Organization helps low-income and temporary workers make it through the rough spots

I love tamales, they’re like little pillowy envelopes of perfection. So when my girlfriend sent me a link to a fundraiser where people would be selling tamales last week, not onlywas I was excited, I thought, “Man, she totally gets me.” I mean, who doesn’t want to help out a good cause while shoving their face full of masa, meat, and cheese?

It wasn’t until I looked closer at what the fundraiser was for that I realized, “Oh wow! She really gets me!” The tamale sale was raising money for Western Service Workers Association (WSWA), an organization of low-income service workers who’ve banded together to help each other survive while also fighting to make better conditions for all workers.

Our duffle bag of a president likes to claim that the United States has the lowest unemployment ever. It is the lowest since the 1960s, and while that sounds wonderful, it’s actually a load of garbage. While more jobs might be being added, many are poor quality jobs where employers are making record profits while workers are consistently losing protections and benefits. Sure there might be an explosion of jobs where people are driving for Uber, doing chores through TaskRabbit, or delivering food through Caviar, but these independent contractor jobs lack benefits like health insurance, workers compensation, 401k savings, and paid time off.

On top of that, most of these jobs will disappear in the next 10 years when technology finally catches up to the employers’ desires, and robots and automation replace the labor of working folks. And unfortunately our government doesn’t really care about these people and our society doesn’t have an adequate safety net to support these workers when the jobs go away.

That’s why I was so excited to learn about Western Service Workers Association. Started in 1975, WSWA is a free, volunteer- run association built by, and for, low-income service, domestic, in-home care, part-time and temporary workers. The folks at WSWA have created a self help membership benefit program “including emergency food, clothing, preventive medical care, non-emergency dental care, legal advice and ‘Know Your Law’ sessions and more.”

The fundraiser I learned about last week was for their winter survival campaign, which helps people pay their bills for rent, electricity, heating, water, and more. WSWA is based in Oakland and they do most of their work in the East Bay, but when I called to ask if they help out folks in San Francisco, I was told “We do a lot of advocacy work and will help people in any county in the Bay Area.”

But they need help from folks like you to continue doing their work. Since WSWA is volunteer run it’s only as effective as its members. From offering legal advice to distributing food to canvassing neighborhoods to advocating for someone whose water is being turned off, WSWA fights for change 365 days a year. And they offer volunteer training and activities at their office at 1141 Peralta St. in Oakland.

Since building a social safety net is a long way off in this country, it’s upon us to look after ourselves and each other. Western Service Workers Association is an inspiration. I am going to look into how I can help them more. Hopefully you will too.

Stuart Schuffman, aka Broke-Ass Stuart, is a travel writer, TV host and poet. Follow him at and join his mailing list to stay up on the work he’s doing: His guest column, Broke-Ass City, runs Thursdays in the Examiner.

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