Tomas had been a member of Restaurant Opportunities Center DC when an organizer from the Employment Justice Center invited him to be part of the paid sick days campaign. The issue hit home. Tomas had never had paid sick days in his restaurant or cleaning jobs. “You budget for the amounts that you’ll earn and have to pay and when you miss a day because you’re sick, the balance is off,” he says.
Before coming to the U.S., Tomas had been an active union member in El Salvador. He dove into the paid sick days campaign. “We planned rallies, passed out flyers and held meetings where we asked members to invite their friends and family. We also held testimony preparation meetings with people who had suffered because they didn’t have paid sick days. I appeared several times in the media. Each day it felt like we were taking a step forward and never back because each day you learn a little more.”
Tomas also liked the connections he made with others involved in the campaign. He was really pleased when they won: “There were lots of people who were against us and even still, it passed and we’d won a victory. My life has totally changed; I feel more sure when I apply for a job because I know about the laws and policies that affect me and how to speak up if they aren’t respected, and so my earnings are more secure. Of course I’m going to continue working with community organizations because it’s the only way to be able to help your fellow man.” He was part of the team that passed a wage theft ordinance six months later. And he’s involved in enforcement efforts “because we understand that a law that is just on paper without enforcement is dead words.”
Tomas says, “My family back home admires me and they praise me for the victories that we’ve had. They come here as immigrants and they leave as immigrants because they spend their whole life working, but we’re working for others.”