What is the Value of Our Work?

What is the value of our work? Is it the satisfaction of being useful in our society? Is it being able to provide for ourselves and our loved ones? Is it the prestige or reputation that our job or position brings us? Or is it simply the paycheck that we (hopefully) get at the end of the day?

Thinking about the value of our work is not just about the commodity of our skills in the labor market, but about the roles we play in our communities and society as human beings. This has been epitomized in the recent years by the inspirational and transformational movements like those of domestic workers around our country. While fighting for basic protections like overtime and rest breaks, domestic workers have not only moved real policy victories, but more importantly, have succeeded in placing the value of their work at the center of their fight.

One of their recent battles culminated this past Sunday when California governor Jerry Brown vetoed AB889, the California Domestic Worker Bill of Rights. While the governor’s actions are no doubt an affront to the invaluable work domestic workers perform every single day, it is by no means the end to their fight. The response from around the country has been loud and clear: “Brown can veto a bill, but he can’t veto a movement.”

This kind of visionary strategizing is essential to winning real change for all kinds of workers in the United States. It’s not hard to see the indifference of the governor’s pen stroke facing off against the love, dignity, and strength of the domestic worker movement, and choose a clear winner. But how do we cultivate this strength, and how do we amplify this love and dignity among the workers, organizers, and supporters of all walks of life?

The Down with Wage Theft Campaign believes that all workers should be able to make a living with dignity and respect and that there’s an inherent value in all our work. That’s the kind of movement we’re building and the reason we fight alongside workers to improve conditions on the job and to ensure a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work.

Whether we’re at home, in an office, or out in the field, our work is something that connects us all. That satisfaction of contributing to our greater society, that pride of being able to provide for our own well-being and that of our daughters and sons, that respect we seek from being good at what we do, and that financial security we expect from the contribution of our talents are all essential aspects of the value of our work. Why then, if we all share so many of the same needs, do our governments, communities, and individuals (ourselves included), continue to allow the erosion of this inherent value?

Not being paid for our work is a blatant example of this erosion, but what does the prevalence and near impunity of this crime in our city say about the value of all of our work?

At a community forum last month, 10 year-old Cynthia recalled a school assembly where she was receiving an award. As she stood on the stage surrounded by the sound of applause, she looked out to the audience where her mother, Olga, was nowhere to be found. At that exact same moment, Olga was facing off with her boss, who forced her to stay at the restaurant much longer than expected, for work that she would not even be paid for.

We may never get to meet Olga, but we are all more connected to her than we think. Every morning when we wake up to go make a living, every night when we get to put food on our family’s table, we are all sharing in Olga’s same hopes and dreams. Workers like Olga need our city to take action on bringing down wage theft, but our city does not seem to see the value in Olga’s work.

Every time we fight for Olga’s right to see her daughter at a school assembly without having the fear to lose her job, we are fighting for our own family’s right to be there for each other in the most important times of our lives. Every time we fight for Olga’s right to her hard-earned wages, we are fighting for our own family’s right to a prosperous life. Fighting to end wage theft not only helps workers like Olga, but reassures and upholds the value of the work of us all.

As the Houston community comes together to resist wage theft, the need for creative community response and comprehensive public policy becomes ever more urgent. Through dedicated community education, coalition-building, and worker power, we’re working to on not only advancing policies, but also in creating transformative movements in our communities.

This is what we’ve been building here in the city of Houston. We have made the decision to uphold the value of ALL work and make Houston a just and prosperous place to work.  Now it’s time for Mayor Parker and the City of Houston to step up and make theirs.

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