The wave of grassroots worker organizing is spreading to different industries and businesses around the country, 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 US, is one of those businesses, and there is a union drive underway as we speak at a store in Philadelphia. As Johan Furman writes at More Perfect Union, “On Monday, September 19, workers filed a petition to organize a union among 276 workers at a Home Depot in northeast Philadelphia. If successful, the independent union would be the first at the home repair chain, the fifth-largest private employer in the U.S.” We talk to Vince Quiles, who’s worked at the northeast Philly store for five years and is one of the worker-organizers leading the drive to become the first unionized Home Depot location in the country.

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Maximillian Alvarez:  All right. Welcome, everyone, to another episode of Working People, a podcast about the lives, jobs, dreams, and struggles of the working class today. Brought to you in partnership with In These Times magazine and The Real News Network, produced by Jules Taylor, and made possible by the support of listeners like you. Working People is a proud member of the Labor Radio Podcast network. If you’re hungry for more worker and labor-focused shows like ours, follow the link in the show notes and go check out the other great shows in our network. And please, please, please support the work that we are doing here at Working People so we can keep growing and keep bringing y’all more important conversations every week. You can do that by leaving us a positive review on Apple Podcasts, and of course, you can share these episodes on your social media and share them with your coworkers, your friends, and family members.

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My name is Maximillian Alvarez, and we’ve got a great episode for y’all today. As you no doubt have heard, the wave of grassroots worker organizing is spreading to different industries and businesses around the country, 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. And there is a union drive underway as we speak at a store in Northeast Philly. Now, friend of the show and one of the best labor journalists in the game, in my opinion, the great Jonah Furman wrote a really great piece on the union drive for More Perfect Union last month.

And we’re going to link to this in the show notes, but just to sort of set the table for you guys, I’m going to read some passages from Jonah’s piece. So Jonah writes, “On Monday, September 19, workers filed a petition to organize a union among 267 workers at a Home Depot in Northeast Philadelphia. If successful, the independent union would be the first at the home repair chain, the fifth largest private employer in the US. Vince Quiles, who’s worked at the store for five years, says the union effort gathered over a hundred signatures for an election in just five weeks. With nearly 500,000 Home Depot workers nationwide, a successful win in Philadelphia could create an opportunity to rapidly grow the ranks of unionized workers in this country.

“Home Depot has raked in record breaking profits during the pandemic, fueled by a surge of homeowners seeking to improve their properties. With demand rising, the company raised its prices, higher prices drove down transactions among lower-income customers, but higher-income customers more than made up for the loss. ‘In the second quarter of 2022, we delivered the highest quarterly sales and earnings in your company’s history,’ CEO Ted Decker recently announced.

“Quiles began asking why the company couldn’t pay its workers more. Last year, Home Depot made $16 billion in profit. In a meeting with a regional vice president, Quiles questioned why the company couldn’t pay premiums for operating machinery like forklifts or for translating for Spanish-language customers or for working in multiple departments. The regional manager touted that the company had spent a billion dollars on employee compensation. ‘You spent one billion dollars over 500,000 employees,’ Quiles remembers saying, ‘And $15 billion in stock buybacks, not to mention $7 billion more on investor dividends.’

“Meanwhile, workers at the Home Depot in Philadelphia routinely worry about paying bills, having enough food for both their kids and themselves or paying rent. The starting wage at the store is around $14.50. The Walmart they share a shopping center with pays more.”

Now thanks to Jonah, I was actually able to connect with Vince, and we’ve been trying to find a time to record an episode for the past few weeks, which was, frankly, a pain in the ass, because Vince obviously works long shifts five days a week, he’s got a family to take care of, and I have been traveling for work for the past three weeks straight. But I am so glad that we were able to make it happen, and we actually recorded this incredible conversation that we’re going to share with y’all today while I was in my hotel room in Oakland last week. And man, I mean, I genuinely can’t say enough great things about Vince. I mean, he’s such an incredible, kind, genuine, caring person, but he’s also a fighter.

He has a burning sense of right and wrong. And win, lose or draw, I think he and his coworkers have already made history by taking that incredibly brave step to say to themselves and to Home Depot that they deserve better and that they’re going to fight for it. I mean, that’s really all it takes. Our bosses, our landlords, our politicians, so many people in the order-giving class just bank on us accepting whatever we’re given and admitting that we are powerless to do anything to change our circumstances. But when working people like Vince refuse to take that crap, when we stand up for ourselves and our fellow workers, and when others see that and are inspired to do the same, that spark catches, and it rips through the status quo like a wildfire. And that is why the bosses have tried so hard for so long to convince us that what workers are doing right now is impossible.

Now, eligible voters at the Roosevelt Boulevard store in Philly will be casting their union election ballots starting on November 2. And of course, Home Depot is putting up a fight every step of the way. We have included links in the show notes for today’s episode reporting that workers are experiencing surveillance, intimidation, and other forms of union busting that violate their basic rights. And as I keep saying on this show at The Real News and on Breaking Points and anywhere else anyone will listen to me, we all have a role to play here. We all need to help spread the word about this union drive, about any underhanded actions from Home Depot, and we need to all vocally and publicly let companies like Home Depot and Starbucks and Amazon know that we are watching them. And we also need to let workers know that we stand with them and we will be there for them no matter what the outcome. Workers like Vince. This is his story.

Vince Quiles:  My name is Vince Quiles. I work at Home Depot Store 4112 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. That’s on Roosevelt Boulevard. I’ve been working there for almost six years now, and I’ve worked in many various capacities, whether it be overnight, during the day as a supervisor, had a trajectory for management there. So a lot of the critiques that I make in what it is that we’re doing stems from that and just a lot of knowledge that I accrued over that time.

Maximillian Alvarez:  Hell yeah. Well Vince, it is so great to chat with you, brother. And I imagine, like myself, everyone who listens to this show has been watching what y’all have been doing over there in Philly, and has been just pumped up seeing this incredible organizing effort. And, Jesus, I mean there’s so much in the world right now that doesn’t exactly inspire hope. We’ve got a lot of problems to work out. But I think that when we see working people like you and your coworkers banding together, standing up, saying, we deserve better than this. We can do better than this, and we’re going to do it together. That just is so important. And I think it really does inspire people to feel like they have the ability to change things. We don’t just all have to accept the world that’s presented to us. We can actually do something to make this place better.

And that is exactly what you guys are doing over there in Philly at your Home Depot store. And since you made the announcement about the organizing effort, I know that even more stores have expressed interest. We’ve now got Lowe’s in the mix, with workers trying to organize there. The rank-and-file energy is still growing in places like Starbucks. I think even PetSmart, Chipotle. This is really important and really exciting. It’s just been incredible to watch from afar and now I’m honored to get to chat to you one-on-one about all of this stuff. So we’re going to dig into all of that. But of course, I just want to get to know more about you first, and I was wondering if we could dig a little into your backstory and walk our way up to how you came to work at Home Depot. So are you a Philly boy born and bred?

Vince Quiles:  Yeah, no, so not born. I was born in Massachusetts. My dad was in the Coast Guard at the time, so we lived up there, but moved here when I was two. My mom’s side of the family grew up here, my dad’s side of the family grew up in Puerto Rico. Growing up in Philly, I actually grew up not too far from where it is that I’ve worked out at Home Depot, in that same neighborhood. I mean personally, the trajectory I had growing up… So both my parents came from very impoverished situations. My mom grew up in North Philly over on Allegheny Avenue. And then my dad grew up in Puerto Rico, I think it was, he grew up in Guaynabo, and they both just grew up very poor. So I feel like their experiences set a lot of the stage for what inspires and motivates me to try and do what it is that we’re doing now.

And the struggles that they talked about, the hardship that they talked about, kind of seeing them – I had the opportunity and the privilege to go to private schools. I went to a school in Philly called Roman Catholic High School, which has got a lot of prestige with it. It’s a historic high school. It was the first Catholic boys’ school in the country. Actually, coming out of high school, I had the opportunity to go to the Air Force Academy Prep School. Unfortunately, I was not mature enough for that opportunity at the time. But I would say there’s a lot of things that I learned there that really helped me to understand the ideas that I have of leadership. We got to be around a lot of colonels, generals, a lot of people in the Air Force. And not just that, but experiences that we lived.

I know one thing that pushes me along, a memory that I have, was being over there, and during our basic training, there would be these different runs and stuff like that that we would do. And I remember going through and one of the things that our team was really big on was when you finished, you would go back and you would find somebody that was in your squad and you would finish with them. So you might end up running it one-and-a-half times, two times maybe even, depending on how slow the person might have been and how long the run was. But the whole thing was you’re only as strong as your weakest link. And experiencing stuff like that, going back, helping people across the finish line, getting them across, realizing this is a team, this is what it’s about.

And I feel like in something like that, it’s very obvious, especially if you go into the military, you’re so tethered to each other and your success. I think it’s the same thing with sports teams. You have to have that trust with each other, that connection with each other in order to have that success. So it’s a lot of stuff like that really helped to cater my mindset.

