Fighting for Worker's Rights
Workdays of over twelve hours, no right to unionize, unsanitary bathrooms, arbitrary abuse from employers, racism and fear towards unskilled workers. None of these situations were taken from the headlines of any third world country.
These things happen in Pennsylvania and around the country.
The United States is known as the land of opportunity. A famous phrase that attracts hundreds of thousands of immigrants who come looking for a better life through service jobs. And unfortunately it becomes a unending nightmare for many, one in which abuse and fear are the main actors in this sad- real life "soap opera".
For Eduardo Soriano Castillo, of Jobs With Justice, the situation is very clear. "Society tells people who don't have an education that they are worth less." That thinking leads many companies to abuse their workers. Soriano is knowledgeable about the problems that thousands of workers in this country face, and he has firsthand experience of many of the situations that affect workers every day in the food, security and construction industries, to name a few.
"I had to start working out of love. It was in those places that I realized that things were not right," said Soriano. "I started organizing workers in a restaurant in Arizona, of course I had no experience but I was motivated by the injustices I was seeing there. I found myself working on a difficult issue and I failed at my first attempt, but that gave me more strength to learn more about the subject." said Soriano. "I felt trapped and sad," he adds. It was then that he decided to become more involved in the struggle for social justice and worker's rights. He made a friend who had a law degree from Temple University, and she encouraged him to move to Philadelphia. "This city has a large number of poor people in it and there are many challenges to face," says Eduardo Soriano.
His first experience with movements to help people was not altogether satisfactory. In West Philadelphia, he met a group of anarchists who talked more than they acted. "Seeing people talk about the subject without doing anything concrete made me understand that I had to do something for people's rights," said Soriano. "I remember that at a party that they organized, I spoke to the owner of the house and asked why they didn't invite any of the people they were supposedly representing... she didn't know what to say in response," he adds. That silence gave Eduardo Soriano clarity about needing to make a change. Together with Fabricio Rodriguez, the Executive Director of Jobs With Justice, they decided that they weren't going to make a difference in the quality of life of the city's working people just by sitting around talking.
Jobs With Justice was founded in 1999 and since then it has won a series of victories in the struggle for worker's rights. Although the road is long, the word "discouragement" is not in Soriano's vocabulary. A young go-getter, he has a constant fighting spirit and a passion for educating people who don't know their own rights.
"In Philly people see that change is possible. One of our biggest successes was won together with the Temple University Security Guards, where we won 3 more paid days for them. With the UPenn workers, we won an increase in worker's salaries from 9 dollars an hour up to 15," Soriano commented with satisfaction. Another important battle was won with the UPenn Security Guards. Every day they traveled for miles inside the campus watching over the safety of students with no decent place to rest. Now every worker has their own locker to store their belongings, and they even have air conditioning in their renovated break room.
"During 2007 we won over 2 million dollars in compensation to workers," says Eduardo Soriano with pride.
Now the idea is to connect with the Latino community in order to start working hard in the near future for a better situation for workers. The idea is to move them to fight for their rights. "We want to create a service for immigrants, a center that will protect workers. That is, we want to apply the triumphs we've won with the security guards to Latino workers."In order for this to be possible, Jobs With Justice invites all workers to Arch Street Methodist, at 55 N. Broad Street in Philadelphia on the 6th of April between 3 and 5 in the afternoon to commemorate the struggle of Martin Luther King Jr and ongoing triumphs in both social and economic matters.