YouTube video

A wave of grassroots labor struggles is sweeping the country, with more and more workers bringing union organizing to their workplaces for the first time. Among the rank-and-file workers leading shopfloor struggles is Vince Quiles of Philadelphia, a longtime Home Depot employee. Although he had formerly been identified and groomed to move up the ranks of management, Quiles opted instead to try and join his coworkers in organizing the home improvement retail chain’s first unionized store. TRNN Editor-in-Chief Maximillian Alvarez travels to Philadelphia to speak with Quiles about his experiences. Shortly after this interview, Quiles was terminated from his position at Home Depot.

Studio/Post-Production: Nick Grieves


Maximillian Alvarez:  Welcome, everyone, to The Real News Network. My name is Maximilian Alvarez. I’m the editor-in-chief here at The Real News, and it’s so great to have you all with us.

The Real News is an independent, viewer-supported, nonprofit media network, which means we don’t do ads, we don’t take corporate cash, and we don’t put our content behind paywalls. So we need each one of you to become a supporter of our work so we can keep bringing you coverage of the issues and voices you care about most. So please head on over to and become a monthly sustainer of our work. It really makes a difference.

From Starbucks, Chipotle, and Amazon, to museums, strip clubs, nonprofits, and private universities, the wave of grassroots worker organizing is spreading to different industries and businesses around the country and beyond, including those that have notoriously resisted any and all unionization efforts in the past. The Home Depot, the single largest home improvement retail company in the United States, is one of those businesses. In the fall of last year, workers at a Home Depot store in Northeast Philadelphia announced their campaign to unionize and filed for a union election with the National Labor Relations Board.

Vince Quiles, a local boy who has worked at the Northeast Philly store for five years and was being groomed by the company to move up through the supervisor ranks, is the worker organizer who led the union drive and filed the petition with the NLRB. Vince and his coworkers faced a steep uphill battle in their attempt to become the first Home Depot store in the United States to unionize.

Home Depot is a notoriously anti-union company, and the fifth largest private employer in the country. And like the Amazon Labor Union in New York, workers in Philadelphia were pushing to form an independent union under the banner of Home Depot Workers United. That initial unionization effort came up short. When the votes were tallied in early November, 165 employees at the Philly store voted against joining the union, and 51 voted in favor of unionizing.

But the struggle is still very much ongoing, and the organizing effort Vince and his coworkers led has made waves in stores and corporate offices around the country. Because the labor movement is just that. A movement. It is not a single moment in time, not a single strike or union effort. Every day is a chance to grow the movement, to learn from mistakes and defeats, to build rank and file power, and for working people to keep fighting together to improve their workplaces and their lives.

For The Real News, I got to travel to Philadelphia in January of this year and meet Vince in person to reflect on the union drive at his Home Depot store, to talk about the lessons we can learn from this struggle, and to look ahead at what comes next for Vince, for Home Depot workers everywhere, and for the labor movement.

Vince Quiles:  My name is Vince Quiles. I am a Home Depot Receiving Associate. I’ve been working there for about six years now, and I recently tried to organize a union there.

I guess a little bit of the backstory, to quantify why I have the beliefs that I do and why I feel as strongly as I do. So I was on the trajectory for the corporate side there. When I first started, I was in college. I was just working that as a side hustle. I think at the time I was studying engineering and I switched to economics, but my brain was more on that stuff.

But as time went on, I had a kid. That was a little bit of a wrench in the plans. And so trying to be a good father and a good provider, you say, okay, well, there’s some headway that I can make in a company like this. The store manager had been asking me a lot to go for a supervisor position and consider it. So I said, you know what? In the meantime, we’ll try and make this happen. Times are tough out there. Money ain’t getting you as far as it used to.

And a lot of the things that I’ve learned within my journey as an associate to learning how the sausage was made and seeing how things happened behind the scenes, and realizing just the mentality that goes into place, and how everything started to make sense in terms of how people are treated, how people are struggling. You peek behind that curtain. You understand it, Warren, so I was like, you know what? Let’s try and organize. Because I think of it like this: trying to get somebody to step out in front and to do something is extremely difficult, understandably so, because there’s so much for people to lose, and you never want to diminish that.

And so what I recognized and what I personally took the step to move forward was to say, look like I’ve got a great support system. Since my son was born, my parents have always taken care of him in terms of buying him diapers and stuff like that. My father-in-law helps out a lot sometimes if we’re short on bills and stuff like that.

So you get this support system that a lot of other people don’t have, and so then you recognize you have this opportunity to move forward and to help people. And so you take that energy and that frustration of the things that you go through at work, the unhappiness of your coworkers around you, recognizing how awesome they are and how much they deserve a better environment, an environment that’s more conducive to the lives they want to live. And then recognizing how inherently working within a place like Home Depot in the way that we are, where we’re so disconnected, is going to breed the type of stuff that we’re going through. And so the only real solution is to try and get everybody on the same page. One person, you’re powerless, but together, you do a lot.

Maximillian Alvarez:  Beautifully put, my man.

And I remember when you and I first talked on my podcast, Working People, and I feel like we could have talked for eight hours. But you mentioned that moment where you really did feel like, having gone the route of being able to advance through management, going possibly the corporate side, but at the same time seeing yourself and then seeing what your coworkers were going through that this was an untenable situation, something had to be done. And you described to me that you were on the fence between quitting or something else.

Vince Quiles:  Yeah.

Maximillian Alvarez:  You already started talking about this, because I feel like that’s a position that almost all of us can relate to. And I feel like every time I’ve been in that position, it was in a context where the thought of banding together with my coworkers, knowing my rights, even mentioning the word unionization, it just wasn’t even on my radar. It was like, well, this job sucks, so what I’ve been told my whole life is if you don’t like it, quit.

I was wondering if you could just take us back to that moment, and you already started talking about this, but what was it that made you decide, I’m not going to leave. I’m going to stay and fight for myself and for my coworkers?

Vince Quiles:  Dude, I think you hit that spot on. And I don’t know that I talked about this a whole lot, but even before I organized, I applied to the fire department. I actually signed up for a real estate course, literally a month or two before I started organizing. So that’s, to your point, my mind was, I was like, look like you can’t win here, so you have to move on.

And I feel like it was just two major things. It was hearing something Chris Smalls said, where he was like, if you don’t like what’s going on at your job, don’t quit. Organize. And I have to give the caveat of, I did not want to stay at Home Depot. Just the way that my brain works, staying there for a long time was never going to work. But where that really hit me, again, is if you can do something about it, why not? And you’ll put all of these barriers on yourself to not do something. Oh well, I’m leaving anyway. I’ve had some people close to me who said that when I was taking this on, like, can’t you just pass this off to somebody else? And it’s like, no. If you’re the one to see it and see that it has to happen, then you have to follow through with it.

And then the second part of it was one of my coworkers was challenging me. We’re talking about company numbers and stuff. I’m like, dude, can you believe Arthur Blank cleared $28.5 million in three months off of his quarterly dividends from his shares? I’m just running through all that. And he’s like, all right, well, what are you going to do about it? And that made me take a step back and think, because to be honest, to just bring up problems to complain about stuff all the time, that’s actually cruel to not bring forward a solution.