A lot of the politics that my parents were into as well. My mom’s a super passionate person, and that I think helps me a lot in what it is that we’re doing now and trying to maintain that passion, that effort, and that care. My dad, he’s a computer programmer. He’s very into puzzles and he’ll break stuff down a lot like that. And so that’s how I try to analyze what it is we’re doing now. You kind of think of it like a chess match or something like that, which it’s just like, oh, how do you move? If you make this move, what’s going to come of that? If you make that move, what’s going to come of that?. So I think I’m definitely the culmination of the two of them.

And then I think the thing that really tops me out personally is my sister. So my sister’s much braver than I am. Oh my goodness, this girl’s so outgoing and adventurous, and I feel like I had to channel a little bit of her energy when it came time to… Getting the signatures, filing the petition, because I’ve always been a little bit averse to change. And again, reflecting on her and the role that she’s played in my life, she’s always been very independent and outgoing and adventurous. So that’s what I think rounds me out in terms of what was very influential for me to get to this point and to try and help lead an organizing effort at Home Depot.

And then I’d say, in between all that, growing up, volunteering a lot in church and stuff and those feelings of satisfaction that you get from helping people. I remember when, I think I was maybe 16, and they used to do this thing called the Family Fall Festival right over on Wyoming Ave over in North Philly. It was the pastor that married my parents, he would do this community event. And I remember one year working, it was this big boxing ring thing and people put on these giant gloves, they go to hit each other. And I remember my sister and I messed around with the kids, we’re having a lot of fun. We were, I guess the chaperones or whatever, the people manning that station. And people having so much fun and seeing the smiles on kids’ faces and understanding the importance of connection in your society and the world around you. And I think things like that were also super important and super imperative for me to really lean into trying, again, get to this point.

But growing up in the city, growing up with those people in my life, a lot of friends that I have. So that’s what gave me some of the tools that I have now. And then the more important thing, if you want to dive into what it’s working at Home Depot, why it is that… I mean, how do I put this…. Right, so the trajectory that I was on with school was very different than where I ended up, and I kind of had this expectation of myself. My dad, like I said, he works at Comcast as a programmer, and that was that type of life that I had envisioned too. I wasn’t quite sure how… Like I said, at first I thought, oh I’ll go to law school, become a corporate lawyer, all that stuff, make a lot of money and get to do really cool shit. And then I would say –

Maximillian Alvarez:  Yeah, I want to be a medical doctor for the first 18 years of my life. And then that went out the window.

Vince Quiles:  Yeah, exactly. Right. Because I guess once you get a little bit of experience in the world, your views change. So, again, that was the trajectory that I was on. That’s the whole point of going to a place like the Air Force Academy, trying to take advantage of that opportunity. That didn’t work out. I ended up leaving, coming back home and started studying at CCP. So I was doing a dual enrollment between Community College of Philadelphia and Temple University. At first, I was going to do engineering and then I ended up switching over to economics. And so I’m thinking, okay, well maybe I’ll go some route like that. So I’m going along, I’m chugging along in school, making a lot of the mistakes a lot of people my age at that time were making, not really knowing what it is I want to do.

I got real close to finishing the first two years for electrical engineering and I was just like, this isn’t me. I don’t want to do this. This is really, really difficult. Taking classes like calc III and linear algebra and physics II-dynamics. And it was a lot of stuff that I was just like, I’m not really into that. So that’s where I’m at. Home Depot, I’m working there. I just looked at it as a part-time gig. Actually, a lot of times what I would always say is I would use it as a reminder; that’s why you gotta finish school, because if you don’t finish school, you don’t get that college degree. You’re going to be stuck at a place like this. And that’s the culture that’s built in, especially that college culture. You go to private school, that’s what you got to do. So that was what was always in my mind and that was always the way that I thought. So for a long time, I wasn’t even engaged in Home Depot to the extent that I am now in terms of caring that much about the issues there.

Because again, I kind of saw this as, hey, if other people do this, that’s cool. It’s nothing to them, but that’s not what I’m going to personally do. And then I had a life event. Many people have life events, and I had a kid. And so now you got a kid coming in, so got him, my girlfriend I got to take care of. So it’s like, all right, now we gotta make moves. I got a family coming. So I always knew that the opportunity to be a supervisor there was open to me. A lot of people in management would always approach me about it. Hey, if you ever decide college isn’t the thing for you and you want a company to move up in, you know you can do a lot of stuff here. So there was a lot of that. So I finally just took them up on it. I said, all right, cool. You know what, I’ll sit down for an interview.

So I go to my interview, I end up getting the job. I mean, it was one of those, you kind of know you’re going to get it when you go into it because, again, people have been asking you for so long. There’s just certain skills that I have. I’ve always had a tendency to favor strong leadership. If you were to ever meet my family, my parents, my sister, and in terms of everything that I said about them, they also are all very strong leaders in their own respects, in their own walks of life. We’re a very strongly-opinionated family. We sit down, we debate, we talk about a lot of different things, talk about it very passionately. So –

Maximillian Alvarez:  Yeah, the Puerto Rican family talking passionately? You must be joking, man.

Vince Quiles:  You already know. That’s the thing. And then I also grew up in the household, my parents are very engaged in politics and stuff. So it’s very, very strong thinking like that. And then I feel like it’s that mixed in with the military, that helped to shape the mentality that I had. And when I say military, I also talk about… So both my dad and my uncle, they were career military. My dad retired after 16 years because he had an accident where he broke his back so he couldn’t stay in, and my uncle did the full 20. My cousin’s in the army, my dad’s whole side of the family, they’re very big with that. So you always hear a lot of stories, and you hear about these cool things. My dad would tell me stories about his uncle who was in the Vietnam War. And the point of these stories would always be the importance of showing strong leadership and buying in and understanding that you’re a piece to a whole, and all of these great things that you argue now currently in this labor movement.

And these were ideas that I always took into whenever I had an opportunity to be in a leadership role. So as a supervisor, that was how I always tried to conduct myself. And I mean, before getting the supervisor position, whether it was when we used to work unloading the box trucks, I’ve always been that person that’s had a bit of a magnetic personality. I try to be that motivator, how we were talking about earlier how our homie, Tevita, is really good at motivating people and getting them to get up and to do something. That was always the role that I played, was the guy who was friends with everybody and knew how things were going in your life and how to push you along and knew how to motivate you.

Maximillian Alvarez:  Hell yeah. Shout out to our brother Tevita Uhatafe.

Vince Quiles:  Hell yeah, shout out to Tevita, bro. Much love. And so that’s what curried me favor into getting to that point in the supervisor position. And I remember once I made that decision, one thing that I would constantly hear that was really important for this was always, man, you can do whatever you want in this company. Your ability to speak to people, your ability to connect with people, how you handle problems and stuff, all the nice things you always want to hear. There was a lot of that. And I mean, I knew, again, the way that I felt, I was built a little bit different.

So I was like, you know what? Okay, I’m going to try this out. I had experienced a lot of things within that building that had already started to change the way that I viewed retail work, and being an associate in a store, and my ideas had kind of started to change. And so I become a supervisor. And I remember coming in, man, that was a crazy time. So I got promoted in June 2020. So we’re like three months into the pandemic. Nobody showing up to work, everybody’s scared. Customers are frustrated. You’re having supply chain issues. You don’t have the stuff you need on the shelves. People are getting thrown all around the building. 

I will never forget… So becoming the plumbing supervisor, before that, I never told anybody no at work. That was just because I always had the mentality of try and be helpful, help people wherever you can. So even if I didn’t know, I would try and help people find the answer. And I remember that I went from never saying no to saying no all the damn time, and it’s because you’re up to your eyeballs in the amount of work you have to do. You’re trying to get stuff done, they’re like, oh, go deal with this customer, over here in this department. You go do that, then you’ve got to go deal with another one. oh, there’s nobody driving in lumber, so you got to go drop a bunch of drywall. Okay, now you’ve got to go over to the service desk. You’re good at dealing with people, this customer’s freaking out, I don’t feel like dealing with them. Can you go deal with them? A bunch of stuff like that. And it’s just crazy when you reflect on the high levels of stress that you feel. I remember, not even just myself, but other people. You would just be…

There were days where I was so overwhelmed that I’d be on the verge of tears, in my car once I got out of work because I was so stressed out the whole day that when I finally stopped and had time to process the day, it was just like, holy shit, why is a human being dealing with this? And then, I think it would be magnified. Because, obviously, you consider your own circumstance, your own situations that you have, but then, you start to look across your store and you see, oh shit, I’m not the only one going through this stuff. There are a lot of people in this building right now who are having insane amounts of bullshit thrown at them. And it’s just kind of the expectation like, oh, it just is what it is. The pandemic’s really bad. All we have to do is make it through this, and we’ll be fine on the other end.

You kind of buy into that idea. Like we talked about before getting on, you buy into this, oh, people mean what they say, and if you just work hard, it’s a meritocracy. You’re going to move up, you’re going to be able to do your thing. And I would say, in some ways, that was kind of true of me. I was getting a lot of looks that other people had gotten in the store. I was basically on a fast track in the building.

