The Santa Clara County Human Relations Commission hosted two back-to-back town hall meetings Monday, August 25 to collect public testimony on the cost of living in Silicon Valley.
The stories were plentiful, all focused on a growing crisis of a living wage gap in Silicon Valley.
“I get paid twice a month,” said Omar Vásquez, a bus driver for a private company. “One check goes to the rent, and one check goes to food, card bills, gas, PG&E and cell phone. I can’t afford losing one day of work; I don’t get benefits, I don’t get health insurance. I’m forced to work 16, 18 hours a day. We need a living wage.”
Do you have or know a story like Omar’s? The Santa Clara County government needs to hear it. Tell your story here.
Residents and organization leaders told the county government that our community needs a living wage policy that provides fair wages, healthcare and earned sick days, and other crucial jobs standards.
“I used to own my own business and a house,” said Robert Aguirre. “I lost my job as an engineer and was unable to provide for my family. I live in the Jungle now, homeless because I used to make too little money to survive but too much money to get assistance.”
We have a living wage gap in Silicon Valley, where the cost of living is astronomical, and the pay is too low to afford it. About 1/3 of the population earns too little to be self-sufficient in paying for basic necessities like food and housing.
Carmella DiSopa, Revenue Collection Officer for the county and SEIU 521 member said: “We have become the county of have and have-nots. I see more and more people every day in my job of collecting money for this county, that are making hard choices on whether to put food on the table for their families, or to pay a bill. We are our country’s leaders in technology. Let us also be the leaders in providing a fair Living Wage; a strong Living Wage policy that will offer people the opportunity to work and be paid a fair and decent wage. A strong Living Wage policy will stimulate our economy by allowing people to spend more at local businesses. It will also reduce the demand on our Public Services. It would definitely allow me to honestly say that I am proud to be an employee of the County of Santa Clara.”
Luisa Blue, SEIU Local 521 Chief Executive Officer participated in a forum during the weekend where she had to find a way to budget a typical low-wage salary for a janitor working in the hi-tech industry. She found that nothing would be left after basic necessities, there would be no money left for child care or health care. She finished her speech by saying: “Our community needs to thrive. Billionaires need to invest in their workers.”
Jennifer Thomas, a teacher and union leader for the San Jose Teacher Association reminded everyone about the story of teenagers Jack and Hannah who struggle to raise Jack’s four siblings after his mother passed away.
Living Wage supporters, including the South Bay Labor Council, Working Partnerships USA and SEIU Local 521, requested the town hall style forums as they advocate for what would be the most comprehensive Living Wage Policy in America.
The proposed living wage ordinance would provide:
- Fair Compensation – living wage level that grows with for inflation
- Health – health benefits and earned sick leave
- Fair work week – access to enough hours to earn a living, plus predictable and flexible schedules
- Opportunity – opening doors to good jobs for our local, diverse workforce
- Voice at work – protecting workers’ rights to be free from employer retaliation and silencing
The Santa Clara County Human Relations will report back to the Board of Supervisors on what they heard and perhaps forward a recommendation for possible action.
Radio clips – Listen to Ben Fields, South Bay Labor Council Executive Officer, being interviewed by KGO radio:
KGO Morning News (MP3)
08/26/2014, 05:21 a.m. PST
KGO Morning News (MP3)
08/26/2014, 06:36 a.m. PST