And so, dude, look, I listen to you. I listen to Krystal and Saagar. You’re hearing about this labor movement. You’re hearing about what’s going on at Starbucks, about what’s going on at Amazon, the John Deere strike, all of this stuff happening across the country, and it’s like the solution is literally slapping you in the face, like, dude, this is what you have to do. And it’s like, yeah. You know what? You’re right. I could say, and maybe people can connect with this, where I was also personally, at that point in my life, I always use, when Krystal and Saagar started Breaking Points, it’s the benchmark, because that was around the time that I stepped down.

And I remember hearing them talk so much about going independent, and that’s why I think that was also so influential is because it was like, being a principled person in this day and age is actually really fucking difficult. It’s hard to sit there and to actually have principles that you can espouse and say, I live according to these values. Especially if you feel that they’re rooted in compassion and love for one another. That’s fucking hard.

But you also sit and reflect, and I was just like, bro, when I’m an old man and I’m about to die, and I look in the mirror, I’m like, who do I want to see? And I don’t want to go that corporate route. I don’t want to lie to people. So to bring it back to talking with my coworker, because it was like, this is going to be hard, but this is the moment to live your truth. And for so long, I was just so frustrated in my early 20s and missed opportunities, and I was just like, I just want a chance to see an opportunity before it happens. See an opportunity to do something that I would feel good about, that I feel is conducive to my nature and my identity as a person. When that happened, you see all this stuff going on with organizing, you’re like, that’s it right there. That’s what you do.

And you can sit here, you can have your perceptions of yourself and stuff like that, but if you’re not really doing shit, it’s never going to happen. And so I saw that. I was like, you know what? We’re going to go for this because even though I don’t plan on staying here, if you want to do the right thing for the sake of doing the right thing, that’s what that is. It can’t matter anymore about, are you going to stay here? Just quit that. This, that. Because I feel like that’s part of what has led us to this point, is the fact that so many people just up and left and said, you know what? We’re not going to deal with this one. Somebody’s going to have to deal with it at some point down the road.

Maximillian Alvarez:  And man, that’s such a key point too, and it’s one that I hear from workers and organizers like yourself, from all over the place.

I remember recently talking to Harry Marino, who was a former Minor League Baseball player, and he talked about the long path that led to the Minor Leaguers finally unionizing, and now they’re affiliated with the MLBPA, which no one thought would ever really happen, for a number of reasons. But one that Harry talked about, that mirrors almost exactly what you just said, is because everyone in that position playing Minor League Baseball, you do it because you hope that you can get to that next level and you’re already in such a precarious situation. At the time Harry was playing, guys were making $3,000 a year. You’re living in a house with 10 other guys. You’re eating KFC every single day. You’re taking care of yourself as best as you can, but it’s a very precarious life that you endure because of the promise of making it, and a lot of guys don’t.

But what keeps so many people who recognize the problem from doing something about it is feeling like, well, if I take that step, I’m basically burning my chance of making it.

But what Harry said, and the other guys who took that step with him, was, if we don’t do it, it’ll literally be the same situation in 50 years, 100 years. Nothing’s going to change unless people take that step like you did, which is a really brave and incredible thing to do. And what I think is so inspiring is that the more folks like you who take that step, the more people at other Home Depots, other coffee shops, other warehouses say, why not us?

People will talk about the fact that you guys didn’t win the union election as this definitive, well, that’s it. They don’t want a union. End of story. No, no. The struggle very much continues. And I’ve talked to people who said, we saw what Vince and the folks in Philly were doing. We see ourselves as part of this movement. We’re not going to win them all, but if they’re fighting, why don’t we? They can’t stop all of us, is what one worker told me. I thought that was really well and beautifully put.

Vince Quiles:  I think what’s so important to consider too – And it’s hard sometimes being in this position to figure out what are the best things to say for people to understand. If you look at how our drive went, Max, but when I tell you we lost. We did. We lost 165 to 51. For sure we did. But it was such a win. Ask me how much money we spent.

Maximillian Alvarez:  How much money did you guys spend?

Vince Quiles:  $0. [Max laughs] Ask me how many people did interviews, how many people were actually out front. It was really one person pushing through, and then with some support from some of his coworkers, but everybody’s on the fence. People didn’t want the union, but it was because, honestly, we just pulled a freaking Star Wars rebels type move and said, you know what? We’re going to go, we’re going to get these signatures.

And again, a lot of it was just not… These movements are so important in terms of working with others, but if I’m being 100% honest, I did 95% of the work myself. I was carrying a lot of that weight. And so what I would want people to see in that, and what I try and preach to other people now when I’m talking to people – It’s like you said, people at other Home Depots want to do the same thing. What we talk about now is the importance of that organizing committee. Because I think the point to actually be made in that is look at what one dude with just the sheer will to say, you guys are fucking wrong, and somebody needs to fight for these other people here, look at where that can take you.

We watch two videos a year talking about not unionizing, talking about protecting your signature. They’ve got Associate Relations, which is the union busting wing of the company. They spend all of this money.

Dude, I was talking with our regional vice president the other day, and you could see in those mannerisms… So he is talking, he’s a confident guy – There’s only four of them in the company, so you have to have some skill, and I give that credit where it’s due – But I noticed him talking. His hands, they were like this [demonstrates shaky hands]. And it’s in moments that you realize actually the power that you hold. Because it’s like, why are you nervous like that? Where is that fear coming from? Because the second someone is willing to stand out and buck that system, and that’s what being a union organizer is. That’s what going for that type of stuff is. It puts you in a powerful position, and what I see it as is where we may have lost, everything that we learned out of that was not that you should give up, but actually that you should continue.

They just gave a bunch of people in our store between $1.50 and a $2 raise. Ask me how much the raises were the two years prior, the three years prior.

Maximillian Alvarez:  How much were they prior?

Vince Quiles:  It was between $0.50 cents and $1.

You know what they said? They said, we’re giving your store a little bit more. Even though we’re finding some discrepancies in that, because some other places are also getting the same thing. What we’re thinking is maybe they’re starting to consider the volume in the workload. But again, all of those decisions that they’re making, you know where they got that from? They got that from talking to people in our store. They got that from going and watching that rabble-rouser’s TikToks. I even got these people to admit that they’re on my Twitter, they’re on my TikTok [Max laughs]. They’re watching all that stuff.

Because that’s the thing, it’s because, again, you don’t have to have a degree. If you just understand your peers and you understand the problems that you go through and you can connect with people, that’s what scares them. I tell people that all the time. They’re like, look at what you did. You got us… I was like, no, it’s not the one person who was willing to put his name on the petition and file it. It was the 105 other names that were with it. That was the shit that actually scared them. That was what actually made them afraid.

And so again, I look at it, and I think it’s funnier when some… So get some of that like, oh, you fucking lost, you lazy lefty. And I personally laugh at it because I’m like, inherently within that, you’re missing the whole point. The real goal after going through this stuff, and what I realize is the powers, the connection. The connection, and doing something with the connection that you have between yourself and your coworkers. You see these people every day. You’re talking. You know about their lives, their families. You know what’s going on. And you connect with your coworkers and your peers in a way that the higher ups never could. And it’s not even getting into the right or wrong of it. It’s just like, how can you? If I show up to work with you every day and this guy works in a fucking office six states away, he’s not going to know shit about you.