So, I’m in plumbing for six months, and then they go and they move me to receiving. And it was actually funny, because when they moved me from the plumbing department I was actually kind of mad. So, they put me in receiving basically to try and put me in a department where I was going to learn a lot of stuff, and that was going to help really push me through to the next level. But I was mad because I wanted to stay in plumbing, because I felt like the department hadn’t really been fixed. And I was like, I want to stay in this department and see this through, see it get it fixed, see it be a little bit easier for people to deal with. And, unfortunately, I was not given that opportunity.

But I would say plumbing really helped to shape my view of the relationship between managers and employees, and to really see, from the management perspective, the struggle that employees would go through. Because, just like being in non-management, you always know your problems. But then once you start to go the other route, then you get a little bit more of a full picture. So, being a supervisor, I could see more of the manager’s perspective and some of the gripes that they had as opposed to always seeing it from the associate’s perspective. So that was how I was very binary in that. I never really thought past the manager level or the supervisory level. I mean, the associate level.

So, I go to receiving, and that gets me even more of an understanding of how the building operates, because all of the problems in the building end up in the receiving. If somebody’s got a problem, more than likely we’re going to end up dealing with it in the back in some way, shape ,or form. And not only that, there just seems to not be that many people in each building that understand the department to that extent, so you kind of become part of this exclusive club, or then you go…

And the skills you learn in that department also help you to be able to read through different scenarios and get a better understanding of the landscape of the store and some of the problems. Like my one coworker, she would always say, we’re the Scooby Doo crew, and it’s because we solve mysteries all day. We find out where missing things are, find out if something has shown up or not. It’s a lot of investigative work. And so that gave me the skillset that was needed in order to better understand this company.

So I would say I had a couple things along the way that really rubbed me the wrong way in terms of how I viewed working in that company and how I viewed corporate America as a whole and understanding the mentality that they employ. But I had one instance when I was the plumbing supervisor, there was an associate, they were a really, really hard worker. They were by themselves. They were from another country, and they were here in the US by themselves. They worked really, really, really… I’m talking about they would go into the shelves, we call them bays, they would go into the bays, they come out all dusty trying to grab all the items behind the shelves.

They would do a lot of my tasks as a supervisor because they knew that they were throwing me all around the store, so, they would say, oh, don’t worry, I got you. It’d be things like we would have to do what was called a smart list where you go through and you scan and you check high or important SKUs that the company – Or important items, sorry, that the company tells you to check out. And basically you check the inventory for it. So she would do a lot of stuff like that. So I remember one day we were talking and they started breaking down crying, talking about how they were having trouble paying for their bills, that they were here in the States by themselves and they didn’t really have much help, and that they were basically having to pick and choose what bills to pay. So, I’m over here…

My company says, the inverted pyramid. The top line is customers, and next is frontline associates. Okay, well this frontline associate, who’s extremely important, they need help. They have to be compensated more in order to pay for their bills, and they more than deserve it. I, as their supervisor, can see that this person is very deserving of a raise. They work very, very hard. So I go and I talk to my immediate manager, and I’m like, look, like, you know this person. They deserve a raise. They work really, really hard. I think we could probably find it in the budget to be able to give that to them. They more than deserve it. We’re kind of going back and forth, and the manager was probably [inaudible], and I’m like, dude, even if I have to forego my raise, I don’t care. Just pay this lady. I’ll be able to pay my bills. I’m fine.

I didn’t have my kids yet or anything, and I had a really sweet situation with my parents where they were letting me stay at the house and all I had to do was pay for car insurance and the phone bill. So at the time I was in a good situation. So I’m like, yo, just look out for this person. They work really hard. They’re one of the two people that I went to all the time for stuff in the department, and again, they just really deserved it. So, again, after going back and forth a little bit, they hit me with, oh, if you want to make it far in this company, you got to stop thinking about things like that. You have to start looking out for yourself and not getting so caught up on people. That’s not going to get you far. And I’m just like, holy shit, did this dude just say this shit?

Especially when you have that inverted triangle. Like, what? That was one of the first things in my mind where I’m just like, this is shit is fucked. Like, hell no, that’s not right. I shake it off, I’m like, oh, it’s a one off. Maybe it’s just that person. Everybody’s got their own outlook on things. And I knew that that person was super pro Home Depot, that was where they were making their career so they were all the way bought in. I didn’t see it that way, whatever. And I brushed it off, kept going. So then receiving was where I really got to hit the culmination of just how fed up I was in that store, looking at the system, looking at how this store was treated. Because, again, you would just have these messes.

Dude, there would be days where we would walk in and you just had this super thin path to walk through and to be able to get through the department and try to work, and every five seconds you got to stop to move some trash out the way. Man, it was super cluttered, super messy. It used to be really frustrating because whenever we would have our corporate walkthroughs what always happened is that people would just go, and they would clean up their department, they would get all of the shit that they didn’t want in their department, and they would just go and drop it off in my department and then close the door. So corporate people are walking around checking the store, and we’re just tucked away in the back corner of the store with all the trash. You know, you guys basically just get to deal. I would always say our receiving end is the toilet of the store.

Maximillian Alvarez:  Yeah, that’s what it sounds like.

Vince Quiles:  All the shit people don’t want just gets shuffled back there, and so, sometimes it would be… A lot of times they would always try and be like, oh, well, these associates, we have to hold the associates accountable. But when you take a step back and look at it, it’s like, well, they’re being told to go do that stuff. They’re being told to go drop this trash off here, to just leave it and to go worry about other things. And so then, of course, people would be like, oh, well then, it’s the managers, it’s their fault. And yes, they told the person to go and to take the trash back there, and yes, that is a problem. But again, why is that happening? Because they have so little resources in the store. They’re being told to play chess, but they’ve only got five pawns, the king, the queen, and maybe a bishop, and that’s it. And they’re being told, go win the chess match. And it’s like…

Maximillian Alvarez:  Yeah, and a Cheeto that they’re saying, this is the rook.

Vince Quiles:  Yeah, exactly. And, it’s like, well, some of these people, they do make decisions that piss me off, but at the same time, are they really being set up for success, though? Are they really put in a successful situation? Especially again, being back there, I bought into it. That manufactured butting of heads all the time, and that outrage. Management versus associates. It’s the daytime, it’s the nighttime. Everybody’s just blaming each other in the store. And so after working around everywhere, working back there, working in the receiving end, I take a step back, and I’m like, oh shit, this is not anybody in the store’s fault. This is the way that this place is fucking run. That’s the problem. That’s the actual issue. The way that this place operates and the way that this store is treated and the way that this company just views the people within the store as disposable.

And I know some people would take apprehensions to that – I know I’ll probably get some funny looks when I go back to work after people see this. But, look, you can’t send people to work during a deadly pandemic, whether people agree with it or not, because I know people feel differently. But at the time nobody knows what’s going on. Home Depot’s even touting that this is a deadly pandemic. So, I say, by your standards, this is deadly. This is a problem. But you’re still sending people to work. And then you’ve got people that are struggling to pay their bills. You’ve got people that are stressed out, freaking out, paying with their emotional health, paying with their mental health, paying with their physical health. You have all of these things going on, and it’s like, yo, you guys are really not making any type of effort in order to fix it.

And again, I don’t just say that willy-nilly. I could see, working the management side, seeing all of those issues. And again, just participating in that to the point where… I’ll never forget, it was the day that I was just like, I don’t think I can do this. So, I’m sitting down with one of my managers and we’re going through the profit and loss report. And they’re explaining everything to me, breaking down comp percentages, how you want to try and save money, what’s the best ways for the business to make money. Going through all of that stuff. And, generally, I’m a little bit more of a nerd. I’m always super engaged and super enthused, and I could just feel my eyes glazing over. And I’m just like, holy shit, how little do I care about making this company more money?. And then, I realized if I stay, if I go that route, that’s my life, and that’s what my life is centered around. That is the point. That is the purpose.

And, it was almost like an existential crisis when I went on vacation a little bit after that, because they’re about to change their leadership program. So some supervisors are getting promoted, some people are going to be stepping down, whatever. There’s a couple people talking to me like, yo, this is your chance. There was this position called a night replenishment manager that they had just created that they were going to put me in. And then, essentially, from there, I was going to springboard to what’s called an overnight assistant manager position at another store. So, basically, it was going to be a double jump within, I think it was six months or something they were probably looking at, where I was going to go do that for a little bit and then bump onto the next one. Man, I’m telling you, I just remember sitting on the beach and being like, is this what I want for my life?

I’m reflecting on the pandemic, I’m reflecting on all the issues I’ve seen. And, again, I kind of joke around, but it really did feel a little bit existential, because, holy crap. All of these things that I’m criticizing, in a way, I will somehow end up supporting if I go and I continue to grow within this company. And then, you look at ,why is it that I’m growing? It’s because of my people skills, it’s because of my ability to get people to do things. So I basically would become a frontline version of exploiting people, and I can’t do this. So I remember. That shit was crazy that day. I end up making up my mind, I go, I tell the manager, and I’m like, yo, I don’t want a promotion. I don’t even want to stay a supervisor. I want to step down. I want to be an associate. I had applied to the fire department. I was like, I just want to go. I don’t want to be in this company anymore.

