Tina Sandoval, Fight for $15 | Worker Wisdom in a Changing Climate

Tina Sandoval, cashier at McDonald's in Richmond, and leader of the East Bay Organizing Committee and the Fight for $15 in the Bay Area gardening on the Richmond Greenway in April 2016.

Climate Workers’ recently sat down with Tina Sandoval, cashier at McDonald’s in Richmond and leader in the East Bay Organizing Committee and the Fight for $15 in the Bay Area to talk about the upcoming April 14th fast food worker strike. From farm to plate, warehouse to compost, loading dock to drive thru, food chain workers like Tina are the scholars of this rotten food system, placing them front and center in crafting solutions to the food, climate and economic crises. But Tina’s “Worker Wisdom’ goes way beyond her workplace. Read her interview for fresh and insightful commentary on land, migration, borders, police violence, housing, and gender. Photo by Brooke Anderson.


Climate Workers: Thank you Tina for taking time to talk to Climate Workers. Earlier today, we were weeding at one of Urban Tilth‘s gardens on the Richmond Greenway. You clearly knew what you were doing. Who taught you how to grow food?

Tina Sandoval: My mom. She lives in Michoacán on a big piece of land with cows and vegetables. That’s her thing, her passion. Being out there, cutting the plants, killing weeds. She is very skilled. I like it now too. I was born in the U.S. and grew up in Napa Valley, but I lived with my mom in México for a few years in high school. That’s when I learned to grow things. But also in México, it’s not like someone teaches you, it’s kinda just called common sense, you know?

Climate Workers: Tell me more about your mom.

Tina Sandoval: My mom is Carmen Mendoza. And my dad Francisco Sandoval. They were born in México, in Michoacán, in the tiny town of Atacheo, outside Zamora. My dad came to the U.S. when he was 16 years old as part of the Bracero Program. He worked on the trains and in the grape fields in Napa. When he married my mom, she came to work in the grape fields too. That is what they did, farm work.

Growing up, my mom was the main support of our family. That’s true of so many households. And on top of that, she was a real fighter in the farmworker struggle led by Cesar Chavez. Some of my early memories are on the picket line. I was on my first strike when I was 7 years old. I didn’t know what I was marching for, but my mom was 100% fighting with the UFW union.

Climate Workers: And now see you with your daughter at all of the fast food union events.

Tina Sandoval:  Yes, my daughter, Juliana is 17 and lives here with me in Richmond. And I have a 7-year old son named Adrian… but he isn’t here. He lives with his dad in Puebla, México. I had to leave him there with his dad years ago. Really, it’s awful. I have some ongoing health problems, and with the pay at McDonald’s I can only care for my daughter, not even myself. I simply cannot afford to care for both of my kids living paycheck to paycheck. We are stretching as much as we can, struggling for each paycheck, barely making it to the next paycheck – not living.

And with Adrian in Mexico, I barely see him. It’s so expensive to travel. A week trip is a month’s wages. At least we can visit. I always tell my daughter, “We have our documents. Don’t forget how lucky we are. Your grandfather came here first illegally, undocumented.”  I mean, except for the Native people, all of us are immigrants. But now only some immigrants are the ones who care for the land, wash the dishes, pick the freaking tomatoes. And no offense but it’s really not white people doing that, you know? My family, we are spread all across this stupid border, in California and Mexico, when California used to be Mexico! It just doesn’t make sense. Honestly, if I had the power to do it, I would get rid of these borders. In the end this land is free, and you just can’t keep people in like this forever.

Climate Workers: And now you’re in Richmond. What’s it like here? How is it to work at McDonald’s?

Tina Sandoval: Richmond is a tough city to live in. And this billion-dollar messed-up corporation I work for is part of the problem. My shift is 10PM-6AM, 5 days a week. My paycheck is usually just under $500 for two weeks. Even if I can afford to pay rent with one check, I will have nothing left. And I only rent one room in someone else’s home, which is really hard. Our rent goes up, the bus fare, groceries, our utilities – everything goes up except our salaries! The least McDonald’s could do is let the workers eat their crappy food for free, but we only get 25% off!

Plus they already throw so much food away, but they don’t care that homeless people are living in their parking lot. No, they don’t share. It’s just trash to them. When you know that there’s hungry people all around you and you throw away food… it’s a sin. If we had a union at McDonald’s, I would put a stop to it, for the workers and the homeless. I should know how important that is because I was homeless in a shelter with my daughter for 16 months while I worked at McDonald’s. I could have been one of the people living in their parking lot.

Climate Workers: What do you want McDonald’s corporation to know about the impact of these “McJobs”?

Tina Sandoval: I just want the CEO’s from these corporations to see the conditions our kids live in. We are forced to live in bad environments. Our kids get caught up in the wrong crowd, and you know what can happen. We know about the violence in those streets. We know about the police brutality. It’s right here. For me, it’s so hard because I work nights, and I don’t get to be with Juliana. I don’t always know where she is. It’s really scary sometimes. I hate it when people say these annoying things, “But where were the parents?” Please! It’s not that I don’t want to spend time with my daughter. It’s not that I don’t want her to eat healthier food, or go out to a nice dinner, or get Christmas presents. I just can’t!