And so then the standard that you should apply as a worker is to say, well, my coworkers and I, we should be able to have these discussions in our work environment, and then go back to that guy who’s the money man, and be like, look, this is what’s going to work for us. Now you go run those numbers and figure out how to make that shit work on that end. And that was the overarching goal that we wanted to get across to people. But then ultimately, we couldn’t.

And I think that’s also another important thing, and I personally don’t shy away from that. You know what? We lost. But again, the way I saw that whole situation unfold was we lost. They didn’t win. It’s just one of those, look at the game this past weekend. Firstly, love my birds. We smashed them.

Maximillian Alvarez:  [Laughs] First things first, no birds.

Vince Quiles:  But look, your starting quarterback goes down, your guy that has you seven and 0, that puts you in a difficult position and you can see the writing on the wall. And that’s where I feel that we were at was the ammunition we had, the roster we had was really good. The things that we had to say, it was just following it through. We dropped the ball, we missed the mark, and so Home Depot was able to skate away with that.

Maximillian Alvarez:  Well, they’re playing with the deck very much stacked in their favor already. I hope that anyone who watches The Real News, or Breaking Points, or listens to Working People will at least understand, at this point, we’re playing on a very skewed chess board right now. Labor law is stacked in favor of the bosses.

When I talk to people outside of the US about the process of unionizing a non-union shop in the US, they’re like, how does anyone get a union with all of those steps and barriers and ways that companies can stall and derail and try to decertify?

Look at what Amazon’s doing right now. The Amazon Labor Union, you mentioned Chris Smalls, no one gave them a shot either. Like you, it felt like a very Star Wars-like rebel insurgency. It was an independent union movement. And I think they had some support, more moral support, but not a lot of institutional support like you guys did you. And so that they won fair and square in a warehouse of over 8,000 people.

Vince Quiles:  It’s still crazy to think about

Maximillian Alvarez:  It’s still wild to think about, and yet Amazon is just trying to file motion after motion to throw the election results out, just flipping over the chess board saying, we lost, so we refused to accept the results. The NLRB finally certified the election results, and Amazon says it’s going to appeal again. So they’re going to run out of appeals eventually, but because they have so much money, so much influence, because labor law is so stacked in favor of the bosses, this is why we have to be in it for the long haul. Because even if you win, then you’re going to face all that other bullshit.

And that’s also why it’s so important for folks to hear and listen to what you’re saying, because it’s very much, we may have lost the battle, but this is an ongoing war. And there’s a lot of lessons that I think people can build on from what y’all did, trying to become the first union at a very notoriously anti-union company, the largest home improvement retailer in the world. No easy feat.

And so like you said, the fact that you got even as close as you did, that you got the signatures that you did, that you got the attention that you did, and that you got this response from the company just from this one insurgent campaign. Now imagine if people starting at another store can take those lessons and be even more organized, more mobilized, have a stronger, bigger organizing committee, then we can maybe break through.

So I want to focus in on that for a second. Let’s reflect a bit. You already started doing this, but thinking in practical terms, if there are folks watching this who are at other Home Depots, or Lowe’s, or other stores, it doesn’t even have to be in home improvement, what would you want them to know about what the organizing looked like for you at your store? What lessons can you reflect on now that you think would benefit other people who are starting from the beginning?

Vince Quiles:  One of the first things that I would say is, look, like if you’re sick and tired of being sick and tired, you’re already on the track to organizing. And if you’re somebody that has strong connections, strong relationships with people, if people seek you out when things are going on in the store and they want to go back and forth about what’s happening, that’s important. Then what you do is through that, you identify people. And that was something I tried to do, was pick out four or five people who were like, you guys are very well liked. You understand the problems. Again, the major thing was the fear that people had of retaliation.

And here’s where I’m going to encourage other Home Depot associates to consider this. Home Depot is in a unique space. They do not like bad publicity. The thing they’re the most upset about in all of this is the bad publicity that came from this [Max laughs], which is why now they’re starting to change things. They’re upping the raises a little bit. They’re going to build a convenience store in our… It’s this weird convenience store type thing in our store that it’s just for… It’s like a 7-Eleven for Home Depot employees. It’s weird. I don’t know. They think it’s really cool. Personally, I don’t really care about that. I’m like, if I want to go to 7-Eleven, I go to 7-Eleven.

Maximillian Alvarez:  Yeah, I was going to say that sounds nice. But we also have a history of something called company stores in the US. They may want to Google that before they go through with that plan.

Vince Quiles:  It’s funny hearing how they addressed it. It’s just myself in that particular instance, because I’m into fitness and all this, like yeah, they can also have healthy snacks. Because in my mind I’m also over here like, what type of options you’re going to offer people?

Maximillian Alvarez:  [Laughs] Yeah, you got hot fries or what? [Crosstalk]

Vince Quiles:  Exactly. But to that end, in the end, it’s still wholly inadequate in terms of what it is that you’re talking about, but ultimately it’s still something more than what they were originally doing, building employee bathrooms and things like that. And again, they’re doing that because people took the time to stand up. And again, whether it was one guy talking shit, or the other 105 that were sitting there, signed the paper. Or the other four or five, again, that maybe didn’t go on camera, maybe didn’t get in front of faces at rallies, but they still did put in work and talked to people, and would say, hey, you’re hearing what Home Depot’s saying in this sense, but maybe this is the other stuff you should consider.

The big thing, though, it’s getting out there and then realizing, because Home Depot does not like that bad publicity, as long as you are well versed and understand what your rights as a worker are, and you have that willingness to go toe to toe with them, they won’t do shit. That’s so funny.

I was talking to someone who’s privy to certain conversations. And one of the things that they were talking about in my particular store, our receiving in my department used to be a mess all the time. So bad. And not that I really cared about it. You look at the criticisms, it was always about the culture of the company. But somebody was just like, dude, your department is so fucking clean all the time now because they’re so scared that you’re going to say something or do something. And of course, that’s not their posture when we go back and forth. They try to have that position of power and we take the lead here. But when you break it down like that and you understand your principle, and you have that backing from your peers, they can’t touch you.

And so a lot of the reasons why you would be scared, maybe in other places like Starbucks where you got a wacko Howard Schultz breaking the law left and, what they’re doing at Amazon, what they did at Chipotle and with the store that Brandy tried to organize, they might do that stuff, but in the end, you really push. Home Depot, they’re trying really hard to avoid that brand and that label.

Because the other thing too, look, I’m going to say it like this. I would encourage other Home Depot workers to consider what I’m saying, because what I’m personally seeing in my store is you’ve got a semi-large group of veterans now who know how to do everything in the store, but they’re all getting ready to phase out. And then you’ve got all these younger kids who are coming in. They’re like, no, I don’t want to learn this shit if you’re not going to pay me. If you’re not going to give me a reason to do this stuff, I’m not going to do it.

And so now I think they’re running into a point where, look, not being able to make money is not the only way to lose your business. If you can’t get people to come in, that’s also going to be an issue. And again, that’s also where you have to feed off of that. If you’re 18, 19, 20, 21 years old, even if you’re in your mid 20s, you have so much power that you just don’t know. And it’s because you don’t talk with each other. And that’s the big thing. Talk with each other, build that energy within the store, get everybody activated and ready to work. And then recognize it’s also easier when you have a vision of what it could be.

