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How 10 years Changed Me and a City

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Ten years ago, I started out at EBASE as a research associate, wanting to make a difference in the economic justice movement crunching numbers and scheming ways to leverage policies for organizing.

Little did I know that within a few months, I would be chanting, singing, and banging on pots at 7am picket lines every morning in Emeryville. EBASE was standing alongside courageous immigrant workers who were fighting wage theft at the Woodfin Suites Hotel. The hotel had violated one of the first industry-specific minimum wage ordinances in the country and was calling ICE to retaliate against workers who stood up for their rights under the law.

My future mother-in-law thought I was a professional picketer.

Back then, Emeryville was industry-driven, and generally taking a “growth at all cost”  approach to making the city a retail, tourist, and commercial destination. Hardly anyone considered the plight of workers who toiled in the low-wage jobs in the hotels, stores, and office buildings.

jenny at woodfin

Fast forward to 2016– look at how far we’ve come! Today, Emeryville is a different kind of town. EBASE – along with low-wage workers and our partners­–helped the City Council pass the highest minimum wage in the country last year, winning a phase-in to $16 an hour. Instead of corporations running amok, Emeryville now has leaders who say, “enough is enough.”

And now Emeryville is poised to be a national leader on fair scheduling practices to address the overgrowth of part-time, on-call, and precarious work. We’ve known for some time that $15 or $16 an hour is a floor and that workers need more. We need full-time hours so workers can earn enough to support our families; reliable, predictable schedules so we can plan our lives; and a voice in scheduling so we can pursue other things like education, family time, and rest.

EBASE, Alliance of Californians for Community Involvement (ACCE), members of Residents United for a Livable Emeryville (RULE), and our allies are helping Emeryville pass a Fair Workweek and establishing the next wave of policies to tackle income inequality in the East Bay.

While Emeryville has transformed into a cutting edge city that cares about it workers, I’ve been transformed by our collective organizing. When I first started at EBASE, I thought I could find solace in my Excel spreadsheets and reports, staying in the background and fulfilling my niche. But the work changed me and pulled me out of my corner.

Coalition and organizing work is hard; it’s emotional; and it has its highs and lows. In the times I’ve felt the most alone and distraught, I’m reminded that we need each other, we need the movement, and we need organizing.

10 years at EBASE has taught me that we can’t afford to stay in our boxes and silos. We are so much stronger when we unite; dream big; and figure out how we get there together. It makes us more powerful, and it is soul nourishing. I’m humbled to have organized with some of the most courageous residents, workers, and people of faith over the past 10 years.

And as Shonda Roberts, a worker with the Fast Food Fight for $15, said, “Solidarity is the new I Love You.” I have fallen in love over and over again. 

With 10 years of solidarity and gratitude,
Jennifer Lin
EBASE Deputy Director