Honestly, people think that immigrants come to this country for the “American Dream.” I was born in this country and I’ve never seen this Dream we are supposed to have. It’s just been a nightmare. Maybe it’s a dream for McDonald’s, with their real estate profits and tax evasion and minimum costs of labor, but for the workers it’s a nightmare.

Climate Workers: If you could, would you grow your own food?

Tina Sandoval: Yes. Yes absolutely, I would love that. As I said my mother the farmworker taught me to grow food in Michoacan. But where am I going to grow food now, in my bedroom? I don’t have land, you know? I would plant healthy food in a heartbeat for my family if I could afford decent housing here in Richmond. But I’m broke. Maybe with a living wage, I can get my own yard!

Climate Workers: You have been working at McDonald’s for almost three years, and organizing with the East Bay Organizing Committee. What is EBOC?

Tina Sandoval:  EBOC is the East Bay Organizing Committee, the fast food workers union here in the Bay.  We’ve been around for over 3 years. I am part of the OC (Organizing Committee) locally, a group of workers who lead not just their stores but the whole organization. And I sit on the national Organizing Committee of workers from across the country. We coordinate the actions of our workers in all the cities across the country. These brothers and sisters, here and around the country, they are also my family.

Right now the OC is almost all women. I think that’s important to say because women really lead this fight. We are the providers, we are the caregivers, we are the warriors. Like my mom. The men – and don’t get me wrong, there are great men out there – but the men just aren’t strong like we are. Honestly, I think that God didn’t give men the ability to give birth because he knew men wouldn’t be able to handle it. That’s why it’s such crap that men get paid more than women. They take all the credit but don’t do the work. Sorry dude, but “head of the house” is not a staff position.

Climate Workers: Let’s talk about climate change. We know it’s happening now, that it threatens all life. What role do you think EBOC can play in fighting for climate justice, preparing for climate disaster?

Tina Sandoval:  Wow… I really don’t know. I mean, yes obviously it’s real. My mom used to get horrible allergies from the pesticide chemicals they would dump on the grapes. And my godfather, like many other people, he died so young from cancer. My co-workers are the ones who have the asthma, the heart issues, the unhealthy kids. I know about that, because every day I have to make the choices between buying good food for my daughter or paying rent. Worker’s deserve both good jobs and healthy lives. I mean, what’s the point of winning $15 if we just end up dying of disease anyway?

So you don’t need to tell me climate change is real. And I really hope that climate change never gets that bad, that we still have time to stop it. But in the end, everything changes, whether we want it to or not. I guess for me, EBOC is a family. We support each other through whatever comes. So if it starts to snow in May, then that’s when we pick up the shovel. We are women, right? We are strong. As a movement, look at what we have achieved! In just a couple years, we have raised the minimum wage all across the country. They told us we couldn’t do it, so who’s laughing now?

I just think that if we as a union stay together, we can handle whatever comes. Like for example, right now McDonald’s is trying to replace us cashiers with those stupid ATM-looking machines. To have robots taking customer’s orders! It’s horrible, it’s completely wrong. We don’t need less jobs for workers, we need more jobs, more hours! This union is going to fight for our jobs and against these stupid robots. The only people who benefit from that are the rich people.

Climate Workers: OK, I hear that! Let’s build that union power!  So what’s up with the next big fast food strike on 4/14?

Tina Sandoval: If I could go on strike every day to make a change, I would do it.  For me it’s a big deal, being able to take a stand for my co-workers like this. It’s just in me, it’s what I do. I want to help my co-workers overcome their fear, fight the intimidation of the boss.

So, Thursday, April 14th is the global strike day for fast food workers. EBOC is working hard to turn out our workers and collaborating with other organizations like ACCE to bring the message about housing and displacement. We are going on strike for $15, a union and our homes because fast food workers are being evicted and displaced by these corporations coming in. And rent control is a really big issue now in Richmond and Oakland. So it was really important to stand with tenants on this, and support the fight against Uber, against greedy landlords and bosses. Fast food workers can’t afford Bay Area rents!

All this is why I’m so proud to be part of this fast food worker movement. We take on McDonald’s and the other greedy corporations. But we also help shut down ICE detention facilities in LA, join the police brutality protests here, supported the Black Friday 14, marched on International Women’s Day, led a MLK Day weekend shutdown of McDonald’s to say “Black Worker’s Matter,” and supported restaurant workers fighting wage theft.

We demand immigration reform, #BlackLivesMatter and affordable housing, alongside $15 and a union for all. Because these are all our people, and we won’t leave nobody behind.


Climate Workers: Behind that delicious #2 Burger & Fry Combo is a billion dollar fast food industry that not only erodes our soil, contaminates our water and destroys our health, but also serves up poverty wages and deadly working conditions to millions of fast food workers. As we fight to transition our food system away from industrial farming toward local, sustainable agriculture, we must unite our frontlines with the very workers who plant, harvest, pack, transport, cook, serve, and compost our food. That includes not only backing their call for $15 and a union, but also building with workers like Tina so that they have the power to transform the food industry itself into one that is good for both people and planet, for both their customers and their children.