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The “Why” Behind the Work: Fabricio Rodriguez

By April 24, 2014January 15th, 2016No Comments

This is first in a series on our blog featuring the stories of POWER leaders and staff.

Our newest organizer, Fabricio Rodriguez, comes from a long history of organizing for worker justice. Here’s why he does it.

Fabricio Rodriguez at PSOU Rally, 2012

Fabricio at a rally for the Philadelphia Security Officers Union in 2012

In his 15 years of organizing, Fabricio Rodriguez has won millions in prison divestment, fought anti-immigrant laws, and won more than $10 million in wage increases and other gains for Philadelphia’s most under-served workers.

But 20 years ago, he admits he didn’t even know what an “organizer” was.

Fabricio was born and raised near the Acoma-Laguna Pueblo Reservation and mining communities in the Southwest.  At age 19 he started mining with his father, taking up the life of a “tramp miner” – a miner who moves around following the best paid work.

“I thought I was going to be a miner for the rest of my life, like everyone in my community,” he says.

But Fabricio’s life started to pivot after one day at a mine near Juneau, Alaska, his father decided to make a radical move: to take a lunch break.

Three years into his mining career, Fabricio had followed his dad to Greens Creek Mine, a mine off the coast of Juneau that was known far and wide as one of the most brutal.  Its owner was named Boomer – or to miners, the “Devil’s Landlord.”  Needless to say, you didn’t take lunch breaks at Greens Creek.

So when Fabricio’s dad, David, decided to sit down and eat one day, tired of needing to go hungry and work without rest, Boomer was furious. Word spread at Greens Creek about the move to stand up to Boomer, and Fabricio and his father started talking to others about how to keep it up. They agreed that together, they would demand the right to a lunch break and a place to wash their hands at every worksite.

It was Fabricio’s first experience of what would become a lifelong passion for direct action.

“It changed everything,” he says. “I was always the joker in school, so I was used to fooling around.  But I had never seen anyone confront power like that before.”

Later, one of the long-time miners came up to him and told him that some people made a living helping workers and doing exactly what his father had done.  They were called organizers.

Fabricio and his father were fired from the mine shortly after the incident.  Years later his father later would win back his job and backpay by fighting the dismissal through the legal system.  But Fabricio fought back in a different way – by committing his life to organizing.

He went back to get his GED, then to community college, then Arizona State University. After coming to Philadelphia in 2004, Fabricio was hired as the executive director of Jobs with Justice, where he led struggles for immigrant and workers’ rights.  He later became director of the Philadelphia chapter of Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC) from 2010-2014.

But in addition to heading up the fight for paid sick days for Philly’s restaurant workers with ROC, Fabricio is most proud of his work with security guards – a severely racially segregated and economically exploited field.  What started as a campaign for paid sick leave for guards at Temple lead to a grassroots movement among guards, students, and faith communities for the rights of Allied Barton guards across the city.  Eventually, the campaign led to the formation and recognition of an innovative independent union, the Philadelphia Security Officers Union (PSOU).

It was his experience with PSOU that made Fabricio recognize the unique role that faith can play in social justice movements.  It’s also where he first met and worked alongside Bishop Dwayne Royster, POWER’s executive director.

He remembers one night in December 2008 when a group of guards and pastors were gathered for a protest at Temple Univeristy, demanding entry to talk to the Board of Trustees. When nothing was working, Bishop Royster suggested a new strategy: “We’re going to have to create a holy disruption,” he said. The group started praying and singing as they moved towards the office – and nobody stopped them.

The success propelled the campaign into even more direct action and towards winning 50% wage increases at the University of Pennsylvania and paid sick days policies for security officers at the University of Pennsylvania, Temple University, Drexel University and the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

“That’s what keyed me into the power of faith. Instead of yelling and screaming, we were praying. And they listened,” says Fabricio.

But for him, organizing for the rights of poor and working and people is to some degree a faith in itself.

“Good organizing changes the participants as much as it can change situations,” he says. “When people realized their interdependence, it feels magical.”

Fabricio lives with his wife, Emily, in North Philadelphia.  With POWER, Fabricio will be organizing the North/Northeast cluster and leading campaign work at the intersection of immigration and economic dignity.