If there’s anything that Real Change vendors know, it’s that we exist in community. Every day our vendors feel the support of thousands of people who understand that we rise and fall together in the fight for economic and racial justice.
Sometimes those connections become very tangible.
Several years ago our friends at United Food and Commercial Workers Local 21 were in a tough contract renegotiation and fighting hard to show the breadth of community support for working folks in their union.
Many of our vendors sell outside of stores that UFCW 21 organizes. When workers needed support, our vendors chose to stand up — sometimes even at risk of jeopardizing their selling locations — to support those who worked inside their stores.
Real Change vendors distributed UFCW leaflets to customers while they sold their papers. They walked informational picket lines. Some even donated to the food drive when workers geared up for an anticipated strike.
Why? Because our vendors are much more than “homeless” people. They each have their own stories and unique histories. Each of our vendors is a vital community asset. In their work to help themselves, they create a web of connection that helps us all.
And because our vendors are working people themselves. Many of them come from union backgrounds. They understand that, now or in the past, the labor movement has given them and their families the opportunity for work with dignity.
These union workers were their friends. They talk with each other on their breaks. They have relationships that mean something. Our vendors took up the fight for decent working conditions, wages and health care as their own. Many others joined UFCW 21’s fight that year. A broad community stood firm and, after a long and difficult negotiation, a settlement was reached that provided the job security those workers needed.
It was a beautiful show of community solidarity that we at Real Change never forgot.
This is why we’re so proud this month to debut our new vendor visibility vests, provided through a community partnership with Granite Construction and our friends in organized labor.
Granite Construction contacted us after an article in the Puget Sound Business Journal mentioned that we needed high-visibility vests to help our vendors succeed.
The person who called knew us and had his own favorite vendor in Ballard. We are a construction supply company, he said. This is what we do, and we can help.
Granite Construction is a national heavy civil construction company with regional Pacific Northwest operations and a construction supply shop in Everett. They agreed to provide the first 200 high-quality vests for free and to print the remaining 500 at cost.
Meanwhile, we’d been working an angle of our own. We’d pitched the idea of vest sponsorship to our friends at UFCW 21, and they had the idea of making the project laborcommunity-wide. Other unions began to respond.
A few months later we had vest sponsorships from UFCW 21, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), IAM District 751, SEIU 775, UAW 4121 and Unite-HERE Local 8.
Beginning this week, each of our more than 300 active vendors will be provided with a free visibility vest.
If there is one thing our vendors want our community to know, it’s that selling Real Change is a job. Real Change vendors buy their papers up front at 60 cents each and sell them for $2. Real Change is, as we often say, a hand-up, not a hand-out.
Our people stand out in the weather to pitch their papers and have both good days and bad. They take pride in their work, their product and their community. There is nothing easy about it.
Our vendors deserve to be seen. And they deserve our community’s support.
There is still time for other labor community sponsors to join in the Vendor Solidarity Project and have their union logo added to the next set of vests. If your union is interested, please contact development (at) realchangenews (dot) org before Jan. 15.
Thank you again to everyone that made this beautiful collaboration possible.
Tim Harris is the Founding Director Real Change and has been active as a poor people’s organizer for more than two decades. Prior to moving to Seattle in 1994, Harris founded street newspaper Spare Change in Boston in 1992 while working as Executive Director of Boston Jobs with Peace.
Wait, there's more. Check out the full December 6 issue. http://realchangenews.org/issue/december-6-2017