And I never want to say that in a disparaging way to the people who still work there, to the people who go and who take those positions, because everybody has their reasons for walking the path that they do. But, for me, personally, I couldn’t do it. And then the more that I learned about Home Depot, the more that I learned about how much money they make and where they spend their money, and some of the things that they do, I was just like… You hear about Amazon all the time. You hear about Starbucks all the time. Walmart now. Home Depot does the same shit. They are just really good at covering it up, and getting people to not talk about it. The stuff with stock buybacks, underpaying people, record profits, all of that stuff. I remember going through, and I still had access to a lot of things, so I was able to see a lot of information going through, looking at the profit and loss reports, looking at the earnings report for the company, looking at different videos talking about their business strategy, and I’m just like, man, these people have a plan.

They basically want to be the Carnegie and the Rockefeller of the home improvement sector. 

They want to corner that market, they want to try and control their supply chain, that horizontal, that vertical integration. That way then they become such a behemoth. And what I personally saw looking at that is I was like, oh, if you do that, it doesn’t matter how you treat your labor. You’ve got a government that doesn’t enforce its antitrust policies, or does a weak-ass job of doing it. You have such a head start on all of your other competitors. Now you’re figuring out how to control your supply chain. From a business perspective it’s absolutely genius. If your goal is to keep on pushing profits and that’s what you’re trying to do, that’s a plan, if there is one.

But again, in all of that, you lose your humanity a bit. Where’s the humanity in that? What about the people that get you to that point? Then, you look at stuff like shareholders, man, it was just crazy. The amount of money that store makes, the amount of money that company makes, where they put the money… You hear one thing, right? We care about our associates. We care about our essential workers. And I, as a supervisor, I personally felt that. I was like, oh yes, I care about the people on my team, I care about the people in the building. My success goes as my team goes. That’s where my success is going to be driven, so as long as I make sure they’re good, they have what they need, they’re happy, they’re content, then they’re going to make sure I’m good.

But then, I just realized it felt like it didn’t really matter where you were on that spectrum, especially closer to the entry level positions and the lower level management positions. You were never going to be given what you needed. And that’s because, ultimately, it’s a system in place. And it’s like, I’m sure you’ve probably heard it growing up, so many people have, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. And, the people at the top, they’re the ones in charge of this stuff, and for them, it’s not broken. So why are they going to fix it? They’re making record profits.

Maximillian Alvarez:  No, I think that’s so perfectly put, because I think that was one of the things that really started to strike me, talking to different workers over the course of the pandemic, is a lot of this shit seems very, very broken. And a lot of workers in different stores, in different industries, totally different types of jobs are trying to do something to fix it. And then it kind of dawned on me, the realization that you just articulated, it was like, oh, but for the people who own these businesses, it’s not broken. This is how they want it to be. And, the example that I give people is, after it was a year into the pandemic, we started hearing on every fucking mainstream media outlet that no one wants to work anymore.

Vince Quiles:  Oh my goodness, I love that video you did. It was back in… I can’t remember exactly when, but yes. Yes. I know exactly what you’re talking about.

Maximillian Alvarez:  Was it the Breaking Points one?

Vince Quiles:  Yeah, I think it was Breaking Points, and I think I might’ve seen… Yeah, as a matter of fact, I think that’s what it was. And, again, a lot of what you had to say in that, I felt as a worker on the front. I’m like, thank God somebody gets this shit. Because everybody’s like, oh, nobody wants to work anymore. And it’s like, yo, you got to add an asterisk there, because it’s like, nobody wants to work insane hours for very little money doing a bunch of extra work for free just to go make some other rich asshole even fucking richer while they’re struggling in their own personal life. That’s actually it. That’s the problem. Just because you may have a certain tolerance for the bullshit, it doesn’t mean everybody else does. Just because you’re not willing to make your employer pay you for that doesn’t mean that we should let that be the standard. It’s hard, because there’s people that I really fuck with that say that, and I’m just like, man, that hurts.

Maximillian Alvarez:  I feel the same way, whether they’re in my family, or friends, and I had to take a step back. I was like, okay, are you just saying this because you’re, as we say, drinking the Kool-Aid? Are you just buying what the media’s telling you? Or is there something else going on here? And, I think, to be generous with the folks that I know who believe that, and maybe even still do, it’s because they’re just looking at what’s around them and matching it to what they’re hearing on the media. So when I went back home to Southern California for the first time in three years, this came up with some members of my family, because they were like, yeah, I drive around and I see help wanted signs everywhere, so it must be true that all of these businesses are trying to hire people but “no one wants to work.”

And, at the time that I mentioned, a year into the pandemic, there was a very real political motivation behind this, because lawmakers and politicians in DC were, essentially, pissed off that working people had gotten a modicum of security with… I think our government could have done a whole fucking lot more. I think that our employers got off like bandits, by and large. But talk to anyone who got those stimulus checks, got the extended unemployment benefits or the extended child care tax credit, or the eviction moratorium, the pause on student loan payments. That shit mattered, because that’s the stuff that nickel and dimes us every goddamn month. It feels like every time we get a check, there’s just 10 hands that immediately reach in and take all of it, and I’ve got $200 at the end of it, and it’s just such a deflating feeling.

This is something people told me when I was interviewing them for the book I had that just came out, which is 10 interviews with workers during COVID, they even said then, I feel guilty about saying this because this is such a horrible situation. People are dying, everyone’s scared. I’m still scared, but those extended unemployment benefits meant that I could actually, for a second, take a step back and actually not have to force myself into a job that I hate because I need to pay rent. It’s sad to think that we were all living so close to the bone that that’s all it took for us to have a little bit of breathing space to realize how much we were getting screwed over.

But anyway, the point I’m getting at is, the whole “no one wants to work” bullshit narrative was directly targeted at ending those programs. And that’s what all these fucking state legislators were saying, it was all just anecdotes. It was like, oh yeah, I’ve heard from a McDonald’s franchise owner that they can’t get anyone to sign on to take these jobs. It’s because they’re all getting fat off the government money, and they’re being lazy. So, that was the narrative. And then I just kept talking to people, kept publishing these interviews, and it really stood out to me that so many people were saying, look, that’s bullshit. The workers are begging these companies to hire more people, and they can’t or they won’t. They are deliberately understaffing us. They are not really trying hard to hire people. They’re not making this kind of job attractive to potential employees.

So then you get another side of the story and you realize that whether it’s Chipotle, Home Depot, the fucking freight railroads, anywhere in retail and service work, everyone’s seeing it. Everyone’s seeing dollar stores where there’s only one or two people working there, and again, they’re hearing on the media that it’s because no one wants to work. But if you look around and you start to see, well, so many of these stores are being understaffed while the businesses are raking in record profits, something’s not adding up here. And that’s when it really started to dawn on me and, I think, a lot of other people, it’s like, oh, well this is just bullshit.

They basically have just realized that we can claim that the problem is that workers are lazy, because that’s always what they do, but really, what we’re doing is we’re piling more work onto fewer workers. We’re burning people out. The quality of the service across the board is going down, but we don’t fucking care because that means our operating costs are down, profits are up, and it’s nuts. And, I think that when you look at those numbers and you see, oh, well, Home Depot’s actually making a lot, and yet the receiving department is a mess. Everyone’s stressed out. Again, to go back to the way that you put it, which was so perfect, it’s like it’s broken for us, but not for them. This is the way that they want it to be.

Vince Quiles:  Something I thought about… You had this one great video you also did talking about the importance of time, the battle of time and how important that is for people. And when you take some of the things that you just enumerated, talking about The Great Resignation and how people felt coming out of that in terms of, I don’t want to go to work. The job is not adapting. If I could put it into… So, I’m super into fitness. I go to the gym every morning. If I could turn it into an analogy like that, it’s like if I go in and I do the same exact routine every day, and it’s a half-assed routine. It’s barely putting in any effort. The routine sucks, my diet sucks. I’m not eating properly, but I’m still going to the gym every day, but I’m not making all the necessary changes, and then a year from now I look exactly the same, and I’m like, well, what the hell? Working out just doesn’t work. Going to the gym doesn’t work.

And it’s like, no, tonto. [Max laughs] You have got to do something with yourself with that. It’s not just doing that. And that’s how I feel that companies act, whether it’s Home Depot, whether it’s Amazon. They are so caught up in the smell of their own shit and they think that everything that they create is gold and it’s just such a great idea, and it’s like, it’s not. It’s not. And, guess what? It’s not disrespectful for people to call that out. It’s not disrespectful. If you find that disrespectful, you are too arrogant. Because if there’s one thing that I learned that was super humbling, working in the work environment that I did, was to realize that intelligence isn’t what you know, it’s how quickly you can process the things you take in. 

And the only difference between… Growing up in the inner city in Philadelphia, I grew up in a neighborhood called Frankfurt, all my family’s from North Philly. If there’s one thing, being in environments like that and being in environments like Home Depot, I realized the only difference between drug dealers down the way and people down the street in Wall Street, the only difference between them is the arena and the opportunity that’s afforded to them. A lot of the strategies, a lot of that stuff is actually super similar, but it’s just the perception that one has in society over the other. And that’s, again, where I think a lot of these problems are borne out is because these people control everything, they think like, oh well, this is just how it has to be. I sacrificed, so now you have to sacrifice.

