Serving the Underserved

Language can be tricky sometimes and organizations that work with people in need often have difficulty expressing exactly what they offer. This is the case for Los Osos Cares (LOC) working on the Central Coast of California. LOC is a humanitarian organization that acts as a social service resource for people in the communities of Los Osos, Morro Bay, and Cayucos.

 “We aid homeless and people suffering poverty with information and access to other organizations and groups that can help them,” commented Executive Director, Linda Quesenberry, “but we realized that there is more to this. There are people who don’t exactly fall into a particular category. From that we found that we needed to change our mission statement to say that we serve the underserved, because in truth, that covers the larger picture of what we do.”

So, who are the “underserved?” One group that appears to be left out from the attentions of humanitarian and social services organizations are hospitality workers, especially Latino hospitality workers. We are talking about motel maids, servers, dish washers, cooks, and servers’ helpers in restaurants, temporary workers, and others. And while here many of those workers are Latinos, they can be anyone. The underserved are a microcosm of all nationalities, races, genders, and religions. 

The towns of the Central Coast of California are basically tourist destinations. Thousands of people flock there to enjoy the sea air, the beaches, and fun seaside activities all year long. In Morro Bay alone there are over 100 motels and a myriad of eateries. All these establishments need basic workers to serve the public. Most of these people are relatively invisible and for the most part little notice of any of their needs is taken. When Covid hit in 2020, restaurants and motels closed. No one travelled. What happened to the livelihoods of these workers?

That question haunted Quesenberry and when she mentioned it to others from social services agencies and humanitarian groups, a lightbulb turned on for everyone. What did happen to those workers? And how many times have they been left out of whatever help is available?

In the Sacramento area these questions had organizers forming the Western Service Workers Association, an all-volunteer grassroots labor organizing organization of low income, domestic and temporary workers. The mission was to identify these people to permanently improve working and living conditions for the lowest income workers. In the effort to discover who these underserved individuals were volunteers formed up and went house to house in certain areas of the city, knocking on doors, and asking residents if they worked in the service industries. The object of this was to gather a membership of service workers who share common problems, such as low wages, rising costs for housing, utilities and food and form them into committees to work for government and political changes to benefit them.

A similar organization, the Eastern Service Workers Association operates in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. This too is an all-volunteer organizing drive through which low-income service workers have joined together to fight for their long-term economic interests including opposing destructive anti-labor government policies such as workfare, enterprise zones, managed care and the privatization of our public health care resources and school systems. Service workers in Pennsylvania along with other workers lost hundreds of thousands of jobs due to the economic fallout from the handling of the pandemic.

The economic impact of the Covid 19 pandemic and the absence of timely, coordinated government action hit service workers hardest. Lacking the knowledge of what resources such as emergency food, clothing, medical care, dental care, legal assistance, referral services for jobs, and more left service industry workers on the Central Coast of California in the dark.

The question now for LOC is how to deal with this ongoing problem. Do we need to establish a similar door-to-door volunteer canvassing to identify these workers? Should we organize a membership of domestic workers to tackle labor organizing? How best to get the resource information to the people? Do we need a Western Service Workers Association here? The answers to these questions hopefully will reveal a path for LOC to serve the underserved more adequately.

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