And for me personally, between looking at the labor movement, I also like to listen to a lot of economists like Richard Wolff and stuff, as well as more Marxist economists, and squaring that with where we are now. And it’s where I think, look, if you envision ownership and the means of production and workers having an ownership stake in their companies, you get a large enough one, they can’t make decisions without you. Then you can start to actively make decisions in your workplace that allow you to do the things you want to do. And now what you can say is, productivity has shot up how much since the ’70s? What? 60, 70%?

Maximillian Alvarez:  It’s been pretty much a straight line up.

Vince Quiles:  Straight line up. Yeah. Meanwhile, wages are stagnating. And I think what the key now for people to consider is, and you have to lay this groundwork now, is to make these jobs so that they can be side jobs that earn you money. And rather than Arthur Blank, rather than Ted Decker making $7 million a year and $5 million of that being from the stock inflation that they do with their stock buybacks, maybe that can be you working a 30-hour work week and being able to pay all your bills off of that. But guess what? Now you got an extra 10, 12 hours to go and maybe…

Maximillian Alvarez:  That sounds great.

Vince Quiles:  Something like what you did where you go pursue some type of independent project, something where you can have a little bit more going on. I say for me, I love music, I love fitness, and there are ways in which you can make money in that. But the problem is you’re spending 40 hours at work. I remember you did this great piece on monopolizing time at the workplace and how that can hold you back. And it’s like look, to your point, there’s a way that we can do something about that.

It’s like, this is how we do it. And the major thing you have to do is to just not be afraid. Fight. Remember the struggles that the person next to you goes through. Remember that a rising tide raises all ships.

An example I would always tell people is say you live in a neighborhood that’s 100 people, and it’s just those 100 people. I know that that would never work in the real world because you got to… Let’s just say for the sake of the argument, you got 100 people in this community, and two people are really, really struggling. They can’t pay their bills. Guess what? Y’all all going to feel that, because they’re going to go, they’re going to rob, they’re going to steal.

And people can sit here and they can say what’s right or wrong, but something I would always consider, especially growing up not too far from North Philly, is like, look like I got a two-year-old and you want to see the dark things that I could do, put me in a position where I can’t feed him, and you’ll see what I can do.

And that’s the thing, is you can sit here and you can act like, oh, well that’s not me. That’s not going… No. We live in a society. Humans are meant to be communal. They’re meant to interact with each other within a society. And whether you think acting in a certain way is right or wrong, it is what it is. When you push people to that point, why do you think crime has been going up so much in this city?

Maximillian Alvarez:  And when you have a society that is so unkind and unfeeling to those basic human needs that people in that situation, whose wages have been stagnant for decades while the cost of living is through the roof, we don’t live in a country anymore where there’s even a widely shared belief that we should have a robust social safety net to make sure that anyone in that situation or worse still has a house, a roof over their head, water to drink, healthcare when they need it.

No. What do people honestly think? And I wish I could talk to my former conservative self. We talked about this before, I grew up in a very conservative Latino family, and sometimes I just wish I could sit in chairs like this and talk to them, just like, what do you think is going to happen when you have a society going in both of these directions simultaneously; eroding that floor, that universal, minimum standard below which we will not let anyone in our society fall? We will not let people live on the street when we have housing available. We won’t let people die of treatable diseases when we have all this healthcare available but not accessible to anyone.

Where do you think this is all going to go when you have that at the same time that people are working longer, harder, and yet seeing less take home pay while cost of living goes up, and all of the wealth is going to fucking Wall Street or to the bosses and CEOs. Something is going to give.

And I think you made a really, really crucial point where we can articulate that vision of what a better version of this looks like, a better world looks like. Because you’re right. I think, as an organizer, anyone doing that organizing has to be able to articulate what the better version looks like, because otherwise it’s like… Imagine going to a doctor every day of the week and he just tells you, yeah, man, your kidney’s fucked, your elbow’s fucked. See you tomorrow. But he’s not giving you…

Vince Quiles:  He’s like, where are my solutions at? Can I do something about this?

Maximillian Alvarez:  [Laughs] Can I do something about this? But just keep telling you what’s wrong. That’s not going to motivate people for the long haul, I think.

But right now we are in a key position, along with everything that you said, but we could say, look, all this labor is going into all these different industries, and it’s not us who aren’t holding up our end of the bargain. It’s not us who are making the quality of service go down.

You said something to me that really stuck with me when we first talked back for the podcast, because you said you came to a realization when you were going around the store talking to everyone, and everyone was pissed off about something. And you realized that the person who’s responsible, or the people who are responsible for the things we’re pissed off at are not in the store. But in the store it feels like it’s always like, it’s that guy who didn’t do this thing, or this person who didn’t show up for work. But realistically, it’s this business model where everyone’s working their asses off, but being asked to do more with less, and just keep their heads down while all of this money is being siphoned out of these stores.

That’s a really pivotal realization where you could say, if workers had more control, those resources were going back into the workforce, the stores, the ways that we treat customers, this could actually be a much better business than it is now, siphoning off as much excess profit as we can into the pockets of shareholders and executives.

Vince Quiles:  Me personally when I would look at organizing, and again, where I encourage people to get in this is to say, look, what makes a lot of workplaces go… And I say this working at Home Depot, working at UPS, working a lot of physical labor jobs, working in a warehouse. Tell me if you disagree with this, but I think what really helps those places go is actually the standard that the employees set for themselves. What always made me work harder wasn’t a manager coming by and being like, work harder. It was my homie next to me being like, damn bro, you’re a little slow today. Are you feeling a little weak?”So you go, hold on.

Maximillian Alvarez:  We talked all kinds of shit, and it was very much that rivalry that motivated us to work harder and better, not the VP who would come and bark at us every…

Vince Quiles:  Yeah, exactly. It’s like, man. And then you’re looking at it like, Mr. Soft Hands. What the fuck are you talking about, dude? Get out of my face with that.

Think about the other day, it was a month or two ago, I felt so bad for our guys on the breakdown crew. They’re unloading the trucks. It’s 40, 50 people just standing there watching them. And you’re trying to learn and shit like that, and you’re like… Even in that environment, you can’t really learn what the shit’s actually [inaudible] for because everybody has to be super temp.

When we used to have those types of things when I was there, I was like, yeah, no, that’s shit. they’d be like, well, you can’t wear headphones. You got to wear your apron. I’m like, do you want me to get this done? You know what I’m saying?

And again, because ultimately, it’s the people that work there that set that standard. When I first started, I worked on the breakdown crew. And maybe this can give a little bit of highlight to what pushes a person to this point. So I used to come in, I would throw the truck. Say for instance, you have in the summertime, it’s July. Imagine 90 degrees outside. So what do you think a big giant metal can is like? It’s aluminum sliding.

Maximillian Alvarez:  So the warehouse I worked at for the longest period of time was in the city of industry in Southern California, no AC. And we would go into the 18 wheelers when they would pull up, it was walking into an oven, and I would be running back out into the 100 degree warehouse to cool down [laughs].