And that was something that I learned in my very short time up the ladder in that company, it was like… I remember sitting down and having a conversation with the store manager at the time and being like, look, dude, my brain does not function well in this type of environment. I need to do more. I’m not living up to my potential in the position that I’m in. And he just kept telling me, oh well, you have to be a store manager. You have to be a store manager, you have to be a store manager. Then from store manager you can go anywhere you want. And I’m just like, but why do I like…

If I studied economics and I show an ability to understand numbers [inaudible], if I show propensity for that, why then would you not just say, hey, this guy’s being underutilized and let’s go put him over here. If it’s about putting people in the best position to succeed. And again, I’m talking about me because I live that, but there’s so many other people where that would be the case in that building where it’s like, these people’s skillsets are better catered to do other things, but you don’t put them there. Why?

And the only conclusion that I could hit after that was it’s just like, this is an indoctrination process. That’s what it is. You have to make it to store manager because once you get to that point then we’re like, okay, they’re sufficiently on our team. They’re sufficiently bought in, now we can put them anywhere and they’re going to bleed orange. It’s like, look, man, not everybody wants to tether their life to what it is that they do. The things that always defined me, especially before I became a supervisor, is music, fitness, playing video games. That was the shit that I cared more about. I just went to work to pay my bills and save a little bit of money. Yes, most people, they just want to go to their job, do what they got to do and go back home, go back to their families.

And for the people who want to tether their ambition and their life’s meaning to what it is that they do for work, okay, by all means. It’s your life to live. It’s whatever you want to do with it. But the problem is then you create a system. And if people want to have a decent life, then that’s what they have to do. And that’s my issue with, oh, nobody wants to work anymore and people are just lazy. And it’s like, no. When you spend too much time at work, when you spend too much time making somebody else money, putting yourself in emotionally taxing situations, physically taxing situations, spiritually taxing situations, that shit takes its toll on you. It starts to suck the life out of you.

So I’ve been playing guitar since I was 13. I always used to hear music in my head, all the time. I became a supervisor, and like that [snaps fingers] it stopped. And then I went through for the next year, barely ever heard music in my head, barely even listened to music because I was just so absorbed with work. Step back down, guess what? [snaps fingers] Like that, the music comes back. Why? Because you’re so focused on what you’re doing and you’re like, so? And it’s like, for what? Like, why?

At the end, I go, and I learn my store, and I learn how to work every department except for two, and I never say no. And I go and I deal with manager calls, and I go and I learn how to drive the machines, and I become a trainer, and I translate for people, and I take the time to learn about plumbing to tell people how to fix various plumbing projects, and I go and I get in a box truck that’s 120 degrees and for an hour and a half straight I’m just in the truck throwing boxes and I’m busting my… And like, why? Why are you doing that?

For instance, at the time I was in the box trucks, those suckers would get up to 115, 120 degrees, and we would be in there for a full hour and a half, two hours straight just throwing boxes. It’s like a freaking sauna. And at the end, I was getting paid $11 an hour, $12 an hour. The same sweating my ass off, killing myself. I got scars on my body, I got this one cut on my leg that literally cut me all the way to my shinbone from these copper pipes. And you sit there and you ask yourself, why am I doing this? And it’s like, literally? Literally it’s so that somebody else who just happened to have a bunch of money for whatever reason, maybe they worked really hard for it, the more likely thing is they were probably born into it. Maybe they exploited somebody to get it.

They parked their money somewhere and now they get to get the lion’s share just because they park their money there. Meanwhile, you got to go fucking toil at the bottom, earning, generating, producing that surplus. I think about a lot, like listening to Professor Richard Wolf and his podcast Economic Update and how he talks about the system of capitalism and how you have workers who create the surplus and then you have a bunch of people at the top who control the surplus, and you see that’s the fucking problem right there. And he would compare capitalism to feudalism and slavery and basically saying each thing is just an evolution of the previous system. And it’s like, yeah, man.

Maximillian Alvarez:  [laughs] Yeah, that checks out.

Vince Quiles:  It’s exactly right. Because I remember, my girlfriend told me, this shit was hilarious. So I forgot who the dude was, it’s this young kid, and he made this TikTok. So it was a response because I don’t know if [inaudible], somebody like that. They’re one of those, oh, it’s Halloween. This is what Halloween with socialism looks like. And they go and they do their whole freaking straw man bullshit. And they go, they have the kid trick or treating and then they say, okay, well here’s some for Sally, and here’s some for Billy, even though they did none of the work. And they do –

Maximillian Alvarez:  Conservatives love that shit. I grew up on dumbass analogies like that, and it just pains me every time I hear one now.

Vince Quiles:  Oh, my goodness. So my girlfriend shows me this. I think it was either TikTok or an Instagram. This kid had such a brilliant comeback to it. So he goes, oh yeah, because capitalism is better. And then he goes, he grabs a pillowcase and he tells the kid, all right, go trick or treating. And the kid fills out the fucking case and the guy goes, takes the fucking bag, takes 90% of the candy, gives the kid 10% of the candy, and says, well, because I own the bag, I get to take 90% [MAx laughs] of this, pal. Someone’s just like, dude, yes. That’s exactly the problem. And even in what it is that we’re fighting for and trying to do this, I’m not trying to sit here and say that your average Home Depot associate needs to be a fucking millionaire. What I’m saying instead is, and a point that you enumerated, and something that I could say that I personally lived like.

Part of the reason why I ended up at Home Depot was because I was always just raised, you have to make sure you maintain a job, you have to make sure you hold a job no matter what. And I felt like I had a lot of skills that, had I had more of the courage to go and to try to market and to try and make a living in different ways, had I had that confidence, maybe things could have gone differently. But thus is kind of the problem in our economic system where it’s instead you’re told like, no, you have to hold a job, you have to get a steady paycheck, because if not you could be homeless. And if you want to do something better then you have to go to college. But then you go to college and then you’re saddled with all this debt, and then you still get the same job anyway.

Oh, shit like, what the hell,. And it’s again, you sit back and you’re like, look at this. And it’s like, no. They benefit from a system like that. You talked about in your piece on time, if I have more time now to go and to figure out how to market my music-making ability or what I know in fitness, if I have more time to go do that now, I’m making more money for myself. Now that’s less money that goes to them. That’s also less time that’s spent with them. Now maybe their profits start to look a little bit different. And then especially, too, if you’re paying people properly and you’re giving them the time to go and to invest in themselves a little bit more, it’s like no, they don’t want none of that shit. They want your ass parked in a store for 40 hours out of the week.

If it was up to them, they’d probably rescind some of the labor laws that were enacted back in the ’30s and say, no, make those motherfuckers work 70-hour fucking work weeks, and if they miss an hour, they weren’t miss a minute of work, get rid of them and put somebody else. But yeah, that’s the core of it. I feel like it’s a disservice to society to pigeonhole people into stuff like that, because it’s like, imagine. There’s somebody out there right now working a job that they don’t want to work that probably has this skill that would be so beneficial to humanity, but because they got to go fucking clock in for 40 hours a week at one job and part-time at another job in order to pay their bills, we’ll never get to experience that. Not because the person wasn’t qualified, sometimes it’s not even because they didn’t try. It’s just because we have a bullshit system that’s built off of exploitation.

Maximillian Alvarez:  And it’s so goddamn wasteful of human potential. I think that the way that you put that is so powerful and perfect and depressing. There’s this great quote by Stephen Jay Gould that has always stuck in my head but just makes exactly the point that you’re talking about, where he said, “I am somehow less interested in the weight and convolutions of Einstein’s brain than in the near certainty that people of equal talent have lived and died in cotton fields and sweatshops.” And that’s the conditioning that we get in this country. And in so many places over the world, there’s so much human potential there that is wasted because these systems only see us as warm bodies to perform certain tasks, not as flesh and blood human beings with an infinite amount of creativity and passion and the ability for leadership, the ability to create something better out of this planet and out of this society than what we have now.

But like you said, we’ve created this perfect mouse trap where the vast, vast majority of us have to toil to get by, to keep a roof over our heads, to provide some level of security for our family. And so we have to surrender our life for that. I know we always love to say, oh, work to live, don’t live to work. Well, motherfucker, most of us don’t have the choice to do that. And that’s by design. And I wanted to hook that back into something else you were saying. Because I think this is one of the things that I didn’t realize until much later in life, either, much like yourself. I realized how much social engineering happens in the workplace, how essential the workplace is for making us the subjects that capitalism needs us to be or that a corrupt political system needs us to be.

You already pointed out some of them. In order to keep this system that we have in this country going, where… I don’t even know where to start. Where the rich have taken over everything, they’ve bought off all the politicians, they’ve stocked all the courts, they’ve adjusted all the laws to favor them and their commercial interests over the rights and needs of working people. The people in DC just flat out don’t listen to the vast majority of their constituents, especially those in the poor and working classes. There’s so much broken that doesn’t need to be, but the way you maintain that system is by convincing the vast majority of people that nothing can be done about it, especially nothing can be done by us to change it. The best we can hope for is some sort of change handed down from on high from this or that elected official, or this or that unaccountable genius tech billionaire like Elon fucking Musk or whatever the hell.

