Making a Bad Job Better

Lydia Flores took her two sons to Chuck E Cheese’s, the pizza place with carnival games where young families celebrate birthdays.

“We forgot about the bills and just played games. It was a good thing. We hardly ever get to do things like that,” Flores said.

The 38-year-old single mom has a full plate. She’s active in her union, Local 770 of the United Food and Commercial Workers. She’s a cashier at an El Super in Arleta, CA where she wishes she could get a steady 40-hour week. That requires reaching a first contract with the stone-walling company, which has been been stalling its employees for years.

When you talk with Flores, you wonder how she does it all. Being an active volunteer and managing two teenage boys is hard enough, but her younger son, Matthew, is autistic and has seizures and other health problems. He was born unconscious and suffering a seizure. Today, Matthew doesn’t speak and can’t read or write but is potty trained and loves to hug people. He needs constant medical care and attention. If he’s ignored, he’ll bang his chin on his hand or worse. Still, he’s a cute boy, a darling.

“Recently he was diagnosed with microcephaly… he’s a great big kid with a little ol’ head,” Flores said with a laugh. “He’s learning how to tie his shoes, but he can’t yet make a loop.”

Her 17-year-old son Justin helps out. He’s doing well in school, following in the footsteps of his older brother, who’s 23 and pursuing his dream of becoming a chef.

Managing. That’s the hard part when you don’t have enough to go around. Sometimes she can’t pay the bills on time. The lights have been turned off. That makes it harder on the kids.

“You need light to see to do your homework,” she said.

Flores doesn’t want charity. She wants to earn what’s fair from her work at a profitable corporation. She wants her employer to follow the law. She’d love to make a little more than $12.88 per hour, which is what she gets today. Health care would be a blessing, too, particularly because her own health, too often, is what gives.

“I’m a person who’s had a stroke, so I’m weak on my left side,” Flores said. At work, she tries to do everything with her right hand.

Someday, she’d like to open a daycare. After Matthew was born, she went to community college to study childhood development. She loved it. A daycare would be perfect for her.

“That’s my dream,” she said. “And I’d like to spend more time with my sons.”

By Robert Struckman