Vince Quiles:  Yeah, exactly. Because it’s so hot in the truck that you feel when we would walk out of the truck and in the receiving end, it would still be 95 degrees in there, but it’s this blast of cooler air where you’re like, thank God.

And you go through that, and I think about the times, and I’m like, that was really difficult. And what helped that to go and what helped people to push forward was, again, the camaraderie that we had between each other, was all of us sitting there, like, I bet I could throw the truck faster than you, or I could clear my side of the bell faster than you can. And you ultimately do that because you’re like, look like I got to be here, so we’ve got to try and spice this up and have some fun somehow.

But then all the things that are fun, that are cool for you to do, you got to tuck away once corporate comes around, and it’s like, wait, why do we have to pretend for people that couldn’t do what we do? Because I’m going to say that shit straight up. And that’s how I looked at those people, do you want to sit here, you want to talk shit right here? You get some smug looks when people come through visiting from corporate and you feel like a freaking zoo animal in receiving end, like, is this the guy that tried to start the union?

But literally when the employees in that building are fully functioning… There is a reason why, down in Atlanta, our store is known the way that it is. And I say it like that. We know managers that have gone down there and they won’t say that they work at our store and everybody is like, God, could you imagine working at 4112, this, that, that? Only for them to finally come up be like, oh yeah, well I work there. Exactly. So you have that type of reputation. Who do you think makes that go then? Clearly not Home Depot, because everybody that’s the part that runs it, they’re freaking scared of that place. You know what I mean?

We had one lady who was visiting to help, she was there for like three days and she’s calling her freaking, what they call the ASDS, associate support department supervisor, calling like, oh, my God. I want to go back to our store [Max laughs]. This place is crazy. The people are rude. Nothing’s in the right spot. Everything’s a mess. And imagine, you’re supposed to be here to help with that shit, and that’s our life every single day. Every day. So then if that’s the case, how is it going? How is it running? It’s running because of the people. So then if that’s the case, define your standard for yourself and cut out all the middlemen. Cut out all the people in between.

I think about that all the time. Look, I try really hard to give the store manager that we have now the benefit of the doubt. You ever look at anything I said before, I never came at the management staff. Nut now is where I take the gloves off. You deal with noodles like that [Max laughs], that just do what they’re told. If you don’t want to deal with people… They’re ultimately a barrier to what you want, because they’re going to have to go and they’re going to have to talk to their boss, who’s going to have to talk to their boss, who’s going to have…

I’m looking over at Starbucks like, look, they’re going through some shit, but you know what? I’d rather be in their position sitting down at the table. We’re bypassing all of that now, and we’re dealing with the people that can actually make something happen than, to hope and pray that you get somebody who’s competent enough and not such a Home Depot cheerleader that they would actually do what’s right by you.

I think about that with our store manager. I’m like, dude, how do you walk around with Home Depot’s hand so far up your ass, bro? And that’s what you want to represent you and your…

Clearly, there’s always going to come a point where your interest as a worker and the interest of the company are going to be diametrically opposed. And I’m telling you right now, that guy has made his bones not looking out for people. He did it by doing exactly what Home Depot told him to do, when they told him to do it, how they told him to do it, how far they told him to run, how high they told him. That’s not a leader. That’s not a leader. That’s not somebody that can push you to where you want to go. That’s somebody that’s going to go and… He lives a real nice life, I bet. But again…

Maximillian Alvarez:  And that’s what I noticed at different warehouses and factories and stuff. I was like, the managers aren’t smarter than us. They are just the perfect personality type to be a manager. Because you’re essentially the enforcer of the shitty, unpopular, inefficient policies that corporate is handing down.

You need yes men to be the ones to implement that and have that side of them that is so loyal to the company that when workers are saying, this doesn’t work. This is a dumb policy, or it’s running people into the ground, you need to be a certain type of person to be able to fold your arms and say, tough. You guys are doing something wrong.

Vince Quiles:  And that’s so difficult because to that… And where I always try and stay that line is because with the previous managers we had, especially the assistant managers, I felt for them. They’re people from North Philly, from impoverished areas that never thought that they could have the life that they had. And that’s really, really freaking hard. And it was why I always reserve judgment for those types of people because it’s like, look like we do all have a job to do at the end of the day.

But to that point, there are certain people, like the store manager we have now, where it’s like, no, dude, you’ve been here for 30 years. You could have actually set yourself up in a way to have that sway to really do right by the people. But instead, I’m talking with the dude, so we’re getting our raises, and I’m talking with him, and I’m telling them at the end, because I try and still be diplomatic, and I’m like, look, I know I’m hard to deal – Clearly I’m hard to deal with. He’s going to see this shit and be like, look at this guy talking shit. I know I’m very hard to deal with, and I can empathize with the difficult situation that someone’s in, even if I don’t agree with the position that they take. And I’m again, just trying to be like, I’m going to take it a little bit easy. I know I always go for it. And what does this guy do, but immediately make me regret it.

And stuff like that is tough, but it’s times like this where you can affect positive change that really make it worth, and it’s like, my boy, you think you did this? [Max laughs] You think you did this?

Maximillian Alvarez:  Wait, so he’s taking credit for the raises now? Oh, my God.

Vince Quiles:  And the thing is, it’s like you can’t even sit and understand why we were so upset and how important taking those actions are to the people in terms of reinforcing their confidence in you as a leader. You can’t even understand that. Because again, he just kept trying to basically say, well, more money, more money. And I could tell what he was basically trying to do is be like, give them more money than everything will be fine. And it’s like, no, these are surface level issues. These are just the top of the issue. Because okay, you get a $2 raise, you may be happy for a little bit, and then guess what? The inflation numbers kick in. Still turns out that they’re still fucking going up. You’re still trying to pay your bills and then guess what? The $2 just is like, eh, that was cool a couple months ago, but now…

Maximillian Alvarez:  But it’s a pay cut now.

Vince Quiles:  That’s it. Now it’s completely undone. I was talking to one buddy of mine, he got his raise and it ended up being like… What was it? I think his raise was a 4% increase in his pay, but inflation was at 6.5% or something like that. It’s effectively, he’s taking a pay decrease.

And again, I told the store manager on that one too, because Home Depot likes to take this posture like, we’re listening to you. We’re going to fix it. We’re going to make it better. And I’m like, how the hell are you going to make it better? You still ain’t done sitting down with me. And I actually said, Joe, what’s going on? What’s happening? Instead, you come through with this dog and pony show and, let’s take pictures, and we care about you. It’s like, look man, bro, we’re from around here. You got people who try and scheme on you all the time, who tell you a lot of nice things. It’s about what you do. It’s about what you do.

Maximillian Alvarez:  I got slick talking friends back home. I know when I’m being bullshitted.

Vince Quiles:  Yeah, you know when you’re being worked.

Maximillian Alvarez:  Pay me my money. Give us more of a say on the job. Actually qualitatively address the issues that are leading the receiving area to be such a mess, that are leading one person to get stuck on a register with a long line. These are structural issues that really impact people’s quality of life, contributing to the other issues. It all ripples out.

