Working For Dignity

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Work has long been a key source of human dignity, a central way we realize self-worth and respect.  But in recent decades we have witnessed a transformation of both our economy and the nature of work.  And despite the ebbing of the Great Recession, new patterns of inequality have emerged.  In California, while a minority of workers have found lucrative employment in high-tech industries, a growing number are funneled into low-wage and precarious jobs in the service sector.  These jobs all too often leave workers struggling in poverty, exhausted or hurt, harassed and demeaned, and with few ways out or up.  So is there still dignity in work? This site explores this central questions through the answers, images and stories of workers themselves.  It also provides workers, students, teachers and community members the resources to learn more about low wage work in Santa Cruz County, who you can contact if you face problems are work, and what we all can do to make work more just.

Learn More About Low Wage Work

Wage Theft & Pay Issues

Every day, employers steal from employees. They withold pay stubbs. They charge fees for pay cards. They make workers skip their legally required breaks. They refuse to pay overtime. This is wage theft and it's more prevalent than you might think. See how the respondants of our survey experience this violation.

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Discrimination & Harassment

Low wage means a large labor pool. A large labor pool means workers are replaceable. That replacability makes some employers feel like there's little risk in exercising their prejudice against certain people or acting piggishly toward their employees. How many of our respondants faced discrimination and harassment? How many of you have?

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Health & Safety

Dangerous work doesn't always come with hazard pay. Accidents happen. Sometimes they can't be avoided but sometimes they happen because of unsafe or unhealthy working environments. Low wage workers often can't afford to take time off to nurse a cold let alone an injury. How healthy and safe were our survey respondants?

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It takes courage to speak out against unfair working conditions. That courage is often punished. Low wage workers experience retaliation by their employers when they ask for safer working conditions. For the wages they were promised. For the respect they deserve in the work place. Those who speak out are rare but they are punished at an alarming rate. What are they suffering for?

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Digital Stories

Voices of Low Wage Work

taking an inteviewThe purpose of this project has always been to tell the stories of everyday working people. We wish to understand the struggle created by living from paycheck to paycheck. The stories on this site are the words of a small number of the 1300 individuals that Working For Dignity surveyed. They did so at a cost of their own precious free time and we are extremely grateful to them. In all cases, names have been changed, and student voice actors have re-recorded the original audio verbatim. This was done to protect their identities, as the threat of retaliation from their employers is very real. Please visit the Digital Stories Archive, or view individual stories in the "Violations" pages.


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Photos of The Struggle

The Working For Dignity photo team has been out in the field documenting the daily lives and activities of low wage workers all around Santa Cruz County. Come and see the faces and lives of our community! Visit Working for Dignity Photo Galleries