Hakima Arhab’s Story

I work for Subway at the Oakland Airport. When I first got this job, I was so happy – I thought my life was going to change. But it turned out it was the hardest job I have ever done. There were just two of us working at once, with a huge long line to serve – sometimes it seemed like 100 people. We had to race to make the sandwiches and cashier at the same time. Sometime I felt like I was going to fall down because we were working so hard, but I just had to drink something sweet and go back to work. Sometimes we’d work like that for a 12-hour shift, and we’d never get paid a penny of overtime.

After that I decided to stand up and ask for my rights. I wanted to join the union. My face was on the union flyers, and I made a video for my co-workers, telling them they should stand up with me. I filed complaints with the state and the Port of Oakland for the labor laws Subway was breaking. The Subway owners found out about that, because the Port gave them the names of people who’d complained.

When my co-worker Bikram was fired, I went on a delegation to support him – and the next day my boss fired me too. She told me it was because they were slow, but she was giving my coworkers extra hours, and two days later they hired a new worker at the airport. I believe that she just wanted to kick me out because I’d gotten involved in the union, and I stood up and filed a complaint. Because I was demanding my rights.

Last week we had a rally out at the airport, to support me and the other workers who have been fired. We even had a chant in Berber. That’s the home language of North Africa, and I’m from a little Berber town in Algeria. And the meaning is “We are Berber, we are people who would rather fight and be fired than work without rights.”

(Photo and some text courtesy of David Bacon)