And you’re right. I don’t know why so many managers, executives, and even people in the media don’t get this. Because this is, as you know, it was the bane of my existence last year, reporting on the crisis on the railroads, because I just kept talking to railroad worker after railroad worker, and they would go for hours talking about how much worse the job has gotten, how much worse their lives have gotten doing that job over the course of these long shifts in the industry that have reduced the crew sizes down to two people when there used to be like five, at the same time that the trains have gone from being a mile long to three miles long, so there are more derailments. They’re on call all the time because they just keep laying people off so there are no more reserves to fill in if someone needs to take off sick.

Vince Quiles:  Don’t they have to travel all the time too? They spend most of their year traveling from job to job.

Maximillian Alvarez:  Depends on what role you are. But the guys who repair the track, there were guys who were basically living in box cars because they have to go to these sites in the middle of nowhere to fix a broken piece of track. The rail companies didn’t want to pay them to travel in hotels. It was really feudal level shit. And the engineers and the conductors, they’re on call 24/7. Their workplace is moving.

Anyway. Point being is that it was driving me nuts watching the corporate media say, but these workers are being offered the largest pay raise they’ve seen in a generation. And I was like, if you talk to a worker for two seconds, the first thing out of their mouth will be, it’s not about money. Yeah. We need that money because everyone needs their wages going up, cost of living is going up, we do a hard job, yada, yada, yada. But there’s so much more here that no one’s paying attention to, or they don’t want to acknowledge it. It’s driving everyone nuts.

And so I think that, like you said, one other real takeaway lesson for people is, you don’t want to shy away from we need more pay. That’s important. But also being able to articulate what having a union, i.e, having workers with a real say on the job, why that would be so vital for improving people’s quality of life, the quality of service, whatever that service may be, ultimately should benefit everyone.

Vince Quiles:  Yeah. Absolutely. That was why, for instance, we tried going the route of an independent union because what we wanted it to really look like was when you’re sitting here… We didn’t want it to be that people in the store had this idea that somebody from the outside was going to come in. Because that’s the problem, is that when you want something fixed, people from the outside come in. It’s like, no, the ones that do know the best, the ones that… We could talk all day about this, or if you wanted to talk about the problems at Home Depot, I could run you through every department and tell you why it is that these issues exist, between my experience and the experience of the people that work within there. But that’s how you can see so clearly. And that’s where you see the people that have the power to make decisions. They’re not there to know. They’re not there to understand.

And where I gave, like I said, especially a lot of the previous management team, a lot more slack than what I would this current management team, was because the previous management team, the problem that you have, too, with the cultures at Home Depot, cultures at Amazon, cultures just in corporate America in general, is that, again, just as is difficult to be a principled person, it’s also difficult to tell the truth, especially an expensive truth, because that’s how these companies look at it is, no, that’s an expensive truth. That’s why they want to sit here and they want to just say, well, slap a dollar amount on it, or, we’ll put a bathroom in, and then, well, that’s it. We’re just going to walk away from that.

And it’s like, no. What you guys are going to have to reckon with, and I think that this is a more meta point. You’re going to have to recognize what the legacy of big business is in this country and the way in which you damaged society when back in the ’80s you asked for that responsibility. That’s also another frame of reference I have. I always say, the last paper I wrote in high school was comparing the 2008 recession to the 1930s Great Depression, and looking at the similarities between the stock market, borrowing, buying stocks on margin, having this inflated market with no real assets behind it, the same thing, derivatives, stuff like that with the housing market, and seeing how we could have predicted this, and we’ve been here before, just in a different media again.

And then you go back and you look, oh it’s business as usual. Oh, trust us. You can trust us. We’ll be able to make the money. We’ll also be the moral leaders for society. And says, it’s like, no, you guys will sell out your own fucking mother for $1 [both laugh] and we’re supposed to take…

Maximillian Alvarez:  I see what you guys do with all that money and power.

Vince Quiles:  And we’re supposed to take advice from you now on how to be a happy society? No, dude. Fuck that.

And that’s the more meta point where it’s like, it’s not just enough to give people dollars and stuff like that. It’s just now the only thing that I personally can see, again, from my experience and from talking to other people, the only thing that’s going to that make this shit better holistically for society as a whole, meaning the totality of people, is for people to be given more wiggle room to define life for themselves. And that’s going to come at the expense of the executives.

I think it was Anne-marie Campbell. I wish I could remember the exact numbers, but it was something like she made… It was $7 or $8 million the one year. And you see it’s like $800,000 in the base salary, the same check that I collect every two weeks, and $1.5 million was a bonus. And then the other two or $3 million was all stocks, stock options and stuff like that. And it’s like, that’s the harder thing to get people to see, because that’s why things are the way that they are. Because they can go home… They’re talking about these raises that they’re giving us. They really struggled to find the money [Max laughs]. You guys spent $15 billion in stock buybacks in 2021.

Maximillian Alvarez:  Last year alone.

Vince Quiles:  I’m waiting, dude. I’m waiting until the end of this month for 2022’s freaking financial report, because I’m really interested to see how this one went. Because I read a lot, I know a lot of companies had a little bit more of a down year from 2022 compared to 2021. But the way that Home Depot was spitballing numbers, I think by the third quarter, I think they were at $12 or $13 billion in profit. And they made $16 billion the year before that. And the year before that they made about $12.

So they’re already beating two years prior. They’re on track to beat 2022. And that’s what they bank on, people not paying attention to that, and just going like, well, trust us. We know we can’t do it. And look man, I’m going to say, I’m not a CPA. I’m not a certified financial advisor, but I’m going to say it like this. Y’all had $15 billion to pump into your stocks. Mind you, I think it was November of 2020 or something like that. It was about $400 a share for a stock. By the time you got to June of 2021, it was back down at $300. It’s like you put all that in? Where’d it go? Where’d it go?

Because I can tell you, for the people that I work with, a simple calculation, we made $30.1 million in profit in 2021. You just take the $3.4 million that they made in excess. So they wanted $26.7 million. You just take that 3.4 that they made over and you bump that. And let’s say you do half and half. So let’s say you do half to associates and their pay and then half to actually hiring people and alleviating the stuff. It was a $6,000 yearly increase in their pay and hiring about 50 more full-time people. And instead they’re talking about this $2 raise. Let’s just say everybody in the store gets it. It’s about $4,000 per person, which breaks out to one-point-something or $2 million. That’s all you can take. That’s not even the excess that you made in your profit.

We’re talking about $30 million in profit. When you take the percentages of that, these are conversations that we have with people. When you take the $500,000 that we made in 2021 and what they call success sharing, which is the bonuses, I think it was maybe 1% or maybe less than 1% of the store. No, no, no, no, no. It was around 4% of what the store’s profits were that year. When you take the dividends the shareholders made and you divide it by the profit, which was about 40%, shareholders got about $12 million of the profit that we made in that store. And the associates who were there every day during the pandemic got $500,000 that year.

And when you look at it like that, and that’s what we were trying to tell people is, you’re sitting here and you’re like, no, I want $1. No, I want $1.35. And I’m like, my boy. That’s chump change. You deserve so much more than that. And it would be so interesting to talk to them and be like… There was one lady I went back and forth with, and I’m like, why don’t we pay people for the machines? Oh, well, people should just look to do that if they want career opportunities at Home Depot.

