Monday, January 23, 2012

Red Diaper Memories: The Shy "King" of the Jewish Home Strike

My Dad spent the last few years of his lie as “the King of the San Francisco Jewish Home.” I don’t mean that he lorded over anyone. In fact, he was pretty shy and docile with the caregivers and medical staff. He told me that he felt he was back in the Army: “follow the rules, don’t complain, and you’ll get three square meals a day and a warm place to sleep.”

So, how did he get to be the King? He did it by acting on his lifelong political justice principles – supporting the caregiver staff in a very public way.

On a cold and rainy November morning, an old man is wheeled out of the Jewish Home to a small gathering of reporters and local television camera crews. He is there to speak out on behalf of the Home’s workers, who are in the midst of a long and ongoing battle with management over wages and benefits. The Home’s managers have asked for a pay freeze and increase contributions to the employee’s healthcare plan. The union has refused, and tempers are high. The union has warned of a Christmas Day “sickout,” and the Home has responded by contracting with an agency that has agreed to provide replacement workers if needed. No one has backed down, and tensions inside the Home are rising.
The old man lifts his head. It is Carl Vedro, bent and shrunken with age, but with a strong voice nonetheless. “For my entire life I supported workers’ rights, organized unions and marched on picket lines, and there is no way at the end of my life that can break that promise. I will starve before I will allow strikebreakers to feed me. Its unacceptable to me to see my caregivers out on the street, while we’re inside being fed by the people who took their jobs.”

Within a few hours, Senator Barbara Boxer, whose father had been a Jewish Home resident a few years earlier, called the sides together. The sick-out is called off and the contract is extended for another year.

From that day on, till his death two years later, every worker at the Home knew that it was Carl who “saved his or her benefits.” They showered him with the appreciation he so much deserved for his life’s work.

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