping economy and more middle-class families are being pushed closer to the poverty line and those who are already poverty stricken, see no end in sight.
A large number of security guards, who have been fighting for union recognition in recent years, expect to take part in the march.
“There are [security] officers that have been getting $7.50 an hour for 15 years,” said Kahlil Tanner, a security guard making $10.75 at the Wells Fargo building downtown and a member of Service Employees International Union Local 2006. “That takes a certain frame of mind to allow that to be done to you, to allow yourself to be subject to something like that. That’s modern-day slavery,”
Margaret Wyatt, who works as a supervisor for security at Universal Protection Services in El Segundo, is also a member of SEIU. She has worked there for three years. As a supervisor, Wyatt makes $12.75 per hour, after she received a 50-cent raise at the start of March.
“I’m a single parent and we have to do a lot of overtime in order to meet the rent,” she said. “Some of these property owners don’t even see that two weeks of a pay check won’t even cover … the going rate, which is maybe about $1,000 a month for a two-bedroom apartment. Some of us officers don’t even make $1,000 a month to bring home and that’s the average going amount of rent.
“This is why some of us don’t turn down the overtime. Not only with the 80 hours [every two weeks] that we do for our regular shift, some of us put in an extra 20 to 40 hours a week, some officers even more, to make up the rent because there are some officers with four or five children and a wife at home,” she added.
Ruthie Reed, a security guard for UPS for 10 months and a member of SEIU, was too embarrassed to state her hourly wage. She has three children. Besides low wages, Reed said there is very little room for advancement.
“I can’t survive on the amount of money that I’m being paid. … We’re doing the work of two to three people, when there really should be more than one security guard per shift,” Reed said.
Workers who put in such long hours often see it affect their families. Children are often neglected because their parents are not there to guide them. Juvenile crime and emotional unrest have steadily increased.
State Sen. Mark Ridley-Thomas, D-South Los Angeles, and chair of the Legislative Black Caucus, put it this way: “When people cannot afford their families, a sign of stress manifests itself in a number of the social problems we have in our society.”
It also means, many times, “that they’ll have more congested living conditions, so, sometimes you’ll get two families having to live together or you’ll get families with two, three or four kids and the parents living in a one-bedroom apartment because they can’t afford rent,” said Maria Elena Durazo, executive secretary and treasurer of the County Federation of Labor.
In addition to being overworked and sacrificing quality time with the families they work to nurture, employees are given the minimum in regards to vacation and sick time. According to Wyatt, she and others presented a list of demands to their bosses. One request was for four days of paid sick time; instead, they received one paid sick day out of 365 days. Paid vacation was another, which only one week’s paid vacation was permitted to those who have served the company for more than a year.
Employees find themselves going to work when they are sick for fear that they may be sacrificing necessities, such as food, clothing and shelter. The battle to make ends meet, has many spreading themselves thin.
“Gas is at an all time high, some of us are still driving our vehicles, some of us take our cars as far as the commuter station at the train and take the train the rest of the way in. Some of them have to leave work 5-10 minutes early so they can catch the train home because the train stops at a certain time,” Wyatt added.
As wages decline or remain stagnant, the cost of living continues to increase. According to statistics cited by labor leaders, of the 3 million fulltime workers in the United States, at least one-third earn less than $25,000 per year.
The average annual income for people marching next week is $41,682, according to the California Budget Project Report: Making Ends Meet in 2007. With that, the needed income to purchase the average priced home, which is $549,000 in Los Angeles, is approximately $133,605 a year.
A single adult would need to make $13.52 an hour to have a decent standard of living in Los Angeles, a single parent would need to make $30 an hour, a two-parent household with one working spouse would need to make $24.54 per hour and a two-parent household with both working spouses would need to each make $17.80 per hour. That includes housing, utilities, transportation, food, health care, taxes and miscellaneous items.