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Labor Day Looks Different to Many Low-Wage Workers in New Mexico

PHOTO: Father Bill Sanchez of St. Edwin Parish in Albuquerque's South Valley works toward social justice by sharing labor information with his congregation using homilies.Photo taken by his sister, Joyce Sanchez.
PHOTO: Father Bill Sanchez of St. Edwin Parish in Albuquerque's South Valley works toward social justice by sharing labor information with his congregation using homilies.
Photo taken by his sister, Joyce Sanchez.
September 3, 2013

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - While fast-food workers and others paid low wages have been protesting around the Labor Day holiday, New Mexicans are not making much noise about the issue. A check-in with AFSCME (American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees) found no plans to join the recent protests scheduled in cities across the country.

The Rev. Bill Sanchez of St. Edwin's Parish in the South Valley said there are a number of reasons New Mexicans are not at the forefront of this effort.

"The majority of the workers, their primary language is Spanish. So they would have to have been communicated to in their language to be able to understand exactly what they were being asked to do," he explained.

Father Bill, as he likes to be called, said he tries to use homilies in his Sunday services to explain to his congregation, many of whom work for low wages, about the disparity in the pay of owners and managers and workers. He sees many nodding heads, he said, but few willing to take up the cause, with immigration issues so prominent in the community.

Many low-wage workers in his congregation are in their late twenties, have families and hold down two or three jobs, Father Bill said, but still they are not choosing to picket.

"When they're offered the minimum of, let's say, $7.50 or so an hour, for many people coming from Mexico $7.50 an hour is a good salary," he said, "comparable to maybe what they would be able to make in Mexico."

Father Bill pointed out that when workers are paid so little that they cannot cover their own expenses, those expenses must be offset by welfare, subsidies and additional jobs.

"They almost are forced to have two or three jobs. I've been told even in the application or when they're training them they're told that they probably will have another job. It's almost like an understanding: 'We know that you won't be able to support yourself with this job and you'll probably have another job, and we'll accommodate you,' he said.

Getting New Mexico low-wage workers to join the struggle for social justice will mean they will have to stop identifying with their employers, overcome fears concerning immigration and get organized, he added.

More information is available at www.canmybossdothat.com.

Renee Blake, Public News Service - NM