I remember one time talking with a manager, we’re standing by the grout and I’m like, you see this grout. You sell this stuff. If a customer comes up and says, yeah, I want this for free, you’re not going to do it. It’s not sustainable because Home Depot’s in the business of selling home improvement goods. You got to sell your shit to make your money, pay your bills. As a worker, I don’t sell grout. I sell my ability to speak Spanish. I sell my ability to drive the machines. I sell my ability to work in multiple departments.

Maximillian Alvarez:  Selling your body, your time.

Vince Quiles:  Why would that not work for you guys, but somehow it’s supposed to work for me?

Maximillian Alvarez:  So I can give all of myself for free or do all this other extra shit for very little compensation. That’s a great way to put it. It’s like, yeah, you guys don’t just give away the stuff in the store.

Vince Quiles:  And then meanwhile, you have these people… There was one dude. Oh, my God, this shit was so funny. Shout out to Pepe. Pepe hates me.

Maximillian Alvarez:  Shout out.

Vince Quiles:  I hope he sees this, because he’s another one. We’re sitting there and we’re talking about paying people for translating, and he’s like, oh, I don’t get paid to translate. And it’s like, my boy, you make a six figure salary.

Maximillian Alvarez:  [Laughs] You do get paid to translate.

Vince Quiles:  You make three times what I make. If I made three times as much as I make right now, I probably wouldn’t be saying shit to the Home Depot either about, oh yeah, I need to get paid for translating. But at the time when you’re getting paid $16, $17 an hour and 30%, 40% of your customer base that goes through that store is solely Spanish speaking, yeah.

I guess when it comes to workers, we forget about the concepts of supply and demand and value within skill. And that’s the thing, it’s because people just ultimately… It feels like they just got conditioned to forget that. And I think that some of the stuff that I saw that was highlighted that’s the legacy of that big business push from the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s. You get labor that gets a little bit too strong. Things get wonky. And of course, that pendulum swings all the way back the other way. And that’s where you find yourself.

So now you’re in this broken society. And again, I see this with my coworkers in the store. The store’s making record profits. The company’s making record profits. Technically, salaries are going up. The corporate media’s saying, oh, well your wages are going up, but simultaneously everybody is fucking miserable, and that shit sucks. And these are good people. These are really good people who have taught me things who are mothers, or fathers, or brothers, or sisters who deserve to be happy in life. And they’re miserable. 90% of the time when they’re complaining and they’re in that misery bag, what are they complaining about? Oh, can you believe this thing at work? Can you believe that? I’m just like, we need to start spending less time at work.

When I was the happiest, I was the happiest…

Maximillian Alvarez:  [Laughs] When I wasn’t in this fucking place.

Vince Quiles:  Yeah, when I was working 20, 30 hours a week when I was still in school. I was working on my degree. I’m moving towards something, trying to do a little bit of fitness stuff, do a little bit of music stuff, and you’re doing the things you like. That’s when you’re happy.

You know when I became the most miserable? When I got promoted and started spending 60, 70 hours a week, and the music went from my head. I didn’t touch the guitar for a while. And you’re like, oh. And then there’s a part where you’re like, dude, is this shit calculated?

Maximillian Alvarez:  Yeah. It’s hard not to feel like it sometimes too. And what it makes me think… And I know I got to wrap this up because I could talk to you for hours.

Vince Quiles:  Yeah. I feel like I’m pretty bad at it too.

Maximillian Alvarez:  No, man. It’s an honor to be sitting here and chatting with you and to be in this struggle with you. And I know that we’re going to have many more conversations until we’re old asses reflecting on the world that we and everyone else helped create.

But until then, it reminds me about what we were talking about in the beginning of that mental shift of thinking that, well, if this job is shit, this store is shit, this situation is shit, my best option is to think just about myself and be like, I’m out. I’ll find something else elsewhere. And I think that it’s ultimately up to every person to make that decision for themselves. Jesus, I’ve reported on horrific situations like Evan Seyfried who was being bullied by his managers at an Ohio Kroger, to the point that he had a transient episodic break and killed himself. I’m not saying never quit. Obviously, there are situations that you have to get yourself out of. So I just wanted to make that point quick.

But for the rest of us, I do think there’s something very hopeful in that shift that I’m seeing in a lot of people, where we’re thinking more in terms of social solidarity, or more in terms of, we’ve got to stand up for something otherwise nothing’s going to get better.

And I think about Matthieu Bolle-Reddat, the train operator in France. He’s also the union local leader for the CGT out of Versailles. I love this guy. But he’s right now striking in Paris along with his fellow countrymen, millions of them, against President Emmanuel Macron’s bullshit proposal to totally neoliberalize the pension system, raise the retirement age. The French are pissed. So the workers are taking to the streets and saying, we don’t want this. We love our pension system. And one of the reasons that he said so is he’s like, there’s more to life than work. People in the United States may see this and be like, oh, I don’t get to retire at 62, 64, so why should the French?

And because what we have seen from studies is that, especially for low wage workers, workers who work in physically demanding jobs, you’re basically dead in your mid 60s. On average, your life expectancy is a lot lower, so what you are asking people to do is work until you die. And we are saying life is more valuable than that.

And what really struck me about what Matthieu said about why French workers are fighting for that pension system resonates with what you talked about earlier in this conversation. You mentioned John Deere. It’s what John Deere workers told me during their strike, Kellogg’s workers during their strike, which is, we are standing up for all workers.

What Matthieu Bolle-Reddat told me is that he’s like, I’m not just fighting to keep my pension. I’m fighting because this pension system is the legacy of our grandfathers who fought to install it after the Nazi occupation, so who the fuck are we to not carry that torch on? And who the fuck am I to not fight to keep that legacy alive for my daughter?

And then I hear that when Kellogg’s workers, when they were on strike a year and a half ago, said, the older workers, union workers, we’re not really asking for anything. We just see in this contract that they’re trying to set it up so that everyone who walks in the door after us is going to get shittier pay, shittier benefits. It’s going to be easier to capture them in this lower wage position that they can’t advance in, and we are fighting for them.

And so I think that I’m seeing the sprouts of this sense that if we don’t do something, nothing’s going to get better. But also we’re fighting for more than ourselves. And I think that that’s the context I wanted to have us end this conversation in. Because like you said, there are always going to be haters who say, oh, you guys tried to unionize a Home Depot. Didn’t work. Fuck you. End of story.

But as we’re clearly talking about here, it’s like, no, first off, the union effort, while it may have been unsuccessful, had tangible benefits for you and your coworkers. And also, we can’t even estimate the kinds of decisions that are being made at other businesses because they’re terrified of something like this happening at their company. So there are effects that we should take stock of.

But also there’s a movement of movements happening here. We’re in Philadelphia, that much like Baltimore, is seeing these sprouts of worker mobilization that I think are really hopeful. Not just you guys at your Home Depot store trying to unionize, but shout out to Local 80 who are doing something interesting and important here where it’s almost like sectoral organizing to organize throughout the coffee supply chain from the roasters, to the distributors, to the coffee shops, and have had some big victories in the city.

The Philadelphia Museum of Art Workers went on a valiant 19-day strike and won huge concessions in their contract fight, just workers in Baltimore at the Baltimore Museum of Art unionized last year. Workers at the Walters Museum of Art are fighting to unionize. Johns Hopkins grad students just won their union election. So stuff is happening. And right now as we speak, research assistants and teachers assistants at Temple University are on strike, and we need to support them. And so I think about the campaign you were involved in in that context. As we said, it’s one battle in a larger war.

