Metro's Best of Silicon Valley 2002

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[whitespace] Amy Dean
Photograph by Paul Myers

Amy Dean

Workin' for a Living

By Michael S. Gant

BEING A LABOR LEADER means, well, laboring. Amy Dean, executive officer for the South Bay AFL-CIO Labor Council, has lived in San Jose since 1991, which should make her an expert on local "bests." But as she admits, when asked about the best place in town to unwind, "I have no recreational life in San Jose," because she spends so much time working on workers' issues.

In addition to her Labor Council duties, the Willow Glenite is also the founding director for Working Partnerships U.S.A., a group that tries to bridge the sometimes yawning chasm between community needs and the larger forces of economic development. Dean also sits on the statewide board of governors for the community college system.

Did we mention that she's also the mother of Teddy, "a smart, sassy and soulful 4-1/2-year-old"? We would have understood if Amy couldn't fit us into our schedule until, oh, say 2005, but she was gracious enough to help in our search for the this year's Best-Ofs. She even went so far as to tell us, after almost every query, "That's a really great question," which made us feel like not so much of a slacker by comparison.

Metro: Who are your favorite local heroes?

Dean: Former San Jose Mayor Susan Hammer, Rabbi Melanie Aron and Fred Hirsh, activist & member of Plumbers & Steamfitters Local 393. During Susan's tenure at City Hall, no community voices went unheard. Everyone had a seat at the table--not token representation, but real voice. Rabbi Aron is the senior rabbi at Congregation Shir Hadash. She is also an active member and past chairperson of the Interfaith Council on Race, Religion, Economic and Social Justice (TIC). Over the years that I have had a chance to work with Melanie, she's played an important role in creating a moral voice around issues of social and economic justice in Silicon Valley.

Besides sharing my exact birth date (but 30 years older), Fred Hirsh is the most dedicated activist and volunteer in our local labor movement. The morning before the 1998 City Council elections, I walked in to my office only to find Fred camped out. He never went home the night before, because he wanted to make sure our door hangers for precinct walking were ready for the first shifts of volunteers who were coming in.

What do you think is the best local labor measure?

The living wage. There are three primary reasons why this was the best measure the city ever passed. First, it guarantees at least a family-sustaining wage--and health benefits--to every employee of the city of San Jose and to employees of firms that contract with the city to provide services. Second, it creates greater employment security for contract employees. In other words, if the city awards a contract to a different company, the employees retain their jobs even though the contract has changed contractors. We know in today's economy--with so many people working on a part-time or contract basis--that public policies that increase employment security are vital. Third, the policy allows the city to review the labor relations history of potential contractors. This encourages firms to meet high labor relations standards, such as remaining neutral when employees who want to have a voice at work decide to organize some form of association at their workplace.

Given that so many dotcommers and high-tech workers are looking at finding new jobs, what's the best place to get some occupational training?

Our local community college system. The community colleges offer the most comprehensive network of training programs, as well as a network of support--and union training and apprenticeship programs.

Where do you go for a working-person's lunch?

The real truth is that I rarely have time to have lunch. You can usually catch me eating a burrito at my desk during the week. When I do have lunch meetings, I like to go to Original Joe's. OJ's is old-school, and the waiters and waitresses get paid a living wage and have health care. There's something about knowing that the people waiting on you are taken care that lets me enjoy my meal so much more!

What are the best places to shop in the valley?

Since my son likes dinosaurs, I can tell you the best place to buy dinosaurs. The Learning Express at the Westgate Mall has the best selection. The one on Santa Teresa is good too. For myself, I love to collect antique union buttons. I get them on eBay; I'm a junkie for eBay. I have a collection of a little over a hundred, including buttons from the Oysterman's Union of Bivale, N.J., and the Boot and Shoemakers Workers Union from 1869. I even have the first medallion from the founding convention for the United Farmworkers Convention in Fresno.

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From the October 10-16, 2002 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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