by Rosalinda Aguirre
I come from two generations of Mexican immigrants who picked cotton, harvested hops and beets, and labored on the rail lines throughout the country. Through my parents’ work, I met men and women who toiled day after day in the fields for minimal wages and without health care. It was one of my first introductions to social inequality.
The strong work ethic that shaped my childhood stayed with me throughout my life. As I grew older, I pursued office work, which provided me with a roof over my head, food on my table, and access to transportation. But I wasn’t driven by being in charge or being the best. What mostly propelled me was the desire to be productive.
In my first role, I answered phones for United Farm Workers of America, a labor organization in its first years of representing workers who toiled in the fields of California. It was a daunting task to organize farmworkers, since they were exempt from coverage under the National Labor Relations Act, which allows workers to collectively bargain regarding their working conditions, wages, and benefits. Nevertheless, workers prevailed in uniting and showing their strength.
In the early 1980s, I landed a clerical role at the ivory tower that is the University of Washington (UW). At the time, some of UW’s 3,000 clerical staff members formed the Classified Staff Association (CSA) to fight for a voice and power at work. In a quest for real collective bargaining, the CSA affiliated with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). CSA District 925 became part of a nationwide local union that represented clerical workers — mostly women — in Boston, Cincinnati, Chicago, and Seattle.
It has long been my belief that there is dignity in every job, from the farmworker who harvests the food on our tables to the secretary who attends to our concerns.
Every worker has hopes and dreams for themselves and their families. Listening to their stories and building relationships with them has been my greatest asset in community organizing. My initial dream as a 17-year-old was to become a teacher. While I did not become a teacher in a school setting, my classroom is being present to mentor others as a union member and community activist.
Although technology has now become a mainstay of communication, I have always relished in-person conversations that challenge us to know one another’s stories. We build relationships that last by sharing our interconnectedness. As I continue my activism, I have learned that being active at my workplace and in my community opens the door for everyone to create an engaged, caring, and just world.
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Rosalinda Aguirre is a soon-to-be-retired secretary for the Aerospace Machinists District 751. She has organized farmworkers, secretaries, and childcare workers and has been active in her union OPEIU Local 8. As a Latina, Rosalinda continues her activism wherever needed. She has plans to work on Stacey Abrams gubernatorial bid in Georgia.
📸 Featured Image: Illustration by Rini Templeton. In the spirit of Rini Templeton’s life and work, activists serving causes that Rini would have supported are invited to use drawings freely in their leaflets, newsletters, banners, and picket signs or for similar non-commercial purposes.
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