When you live in a society where that is the best that you can hope for, that’s not a society worth maintaining in my opinion, because we can dream so much better than this. We have so much more potential than this. And it really, really hit me in the chest when you said that you would hear songs in your head, and then, when you became a supervisor, the music stopped. It speaks very much to my own experience as someone who wanted to be a writer my whole life and always had a love of reading and writing but never saw it as anything more than a hobby, but who still felt that creative desire. It was something that I needed to do to feel like myself, was just sit down and write, and that was so important to me. And I remember times when I was working nonstop and that part of me withered away, or it atrophied like a muscle when you got a cast on or something like that.

And I think that, to the point about the workplace being this kind of factory where subjects are made – This is the bigger picture thing that I hope everyone listening thinks about – What does that engineering do? What exactly are we being taught or trained to be in these laboratories? I remember saying this, maybe in a past episode, but I feel like the “starter jobs”, the jobs you get out of high school, the jobs that you get while you’re in high school, low paying exploitative jobs that so many of us have to do as we find our way into adulthood. Yes, you’re doing service work, retail work, you’re working in shipping, cleaning, whatever you’re doing, you’re doing that to make a paycheck, get by, so on and so forth. But at the same time, you were being schooled in how to be powerless.

You were being trained to accept being controlled by unelected managers and business owners who tell you what to do, who have so much control over your life. And you are essentially taught to accept the fact that you have really nothing that you can do about that. Then also, you accept that hierarchical arrangement. You accept, you’re like, well, this is the way it is, this is the way it’s always going to be. And that shit filters out into other realms of our lives, because we spend most of our lives in the workplace anyway, and so if that’s the f arrangement that we are experiencing on a day-to-day basis, then why would you clock out at work and think that… I don’t know, your relationship to the government’s going to be any different. Your relationship to any business entity is going to be any different.

You carry over that sense that, all right, the people at the top are there because they deserve to be, I’m down here because I deserve to be, and there’s nothing I can really do to change this. And also, I don’t really have the time or strength to do anything about it anyway because I’m working my ass off and I’m exhausted. That is the training that we all get in this system, which is why… Oh well, actually, and just one more point on that, because I think that you’re absolutely right that you get a more targeted form of that kind of training when they start grooming you to be a manager. Because that also spoke to me. Because I remember when I was working at this one warehouse back in California, and I was a temp, but I was a hard worker, like you was very much raised on the belief that if you’re going to do a job, you gotta do it well. That’s what my dad told me.

And I would always get pissed because I remember one time when I worked at this frozen yogurt place in Orange County, every night someone had to mop. And I realized at the end of one week I was like, wait, why am I the only one fucking mopping at the end of the day? And the manager was like, well, you’re the only one who tries at it. And I was like, so I’m being rewarded with the shit job that I don’t want to do because I’m the only one who’s doing it well? And I had my dad in my head it was like, goddamn you, dad, why didn’t you tell me to do a shitty job? But then when I was at this –

Vince Quiles:  [inaudible]

Maximillian Alvarez:  Yeah. So when I was at this warehouse, I was carrying that over. I hated being there, I was depressed, but I was like, whatever, I’m here. This is how I’m getting my money and I’m just going to do the job as best I can. And I remember as they started grooming me to be a manager and they started training me and to think the way that you described, and they started… Looking back on it now, I could see how they preyed upon those sort of… I don’t know, good intentions and good qualities that hardworking people have, but they turn it into something that they can use as a weapon against other workers. So they try to convince you that you’re more special than the other people on the shop floor, that you can see the bigger picture.

And I remember one time this woman who had been there at the warehouse for a long time, but she was a little bit older, she didn’t really get a lot of respect, and she got a lot of shit from the younger managers. And so she was leading a team of us to get a big shipment done on time, and we were way behind. And the other managers and the VP were giving this woman a whole lot of shit. God, I feel gross about it now, but there was a point where I was standing around them, because again, they were grooming me to be a manager, so sometimes I was in those conversational circles, and they were like, we need this many pallets wrapped, stacked, tagged, and loaded onto this many trucks by this date, and we’re this far behind. And so, the one woman was like, well, this is the best that we can do. The VP was like, that’s not good enough. And I was like, well, I think we could do a little bit better.

And so, he looks at me and points at me, he’s like, okay, you’re the lead on this now. And at the moment I thought, oh, shit, here’s my chance. But what I realized is what you just said is like, well, we’re all being set up to fail here. There is no way any of us can make that quota. This woman’s the only one who’s being honest about it, because we have so many temps who are untrained, a lot of mistakes are going to happen, and then they just blame those mistakes on the workers and fire them and bring in new people, yada, yada, yada. But I didn’t see that at the time, that I was walking into a trap, because that’s the way that they want it to be.

Everyone is being set up to fail because this is, God, this is my long way of getting back to your point that it’s like… That was when I realized what you realized. And I was like, oh, even managers, the middle managers on the floor, it’s not their problem. The problem is the front office committing to a business model that is unsustainable or that we can’t humanly possibly do. And when we inevitably fail at it, they’re just going to fire us and replace us.

Vince Quiles:  Exactly. Yeah, I mean, it’s funny, because as you speak about your experience at the Warehouse, I remember… So one thing from what we were told, the way that we unload our stock for the store was actually piloted at my store. So sorry everybody who works at Home Depot who works on the breakdown crew and absolutely hates that system, it’s probably our fault.

Because in our store, we didn’t tell the truth. We didn’t tell the truth about the faults of the system. And I think, again, people’s first inclination is to get mad at store leadership and be like, oh, well they should have just told the truth. And it’s like, look, man, when you have conversations where you see your vice president, and then a store manager, watch that store manager disagree with the vice president and say, that might be a good idea, but you have to tweak it by doing this, this, and this because these things happen in our store. And the look of scorn that person is going to get.

Who the hell are you to challenge me? And that’s the problem, is that nobody wants to tell the truth. Everybody just wants to kiss each other’s ass so that they can get what that person has. Because that’s always the goal, is I want to get to where that next guy is, then the next gal is. And as long as I get there, that’s going to be okay. That’s one of the things that I absolutely freaking hate with my store when they tell people, if you want to make more money, then you got to move up. Why? Because now you’re going to incentivize people who don’t belong in those positions to now be in those positions, not because they want to be there, but because it’s the only way for them to make more money. Because there’s so many people at my store, where I’m like, if I told you that you could make more money driving forklifts, translating, and working multiple departments, would you still want to be a supervisor? And the vast majority of people say, no, I would just go do those other things and make more money.

It’s like, you go, and to your point, you create this culture that then becomes cancerous to itself. But where the major problem lies though is, again, it’s like when you hear people talk about pharma. They socialize the cost, but they privatize the gains. We socialize the cost of the success, and we all have to pay the price. We all gotta put some skin in the game. But when it comes time to break down on the rewards – Here’s a great way to put it in perspective of the numbers of my store. So this is going to be a little bit of a winded explanation, but I promise you I’ll be able to bring it home.

Maximillian Alvarez:  Well, do it, baby.

Vince Quiles:  So we have what’s called success sharing in the store. So it’s where they give bonus checks at the end of the year, and it’s based off of your sales plan. So the way that it’s calculated for stores is you get 0.75% of every dollar earned from 90% of your sales goal to 100% of your sales goal, and then you get 3% of every dollar earned from 100% on. So that netted us last year in 2021, it was about $521,000 between the two checks. And that was using those calculations, we had sold, I believe it was $99 billion. For the year, we were $7 million over, I believe, the first half, and I think $8 million over our sales plan the second half. And again, being $15 million over our sales plan, we got $521,000 in bonuses. And again, that’s just the sales part. That’s not even when you look at the profit.

So I, being the numbers guy I am, bored one day, so I’m going to just play around with these numbers. So I took the cash dividends that were paid out to shareholders and I would equate that to the success sharing that’s given to associates in the store, because it’s a direct cash payout from the company for excess profit earned. So you take that $7 billion and you divide it by the $16.4 billion that was earned in profits in 2021, and that comes out to roughly 42% of profits that were made were paid out to shareholders in the form of cash dividends. If you take that 42% and you apply it to my store, my store last year made $30,170,052. If you want, look at that text message that I sent you, you’ll see it right there.

But if you take that and you multiply it by the 42%, the associates in this store in 2021 got $521,000, and the shareholders got fucking $12.8 million. It’s like, bro, what? What? Well, my one friend goes up, they’re working the service desk, they’re working the registers, they’re working tool rental, oh, and their actual job title is Garden Associate. So they’re supposed to be working in the garden section. They’re going, they’re working, they’re doing all of that stuff, right? They’re getting pulled all over the store, they’re getting in trouble because things aren’t getting done in their department. Why aren’t you getting this done? Well, you’re sending me to tool rental, you’re sending me here. Well I don’t care. You still have to find a way to get it done. So they go, they’re very upset. You sit down and they say, hey, I’m doing all of these things. I have already done this, right? I have already committed to the work. What’s up with a raise? What’s up with something like that? And essentially what she’s told is, if you take the responsibility of one of the managers, maybe you’ll get a raise. Like, what?

