Hakima Arhab came to America three years ago. She and her husband arrived in the Bay Area from Algeria. She wanted a job and she got one a year and a half ago as a cashier at a Subway franchise at the Oakland airport. Both she and her husband were now working, likely hoping to build a good life for themselves in the United States as my four grandparents, likely you or your anscestors, and countless others did when they arrived on these shores.
Everywhere around the world
They're coming to America
Got a dream to take them there
They're coming to America
Then the nightmare began.
This was the America she had come to. Where bosses can intimidate workers, not give them overtime or sick time, and pay them less than a legally mandated living wage. Where bosses can prevent workers from trying to organize to better themselves because their employees are in terror of being fired at the slightest excuse.
I work for Subway at the Oakland Airport. When I first got this job, I was so happy - I thought my life was going to change. But it turned out it was the hardest job I have ever done. There were just two of us working at once, with a huge long line to serve - sometimes it seemed like 100 people. We had to race to make the sandwiches and cashier at the same time. Sometime I felt like I was going to fall down because we were working so hard, but I just had to drink something sweet and go back to work. Sometimes we'd work like that for a 12-hour shift, and we'd never get paid a penny of overtime.
After that I decided to stand up and ask for my rights. I wanted to join the union. My face was on the union flyers, and I made a video for my co-workers, telling them they should stand up with me. I filed complaints with the state and the Port of Oakland for the labor laws Subway was breaking. The Subway owners found out about that, because the Port gave them the names of people who'd complained.
When my co-worker Bikram was fired, I went on a delegation to support him - and the next day my boss fired me too. She told me it was because they were slow, but she was giving my coworkers extra hours, and two days later they hired a new worker at the airport. I believe that she just wanted to kick me out because I'd gotten involved in the union, and I stood up and filed a complaint. Because I was demanding my rights.
It takes guts to organize students in Algeria as Hakima had done in her past life. It takes guts and determination to emigrate. And it takes just as much, if not more grit to stand up for yourself after being smacked down by those more powerful than you. But she did.
Here she is speaking to a reporter (starting about 15:00) at a picket at the Oakland Airport at the end of August.
They fired me so my other coworkers would stop... I have to stand up and fight.
Hakima has continued her protest, she has continued to organize other workers, and she has filed unfair labor practice complaints against her boss, the Subway franchise owner, and the Port of Oakland (which runs the Oakland Airport) in conjunction with UNITE HERE, the labor union that has been trying to organize her and her coworkers.
It will likely take several more months for anything to come of her unfair labor practices complaint, and who knows if she will ever get her job back. On the other hand, perhaps some enterprising labor union or advocacy group could see to hire an effective and apparently tireless organizer...
Many of the one percent don't just want more and more of this nation's wealth. They want workers who are cowed; workers who will lick the boots of the "job creators." Sure, there are plenty of job-creating employers who treat their employees with respect, a decent wage and health coverage. But there are enough around who treat the Hakimas of this country like gears of a machine instead of like human beings. And when the economy is such that they can come out from under their bridges and act openly, this is what happens.
Let's hope, at least this one time, this particular bridge collapses -- probably for ignoring safety regulations to squeeze yet more profit out of the construction contract.
For another recent tale of coming to America and suddenly finding oneself at the mercy of the one percent, please read, if you haven't already, the story of Zaki Alshalyan: "They Don't Give A F*** About People." So We're Drawing a Line in the Sidewalk.