The Workers’ Bowl* is two weeks away and we’re surrounded by reminders that funding for our leadership development programs is crucial. Beatriz, a Workers’ Action Centre member, is a graduate of our Feet on the Ground organizer training program. Ahead of the Day of the Dead Celebration, Beatriz took some time to talk with us about how our educational programs have helped her through rough times and empowered her to support others in her community.
Workers’ Action Centre: What workplace experiences led you to become a member?
I was working as an admin assistant in an electrical company. I had a bad boss who didn’t pay me for all the hours of my work. He’d say it was because of the quality of my work or that there was not a lot of work to do during my shift. Whenever something went wrong, he’d say it was my fault because I didn’t understand the instructions or because of my English. Not only did he discriminate against me because of my accent, but he also sexually harassed me, making comments about Latin women and asking uncomfortable questions.
I came here as an international student. We pay three times more than Canadian students so, if I had quit my job, I would have become homeless. Staying at that job was the only way to pay my bills, but I suffered for it. I was limited to 20 work hours a week but sometimes I was forced to work longer. He refused to pay me for the extra hours, claiming that I’d be in trouble.
That’s why I came to WAC to get some advice and learn my labour rights. So I called him and told him, “I know my rights. I won’t come to work at this horrible place. If you don’t pay me, I will file a claim.” I got back maybe 70% of my unpaid wages and tried to move past this experience with support from WAC and counselling from another non-profit.
I decided to join the Workers’ Action Centre because I knew many of my friends and classmates were going through the same thing. I started volunteering and helping my classmates when they had problems at work. When you’re a newcomer, you don’t know that temporary status doesn’t mean you don’t have rights. Everyone deserves to be treated with dignity and justice. We need to know we are not alone.
Why is it important for workers to have opportunities like the Feet on the Ground program to learn about their rights?
We are facing lots of different challenges right now like no salary increase, housing costs rising, mental health issues, and more. It’s important to develop different skills so that we can take action to build a better world for everyone. A world where we can live with justice and dignity. I’m a Mexican woman, a migrant. We need to occupy the places we’ve been denied for so long just because we weren’t born here and don’t have permanent status. Since we arrived, we’ve been contributing to this economy. To have my voice out there saying that international students have rights and deserve dignity is everything to me.
What strategies did you learn from the Feet on the Ground program that helped you support your community?
One of the most important strategies to me is outreach. It’s so important because sometimes international students and other migrant workers are struggling on the job but don’t know there’s a place to go to get guidance. Just letting people know that we’re fighting for justice for workers is significant because that way we get more worker leaders in the movement. Alone, this work is difficult. But making the movement stronger with more workers helps make change come faster, whether it’s forcing bad bosses to pay us properly or letting them know that harassment won’t be tolerated. Facilitation of workshops is another skill I’ve learned. We can teach others that they have rights. To educate workers in my community is one of the main strategies that I learned in Feet on the Ground. A third strategy is making community, creating strong links with others. Migrants come here and are isolated. But once you have a space to share experiences, you start making a sense of community and a sense that we have the power to change our work situations for the better.
Beatriz and many other Latinx leaders are successfully finding creative ways to reach workers in their community and beyond. Will you help us continue educational programs that support workers like Beatriz to become community leaders? Please contribute to the Workers’ Bowl today. Any amount is appreciated and tax receipts are available for donations of $10 or more.
*The Workers’ Bowl is a joint fundraiser between the Workers’ Action Centre and the Ontario Employment Education & Research Centre (OEERC), which supports community leadership development. All donations to the Workers’ Bowl will go to the OEERC Education and Leadership Fund for Workers in Precarious Employment to create collaborative community leadership development and educational projects with the Workers’ Action Centre.