Maximillian Alvarez:  Wow, Jesus.

Vince Quiles:  And that’s the whole thing. It’s because the gig is supposed to be if you go and you take on more work, you produce more value, you make more money. And what’s insane, what’s wild is I’ve had conversations with the union busters that come through the store. Other people have had conversations with union busters [at the store] talking about this stuff, and they’re just basically like, yeah, we had to do that. Why shouldn’t you? And it’s like, what? Are you serious? Oh, it was crazy. The one guy’s over here talking about, if you want to get paid to translate and to speak Spanish, go to school for it. My boy, what? Like, 35% of the people, 30, 35% of the people that roll through that store only speak Spanish. You don’t make those dollars if your Spanish speaking associates aren’t there to help you. And he’s, oh, well I don’t get paid to speak Spanish. My boy, you make a six figure salary, what are you talking about?

Maximillian Alvarez:  Geez, man.

Vince Quiles:  Seriously? And then there’s another person and they’re talking about somebody who’s in school and they’re learning Spanish and they’re real excited and, oh, I can’t wait to get into the workforce because I’m going to get paid for that. And it’s like, so fuck the rest of us then that could speak Spanish, huh?

Maximillian Alvarez:  Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Vince Quiles:  I guess we can just selectively apply when it is that… And it’s like, it’s crazy, right? And in a way it almost makes me sympathetic to those people because it’s like, come on, you can’t have those types of inconsistencies presented in your arguments and think what’s going on is acceptable. That’s why, again, I try very, very hard, and I don’t know, maybe I’m just too diplomatic in this approach, but it’s like… It’s the system, man. It’s the system, it’s the core rot. It’s not even just Home Depot, it’s companies in general that think this shit is acceptable and it’s not. And the thing is this, you live off in these ivory towers, you never have to deal with the consequences of it.

The people who run big box stores, they never have to deal with the consequences of those big box stores. They don’t have to go drive up Venango Street down North Philly where there used to be a bunch of factories and they got run out of business. Why? Because of big box stores like that, so now they’re just huge eyesores in these densely packed inner city… They don’t have to deal with that. They don’t have to deal with the people who are sitting there stressed out trying to figure out how they’re going to pay for their bills, how they’re going to pay for their kids… They don’t have to deal with any of that.

That person who now has a two hour commute to work every day because they had a problem with their car and now that shit don’t work. But they still have to get to work so now they have to take the bus. Nah, instead those people roll through in $80,000 Mercedes-Benzes trying to tell you why you shouldn’t unionize. It’s like, you can’t make this shit up. And then they have the audacity to pull people in the back office of mine and say that people like myself are trying to steal money from them, and we’re trying to take stuff from them. And it’s like, really?” You know what? In the end, godspeed to you, because you still have to look in the mirror every day. You still have to live with the person you are and the system that you prop up. And again, that’s the major thing that pushed me to this point was when I said, what if I end up in that position? Could I live with myself? It’s like, no.

Maximillian Alvarez:  Yeah.

Vince Quiles:  No, I think that’s just not cool. That’s just not fucking cool. People deserve better than that. I know so many people who’ve been through so much shit that building who are in the circumstances they’re in for whatever it might be, but they deserve better than what they get. And for these people to just try and roll up here after the fact be like, oh, yeah, we care about… Come on man, miss me with that shit. Where I come from there’s a difference between talking about shit and being about shit. If you just talk about it, you don’t really care. If you really care, you’ll show somebody.

Maximillian Alvarez:  Hell yeah, man. No, I think that’s, again, just perfectly put. And I got to write that down because I think the way you put that was incredible. You say, you have to live with the person you become working in the system that you prop up.

Vince Quiles:  Mm-hmm.

Maximillian Alvarez:  I think that’s spot on, and I’ve seen it in so many different areas. The way that, again, that trap works. Because what’s crazy to me is I remember even seeing this in higher education. So higher education is also in a really bad way, and we don’t have time to go into all the reasons why that is. But kind of the same shit in a lot of regards. For the past 50 years, the ratio in the 1970s and 1980s used to be that 70% of the teaching done in colleges was done by people who were on the tenure track. And that was what everyone wanted to be, the professor with the elbow patches who’s got a good salary and good job protections and all that stuff.

Over the course of the past 50 years, that’s changed. Now it’s over 70% adjuncts who are making poverty level wages, they have no health benefits. They don’t even know if they’re going to have a job at the end of the semester. Graduate students, lecturers who maybe are a small step above an adjunct. But it’s just like with so many other jobs, piling more work onto fewer workers, paying them less at the same time that the bosses and the administration, their salaries are going up, their numbers are going up, so on and so forth. And when I walked into graduate school, coming from working as a waiter, and I was like, I don’t know anything about that system. I just know that my family didn’t know anything about the system but we were just like, yeah, that seems like a nice comfortable job to have. You should go for it.

And what they all tell you, just like the managers at the warehouse would tell me, just these folks at Home Depot are telling you, is just like, oh, well, the best way to change the system is to move your way up in it and put yourself in a position when you’ll be able to actually do something. And what I realized is I was like, but that the trick, the joke is that if you ever get there, and chances are you will not, but if you ever get there, by the time you get there, you will no longer be the kind of person who wants to change it. Because the system will have made you into the person that will prop up that system and fight to maintain your privileged place within it, like you’re saying. So you have to live with the person you become in working in the system that you prop up.

And I think that’s why it’s so… Because that applies to all of us. This even goes to what we were saying before about the mentality that we’re forced to have as workers in that same system, being socially engineered and existentially engineered through these jobs to believe that we are as worthless as the system tells us we are, we are as expendable as our boss tells us we are. Our creativity and passion and dreams are as meaningless as this system forces us to believe because those don’t pay the bills. It’s such a sad state of affairs, and I think so many of us are forced into the position of believing that there’s nothing that can be done about it.

And that is why it is so huge and such a really heroic thing. I’m not blowing smoke up your ass or any of the asses of any person I talk to on this show. I genuinely mean it when I say it is a really big step to say no to that, to actually break that mold and say, well, maybe I can challenge this system. Like, I don’t have to accept the world that is presented to me as… I don’t have to accept what’s given to me. Maybe, in fact, we can do something together to change our circumstances.

And that’s what gives me hope. It’s people like you, Brandi McNease and her coworkers at Chipotle in Maine saying, we’re not taking this anymore. We’re going to try to unionize. And Chipotle closing their store, and people like Brandi still saying, we’re still going to keep fighting. These Starbucks workers, Starbucks is violating their rights left and right, breaking the law in total open public display, they’re not hiding it, and the workers keep coming. They keep saying, we’re not giving up on this fight. Folks at Amazon. Jesus, in your hometown, the museum workers at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Vince Quiles:  Yeah, [inaudible] at the art museum. Yep.

Maximillian Alvarez:  Yeah. They were on strike for 20 days and management kept saying, we’re not going to bargain with you, we’re not going to bargain with you. And then they wouldn’t give up, and then they got a contract. Fighting that fight that comes from that place somewhere in our chest that says, I don’t have to accept this. We deserve better than this. Again, we are not as worthless and powerless as this system trains us to believe. And then when other people see fellow workers taking that step, it creates this ripple effect that we mentioned earlier before. And so that’s kind of where I wanted us to end up, because I could talk to you about this for days, but I know you got –

Vince Quiles:  [inaudible].

Maximillian Alvarez:  …A little one running around.

Vince Quiles:  Yeah, yeah. He’s banging on the door right now.

Maximillian Alvarez:  So I promise I won’t keep you for much longer, but I did want to ask if you could talk us through the organizing effort. What it’s been like from your end, how it’s developed over the past month or so, where things are now, and most importantly, what everyone listening to this can do to show solidarity with you, everyone at your store, and with Home Depot workers across the country.

Vince Quiles:  Yeah, for sure. This is still, I’d say crazy to consider all the chaos, talking to you before and saying how a month ago I was just some rinky-dink receiving associate taking it to this point, now it bore out exactly from what you said. Before I delve into anything, I want to take the time to shout out a coworker of mine who unfortunately was fired recently. He was a supervisor, this guy named Roberto. And I think Roberto kind of… When I reflect on this more and more, I have to start giving him more props and more credit, because Roberto was also a catalyst for me in the sense that this dude stands on his principles regardless of anything. If it’s going to benefit him, if it’s not going to benefit him, if he believes something that dude stands on it. And he was consistently an example of that, and gave me that last little bit of courage I needed to go and to file that petition.

And getting to work with him. He was a partner of mine as a supervisor, and that was where I got to see a lot of that stuff. Because there would be times where the manager would say something, and me at that point in time, being who I was, being like, oh, dude, don’t say that. And he would be over here like, oh, no, this is the right thing to do. We have to do this. He was very, very influential in this. I got to take the time to shout him out in all this. Because that’s where, again, where that [inaudible] we got the signatures, we’re the point of the election now. And the efforts have been the efforts are… Sorry about that, my son is knocking on the door, he’s getting a little bit distracted but…

Hold on. Wait, give me one second.

