Workforce Apartheid


POOR correspondent - Posted on 06 July 2010

Tony Robles/PNN
Wednesday, February 13, 2008;

Who gets access to decent jobs and how are folks intentionally excluded from opportunity ? I am constantly asking myself these questions as I work in my capacity as employment counselor for a non-profit organization based in San Francisco. The organization prides itself on uplifting people from homelessness and ending joblessness. I have been working since the age of 16.

A few years ago, I worked at an insurance company. I sat in front of a computer taking calls and sneaking in an occasional poem. I quickly became disenchanted with the complacency of my coworkers. While others were outside fighting for housing rights and against gentrification, my coworkers were sitting at desks eating donuts, sending emails containing long-winded jokes and talking about whom they thought would be the winner of American Idol.

One day the owner of the insurance brokerage decided to walk through the office. I was, as usual, surfing the Internet, daydreaming and writing poetry. He would stop by and make small talk. He was a nice fellow—an Asian Indian man who wore an impressive array of turbans in a variety of colors. Those colors were turquoise and maroon and blue—the colors you’d see on a ’57 Chevy Belair.

As soon as I eyed that turban I adjusted my headset and mouthpiece and when he approached I pretended to engage in a conversation with a client—complete with the “yes sirs” and “No sirs” and “No…thank you so much for calling”. The owner walked by and I went back to my poems and daydreams.

Shortly after I learned that the owner had gotten free tickets for a trip to Africa. This was not uncommon. He received many complimentary items including tickets to the Super Bowl among other things. A major life insurance company that had a long relationship with the brokerage provided the tickets.

The brokerage had employed a number of African-Americans, mainly in clerical positions such as myself, as well as a small number in the capacity of selling policies. Most of the brothers and sisters who were employed at the brokerage were younger. I thought, what a great opportunity for them to visit Africa--should the owner make the offer.

Predictably, he never made that offer. I don’t know if it even crept into his consciousness radar. He extended the tickets to the general sales manager and his fiancée who were making big money. Missed opportunity. The owner and the general sales manager and a couple others from the brokerage spent a week in Africa. When they returned I overheard them comment that people were so poor in that part of the world and that they didn’t have this and didn’t have that. Did they not see anything else?

I thought about the young brothers and sisters working in that place who could have really gained something from a trip like that. .

I have moved on to work in the non-profit world. Same story—lots of brothers living in Single Room Occupancy ( SRO) Hotels and many of them are dependent on something—GA, Workfare—not to mention other things. It is my job to help train them for jobs and to reorient them to the world of work. But what we really do is keep the brothers and sisters in a subservient situation where they do not rise above their situation.

The brothers and sisters come to us for housing and jobs but then what? The non-profit organization is dependent upon the numbers of these brothers and sisters to maintain their funding. We get them jobs as janitors and maintenance people but when it comes to rising up within the organization, it’s hard to get the opportunity.

I tried assisting a 56 year old African-American man in applying for a job as a supportive services case manager in a residential hotel in the Tenderloin. The man lives on GA and I had worked with him when I worked as a tenant organizer for another supportive housing non-profit. He a mature, responsible individual who would be a great case manager. I forwarded his resume to the appropriate department. I followed up the following week on the status. I was told that while they were impressed with his resume, they were not going to interview him because he did not have 3 years case manager experience.

This man had been homeless and had lived in the shelters. He knew the resources and organizations that work with houseless people. He has been without and has survived as a poverty scholar, knowing the system but not letting it beat him into submission. Is this man not qualified to earn a fairly decent salary? Is he not worthy of obtaining a position that oftentimes seems reserved for white 20 somethings who come to San Francisco filled with agendas and a craving for burritos and Thai food? This man can be contributing something to his community…I repeat, his community. He is an African descendent man who is native to San Francisco with a wealth of knowledge. Again, his poverty scholarship and knowledge are a treasure but society just throws it away..

I intend to take up this issue of 3 years experience with the human resources department as soon as possible.

Just like the young brothers and sisters who weren’t even considered for a trip to see Africa, our people are not on the agenda. These non-profits put our people on the agenda as long as our people provide bodies that equate to numbers that justify their further funding. This is the justification for funneling people through the system but not allowing them to rise above it.

I want compensation for the lives that are going to waste. I want compensation for those youngsters that didn’t get a chance to go to Africa and compensation for those youngsters who didn’t get an opportunity to become adults. I want compensation for the brothers and sisters that are dying on our streets and compensation for the decimation of our black community in San Francisco.

I no longer work at that insurance company. In addition to my other non-profit job I am also working with POOR Magazine—an organization that stands for something. My father said that the problem with society is that nobody wants to give up anything. POOR Magazine gives its time and resources—but more importantly its heart and spirit to those without hope. It gives those things freely and constantly—the things that really count. I’ll never go back to insurance.

"The owner and the general sales manager and a couple others from the brokerage spent a week in Africa. When they returned I overheard them comment that people were so poor in that part of the world and that they didn’t have this and didn’t have that. Did they not see anything else?"

...what exactly did you observe on your trips to Africa? Or, having never been there, do you actually feel qualified to reply?

I'm first and foremost, a white man...a member of the European American Community. I'm in a position of management at an east bay newspaper, and I will gladly help any black man or woman that seeks greater status in my company...even if they are houseless, or unqualified for the job according to my companies standards. I will fight to change my companies policies so that the black brothers and sisters can find equality in pay, respect, and status with the white folk in my company. My white brothers and sisters wish all of you black brothers and sisters peace and prosperity....God's Speed! You have my pledge and word.

This quote in particular was really on point--> "Is he not worthy of obtaining a position that oftentimes seems reserved for white 20 somethings who come to San Francisco filled with agendas and a craving for burritos and Thai food?"

And yet, evidently, you did not think to file a complaint of age discrimination. Why not?

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