And I wanted to round out by asking you to reflect a bit on that, how you see this struggle where you’ve been at your store, connected to what’s going on around the city and beyond.

Vince Quiles:  That’s right. Again, it’s a solidarity movement. It’s a movement that is predicated on connection. And I guess the frame of reference that I personally use… I guess I could say two things.

So the first one I’ll say is, to the point that you were making earlier too, that generational change. So I think about my parents. My parents grew up in extreme poverty. My mom grew up in North Philly, very, very poor. Had 10 brothers and sisters. My dad grew up poor in Puerto Rico. That’s a different type of poor.

And so I think about the struggles that they went through all the time, and basically how they did what they told me to do and how it worked for them, and it made sense at that time because that was the time in which they were in. And unfortunately, because of the economic circumstances that they grew up in, they were not afforded the opportunity to consider what it is that they wanted out of life.

But at the same time, out of respect for their struggle, now I have to consider that. I can’t go back on that socioeconomic ladder, and that’s disrespectful to my parents. But the problem is that we’re in an environment right now where, though, try as I may… Look, I don’t miss work. I show up every day. I give 110%. I killed myself, and there are millions of people in this country who do the same exact thing and get absolutely nothing for it. And so then it’s up to us to make sure that our parents’ struggle was worth it, because in the end, it was our parents who got exploited, our parents and our grandparents who got exploited through this system.

So now when I look. You see all the kid stuff. I got a little two-year-old. What do I want him to grow up in? I want to figure out how I can live the life that I want to live so that he can do it even more so. And maybe he can be even more impactful in his lifetime. Maybe not, maybe. As long as he has the freedom to carve out that path the way that he sees fit. Life is a very personal journey, but we’re living in a society that does not allow that for people.

And so I think off of that context, that’s something that I think is big, because you owe it to those who came before you, even if they don’t recognize it, even if they have the mentality of like, oh, well, what? Trust me, some of the people that I still think about, were over here, like, oh, who do you think you are? You can’t… But it’s not about that. It’s about the principle of it. It’s about the standard that you’re trying to live to.

And then you think about those who come after you, and like you were saying the gentleman over in France. It’s about making sure that something stays in place. Being selfishly selfless too, so that when you put your head on the pillow for the last time, you’re like, all right. They’re going to have their own problems, but there’s at least a baseline that we left for them to be able to work through.

Maximillian Alvarez:  It translates to so many things. The reason I brought it up was thinking about, it’s like, well, I’m not going to leave all this trouble at my job and at my store for some other poor sucker who’s going to walk in the door. There’s a sense that that’s not the socially responsible or conscientious thing to do. And so more people are saying, I’m going to make life better here, because that’s something that I can do. It’s something I can pass on. Or I’m at least not willing to just pass the buck onto someone I don’t know. I have a little more consideration for what I do now impacts people who are not me, in the same way that, like you said, when we lay our heads on the pillow for the last time, we are all at this moment called to action to do whatever the fuck we can to leave the world at least a little less worse off than it was when we inherited it.

And with climate change, inequality, war, we’ve got a lot of work to do, and so even having that sense of seeing ourselves in those generational terms, seeing the struggle as the struggle of a lifetime, and seeing it as a struggle that we may never ever get to see the end of, but that we’re all a part of. That’s why I brought it up.

Vince Quiles:  Yeah, no. And I would tether that. And that’s the fun thing about it, because you also have to try your best to find the fun moments in these things. And where I find that cross – And this will be the last point I make – Where my head is at, and where I would encourage other people to have their head at, I’m going to take from two different things. I’m going to take from some stuff I love. So from the Eagles and that team this year, and some of the stuff I’ve heard in their interviews, but also from the things that I like in terms of, hey, look, I got my Marvel socks on. If you go in my room, I have 20,000 Star Wars shirts and jackets, and stuff. I love all of that stuff.

And so I’ll start off with the Eagles point, which is the reason why they talk about how they played so hard was because they played for each other. The thing that made me go so hard was when I’d be feeling really down, and then one of my coworkers would come up and they would be like, oh, I saw the interview you did. That was awesome. You said exactly what we were thinking. And that would be the shot in the arm that you need when you’re feeling really down, when it’s really difficult.

I think about growing up in church, not that I was particularly religious, but a lot of those lessons stayed with me. And something that they would always talk about is one of the most honorable things you can do in your life is to fight for your fellow human. Clearly that’s something that you do yourself with The Real News Network, with the many endeavors that you take on is to fight for the person next to you, because that is something that’s really fulfilling.

But what I would expand it with is, look, I’m a nerd. I’m a dork. I love Star Wars, I love Marvel, I love all those things superhero. But I love getting into the philosophy behind it. And one of the things that really motivated me, and actually funny enough, it was a huge inspiration. I also don’t like talking about this stuff sometimes just because of how much the right co-ops it, but the Matrix. I love the Matrix, and the path of the one in the story that they go on. And it’s like, look, it’s cheesy, but this is your opportunity as a person to live that same… Morpheus ain’t going to call you on the phone while you are at work like, bro, you need to get out of there and have this crazy adventure. Those are movies, those are fantasies, but we can still take the core concepts behind them and apply them in our lives. And that’s then how you become a superhero within your own region.

And I feel like that’s also the core behind those who we admire like Martin Luther King, or Malcolm X, or those people who went out. And they didn’t have super strength or anything like that, but they had this ability to galvanize and bring this togetherness with people and to act. And that’s the important thing to remember, is for those who came before you and those who will come after you. It is incumbent on you to try and be the best superhero you can be and to go out there and to take on that fight, regardless of if you’re staying or not.

Look, I’m actively working on leaving. Do you think I’m going to stop this fight? No. Because again, if you really want to see things be different – Bro, it’s cheesy, we’ve heard it our whole life, but it’s true – You got to be the change you want to see. You got to be the change you want to see. And I think we’re getting to a point now where the fear of things staying the same is overcoming the fear of things changing. And once that happens, we find ourselves in a dangerous situation. But that’s what I want to tell everybody out there. It’s time to go be Batman.

Attention Home Depot associates. Just a reminder that in September, you can again file for a union election. Fun fact, in the last three years, this store has made $87.4 million in profit, giving $40.5 to shareholders and only $1 million to associates. Remember this. Remember this when they say that they care about you. In September, you can file again.

Creative Commons License

Republish our articles for free, online or in print, under a Creative Commons license.

Ten years ago, I was working 12-hour days as a warehouse temp in Southern California while my family, like millions of others, struggled to stay afloat in the wake of the Great Recession. Eventually, we lost everything, including the house I grew up in. It was in the years that followed, when hope seemed irrevocably lost and help from above seemed impossibly absent, that I realized the life-saving importance of everyday workers coming together, sharing our stories, showing our scars, and reminding one another that we are not alone. Since then, from starting the podcast Working People—where I interview workers about their lives, jobs, dreams, and struggles—to working as Associate Editor at the Chronicle Review and now as Editor-in-Chief at The Real News Network, I have dedicated my life to lifting up the voices and honoring the humanity of our fellow workers.
Follow: @maximillian_alv