Maximillian Alvarez:  Yep.

Vince Quiles:  Hey, Popeye can you give me a couple more minutes and I’ll be done? No. No, no, no, I’ll be right back. I’ll be right back, okay? We’ll play later. We’ll go shopping. We’ll go shopping right after I’m done. Give a couple more minutes, okay? Thank you.

Sorry about that, he’s trying to bust down the door.

Maximillian Alvarez:  No, that is adorable.

Vince Quiles:  Thank you. All right, so yeah, so where we’re at with this drive? So right, I would say, honestly speaking, if I were to be 100% transparent, I would say right now it’s a tossup. I think that there is ample opportunity to push this all the way through. But I also think that I’ve seen on a very firsthand level the effects of money and how much money can buy you in terms of people’s opinions, in terms of people’s favor. And it’s because what they’ve been able to do is have this sustained onslaught. They brought in a bunch of old managers who curry favor with some people here. They’ve gone, they’ve brought in people from all over the country, store managers, assistant managers, what they call associate relations – I call them the union busters. Which is [inaudible]. We’ve had, boy, I think a regional vice president visits the store maybe once or twice a year, this dude has been here four or five times in the past two weeks.

Maximillian Alvarez:  This homie is posted up greeting people at the front door now, yeah?

Vince Quiles:  Yeah, exactly. Seriously, the fucking district manager, this dude never used to say shit. When I was a supervisor, this dude never said jack shit to me ever. Now he’s talking to me, talking to everybody in the store, jumping on register, talking to people. And everybody was like, I didn’t even know who this dude was. [Max laughs] And what was even crazier about that is this [inaudible] would show, he would at least show up with some frequency. He would show up at least once a week or once every other week. So in that instance he’s like, damn bro, that bad? You have a lot of, oh, this person is the head of this and this person is the head of that. And it’s just like, I remember talking to one person, it was just like, man, they didn’t give two shits about this place. They didn’t give two about this city in terms of coming here and paying it that much attention.

And it’s like, oh, what now that [inaudible] a union effort, now all of this attention is being paid? And they try and say, oh, well it’s because of their voice of the associate survey. Even though it’s funny because if you even hear a fraction of the responses that they give to people, because depending on certain individuals they’ll say, oh, well we’re here because of the voice of the associate survey and to try and fix that. And then other people are like, yeah, no, we’re here because of the union. [Max laughs] And it’s like, y’all can’t even get on the same page with the bullshit that you’re trying to tell people. And one thing that this has helped me to realize and what I’m trying to help other people realize is, honestly, the only difference between them and ourselves is our perception of the situation, and how we perceive ourselves within this system, and how we perceive the power that it’s had.

But I would say this: For a long time they tried to make it seem as if, oh, well people are in power,if you don’t like it, go get another job. Go get a job somewhere else. Whatever, right? That was the attitude for a really long time. That ain’t the attitude now. Now it’s, oh, we’re very sorry, we messed up… This, that, the third. The analogy that I’ve been using with Home Depot, Home Depot is like a cheating spouse. They done cheated on you a whole bunch of times, you’re like, oh, that’s it, I’m done. I’m out the door. I’m done with this shit, I’m tired of you not treating me right. You’re not giving me my respect, that’s it. And then they’re like, now they’re going to buy you the flowers you were looking for and take you on the trip you wanted and buy you the gift, and no, I swear this time it’ll be different. [Max laughs] It’s like, come on. But you had all these chances before, and they love saying like, oh, it’s because of the pandemic. It’s not because of the pandemic, it’s because of how you guys run yourselves.

So they’re running it really, really hard, they’ve started cracking how it is that they separate what people with who, the people who… It’s not even people that are necessarily pro-union. If you’re willing to challenge them and to voice sensitive critiques, yeah, you’re going to be put with other people like that. They’re going to make sure that they don’t put you around the more docile people who are timid and may not really say much. But they know that they’re malleable enough that if you say some of these things in front of them, that’ll be in the back of their mind. What they’ve also done with those individuals is try and put them in smaller groups. Your boy has unfortunately still not been able to be a guest of honor at one of those meetings. But my guess is it’s because of all the numbers that I know, and there’s a bunch of reasons why. But yeah, so I have no reason to expect at this point –

Maximillian Alvarez:  And they’re not letting your ass in there.

Vince Quiles:  Hell no. That’s just like, man. Yeah, so there’s definitely like that, we had to file a charge with the NLRB for surveillance and interrogation because there would just be a lot of following associates around. Anytime you’re having a conversation, they’re jumping up in that conversation, oh, hey guys, what are you talking about? That’s just stuff like that. Again, the propaganda, they’ve got these little PowerPoint presentations that they’re giving everybody. Max, they’re educating people on what it means to be in a union. And you know you can trust them, right?

Maximillian Alvarez:  They just want you guys to have all the facts, right?

Vince Quiles:  They just want you… That’s right, that’s what they put on the paper, get the facts. Just get the facts, right? So when people ask them for the fact sheet that they were reading from, you know what they told them? Not these facts, uh-huh (negative) can’t have those. No, this is confidential. Yeah, I wonder why that’s confidential. They probably are concerned about that for the same reason that they’re concerned with still pulling people, they’ve been doing it now for what? We filed this the last week of September. And literally since then they’ve been interrogating people about how I got the information that I got. Oh, where did Vince get the… I’ve had a reporter hit me up like, yo, I heard a manager got fired from your store because they said he was helping you get information. I’m like, what? That didn’t even happen. It was just like… But it’s again, that’s how pressed they are to try…

And again, you’re not going to address what it is that I’m saying. Because from what I’ve heard, too, people that have called them out on and been like, well, what about the critiques that Vince has made? What do you have to say to that? Is he wrong? Is he wrong about the numbers we’re making? And they’re like, no, he’s not wrong about any of that. But we’re going to tell you why unions are bad and they’re here to steal your money, and they’re not going to do anything. And we’re Home Depot, we do what we want, and we don’t listen to nobody. And it’s like, well, maybe that right there is your problem, that y’all listen to nobody. Maybe if you started to listen to people more you wouldn’t have been in this situation. And what’s crazy is that the metric for success that I hold is not some arbitrary, I’m just pulling this out of thin air being like, you know what? Chris Mall’s got it all right. Yeah.

But that’s the standard, right? It’s not something like that. It’s like, yo, you guys used to do this. Like 20 years ago they used to pay a starting wage of $15, $16 an hour. When people would tell me about individuals who would leave the store, they would leave to become lawyers, they would become professionals in a respective trade, electricians, plumbers, general contractors. They always ended up going and doing something more, because it was pretty much if you worked in retail, you wanted to work at Home Depot. Imagine, there were people that were making, they said that there were supervisors that were making $26, $27 dollars an hour back in 1998. Like, bro, what? You were good making that type of money. And it’s like now as a supervisor, the cap that I had was $18.25 an hour like, what?

And you get into the history of the company. Yeah, there’s… Man that, that’s a whole nother long conversation I’ll probably have to do separately. And you can see from there where it is that they got this idea from, but essentially they consolidated their business. Like you said, they cut costs, they engaged in that corporate culture, and they went… And with this one particular CEO, Bob Nardelli, they were able to pretty much double their revenue. The dude was from GE, that was his thing was consolidating, he was working in tech and you convert a lot to automation. So that was the mentality that he applied there. And so from a business perspective, they were super successful. They were able to grow their business. But it came at the expense of the associates. And then you look at why it is that happened, when it happened. The guys in from 2000 to 2007, 2008, 2009, you have the housing market crash, leads to a recession.

So now you have no real chance to actually fight against that because you’re just going to lose your job. And that was where you saw a lot of starting pay rates drop and everything. And so… Sorry, I know I’m digressing, I’m going to bring it back to this point. But now the reason why this is coming to [inaudible] because I saw this as the best opportunity before we ended up in a situation like that, to where we’d be like, okay, let’s try and fight to organize this place and change this stuff. Because if not, it’s just going to get worse and worse and worse. I mean, they’re definitely fighting like hell to quash this, but I think there’s a mutual understanding that regardless of however this one goes, they know that they lost, because this is now moving across the country. There’s other people who are interested in doing this stuff and in organizing their workplaces at Home Depots. We were able to partner and chat a little bit and brainstorm with those guys over at Lowe’s with our boy Felix over there.

And it’s just, yes. So now we’re just trying to hammer it home. We’re trying to inform people. And yeah, in terms of support for regular people, that’s what’s always difficult. I would say that I have to chalk it up to some of my ignorance in organizing, because I’ve never done any of this stuff before. But I would say just being supportive, a lot of times when people tweet us back or say stuff to some of the stuff that’s tweeted about what’s going on, I go back, I show my coworkers that. We got a way to mass text people, so we’re trying to get that to them, because that makes people feel really good, whenever they’re like, oh, other people care about our struggle.

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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