By Simboa Wright
I was six years old when the Olympics last came to Los Angeles. I was living in South LA with my adoptive family. I was the kind of kid that Mayor Eric Garcetti and the LA 2028 Bid Committee talk about when they talk about the potential of the games to uplift LA’s youth. As a former foster child, I was even the beneficiary of some Olympic goodwill and able to attend a few events.
Now, I’m a happily married father of three. I’ve got my own house, a good career and a secure retirement. I’m a South LA success story – but the Olympics aren’t the reason for that. The reason I went from foster home to homeowner is that I have a union job.
I work for the City of Los Angeles in our wastewater collection division and I’m a proud member of SEIU Local 721. My wife is a pediatric nurse who provides care and comfort to children with rare, often terminal conditions. She is also in a union. Union membership has allowed us to live the American Dream, which is increasingly rare these days – especially for someone like me, who not only grew up in a rough neighborhood, but also left college to take care of his family.
Aside from a general sense of excitement, I don’t remember much about the ‘84 games. The economic benefits never seemed to make it to my community – except for the folks that sold parking in their yards. Once the final medals were given out and the athletes went home, my neighbors still worked behind the counter at fast food places or retail stores. Their bosses may have seen some of those tourist dollars, but they never did.
Garcetti and LA 2028 say that the games will create 74,000 jobs, which is welcome news for both a city desperate for solid, middle class employment and a politician looking to put a feather in his cap that would position him for higher office. What I want to know is, what kind of jobs are these going to be? Are we going to invest in union jobs with a living wage, benefits and dignity?
Or are billions of dollars of investment going to go into the pockets of corporations and consultants?
Garcetti has made big job promises before. Last year, his office pledged that the city would hire 5,000 employees to offset recession layoffs. According to the FixLA Coalition, fewer than 1,000 of those jobs have been filled. Every one of these jobs provides the vital city services we need if we’re going to host a world-class Olympics.
Part of the Olympic pitch to Angelenos was that we were going to prove that it’s possible to host a successful games that would benefit our communities. If we really want to be a “role model for future Olympic and Paralympic host cities,” then let’s put our money where our mouth is and invest in jobs that provide long-term security.
Imagine what kind of difference $160 million for youth sports programs will make if it goes toward not only providing great facilities for kids, but also union jobs for the community running the programs. Jobs that you can raise a family on will do a whole lot more to uplift people in the neighborhoods where I grew up than a handful of kids earning athletic scholarships.
The influence and expense of the Olympics gives Los Angeles a unique opportunity to flex some pro-worker muscle. With all kinds of organizations looking for a bite of the Olympic apple, we need to make it clear that if you want to profit off our city, you’re going to have to provide us with good union jobs.
The projected $5.3 billion being spent on these Olympics has the potential to do a lot of real, long-term good for working families in Los Angeles. It’s up to the city leaders who made big promises about the impact of the games to make sure that happens. Otherwise, they’re just giving themselves a gold medal before the race has even started.
Simboa Wright is a Wastewater Collection Worker for the City of Los Angeles and an elected member of the SEIU Local 721 Executive Board.
In tomorrow’s “Voices of Labor Day” entry, SEIU Local 721 member Laura Roberts-Newman tells how quickly someone can become homeless when they don’t have a job with union support or livable wages. She knows all too well because it happened to her.