Opinion

Workers are Vashon’s backbone

Giving

t And what if they all went on strike?

Imagine a bright Monday morning. You get your older child ready for school and out the door to wait for the bus. Then you prepare the younger one for preschool. 

As you back the car out, you see that child number one is still standing there. The bus never came, he says. You decide you’ll just drop him off at school on your way to preschool.

When you get to the school, there are signs saying that there will be no school today. Most of the administrative staff and some of the teachers aren’t there. You drive on to the pre-school and discover that it’s not open either. You turn around to head for home, and as you drive through town you notice that all the shops and stores are closed.

Is it a holiday and you’ve forgotten? Town is crowded with people trying to shop and run errands. People are standing in front of offices waiting for someone to open up. You stop off at the pharmacy to pick up a prescription. It’s closed too, and so are all of the gas stations and repair shops. The barber, the baker and yes, even the candlestick maker are all closed!

Back at home you notice the landscape maintenance people haven’t come to mow the lawn, and your cleaning lady hasn’t shown up. No one delivered your newspaper, and your favorite espresso stand is closed.

What would your life be like if this day came? What if it went on for weeks or even forever? What would you do? The point here is that our community couldn’t function without the workers who run our businesses, shops and offices, and care for our elderly, children and property.

But all of these people make so little money that many of our working families are just one high oil bill away from the streets. Our average rents are $1,200 to $1,500 a month, and for people making less than $30,000 a year that means at least half of their income goes for rent.

You may not realize that most of the people who work for the shops, offices and businesses on the Island make $10 to $15 an hour. Some even less. That includes health care workers, administrative staff, bankers, clerks and dozens of other categories of working folks.

Take-home pay for these people is $1,140 to $2,042 per month. With high rent, utilities and transportation costs, that doesn’t leave much for insurance, health care, food, entertainment, school supplies, emergencies or savings, even in a two-income family.

Many of our working poor use the food bank, buy their clothes at Granny’s Attic, take the bus and do without health insurance. Even then it’s common for a small emergency to put them over the edge. Most of them don’t think of themselves as poor or low income. Earnings have not kept up with inflation, while costs have skyrocketed. Many are getting by with about the same income they made 20 years ago.

The Interfaith Council on Homelessness (IFCH) deals with the fallout of this problem every day. Although we deal with chronic homelessness, most of our “clients” are the working poor. Most of them, as well as most of the long-term homeless, are Vashon natives. They went to high school here. Some disaster put them in the place they are in now, and they continue to struggle. This year, with very high oil prices for gas and for heating fuel, our tiny resources have been depleted.

We need funds now to continue helping our Island neighbors. Won’t you help? Please send donation to IFCH,  P.O. Box 330, Vashon, WA 98070.  We are nonprofit charity run by volunteers.

— Emma Amiad is a longtime civic activist on the Island.

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