Reaching Oakland Day Workers to Promote Occupational Safety

The Oakland Workers Collective, launched in 2012 by Street Level Health Project, does more than refer jobs to day laborers. It offers weekly health and safety outreach to an underserved community with the help of volunteers like Jeremy Verango, a master’s student in the UCSF School of Nursing.

“This is a community that is vulnerable on many levels,” says Jeremy Verango. “Many of the workers are undocumented and constantly at risk for different types of discrimination and deportation.”

Tuesday evenings from five-thirty to seven, Verango leads occupational safety classes for up to twenty day laborers who work in a wide range of jobs – from construction, painting, and landscaping to moving and hauling.

“It’s important that these workers find community and support with our Collective and feel empowered that they are receiving the necessary training and preparation for the work they are doing,” says Verango. “With the Collective, day workers have a voice, and they know their rights are being advocated for and protected.”

Classes not only focus on occupational safety, but how workers can establish a good relationship with their employer, including how to respond in the event they are mistreated or not paid on time. “Quite honestly, health and safety can get pushed to the side when a worker’s first priority is to have a job and make some money,” notes Verango.

“At Street Level, we always focus on health, but we see health as more than the doctor-patient relationship. We see it encompassing injury prevention,” says UC Berkeley alumna Gabriela Galicia, BA’09, the Leadership and Empowerment Program Manager for Street Level.

Jeremy helped Galicia put together the curriculum for occupational health and safety. Classes have covered body mapping and workplace hazard assessment. They have also focused on pain awareness, ergonomic risks and respiratory symptoms related to chemical exposures. In March, the subject was construction safety.

The Collective trains workers to record as much information as they can about workplace incidents. “In the event that they do get hurt,” adds Verango,” we remind them about the health care services available at Street Level.” Verango also encourages day workers to use personal protective equipment. Street Level provides limited safety gear such as hard hats, goggles, and ear plugs, according to Galicia.

In addition to his work with the Collective, Verango volunteers as a registered nurse during clinic hours at Street Level. “My volunteerism develops my comfort with a diverse clinical setting and strengthens my awareness of the needs of the community in Oakland,” notes Verango.

“It’s been great to have Jeremy here,” says Galicia. “He’s allowed us to connect with UCSF to bring more experts into the work we are doing, and we feel we can teach those experts how to work with our population.”

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