By Ann M. Simmons
Sabino Fernandez lost his job assembling auto parts three years ago. With that, he said, he lost his ability to sustain his family.
"My American dream ended because at that moment I had no excuse to share with my family about why I was not able to provide food for the table," said Fernandez, 43, a resident of Compton. "Sometimes my children don't understand what's going on. All they want is something to eat."
Fernandez was among hundreds of people from Los Angeles-area communities who gathered Saturday to share their stories of hardship and to urge local members of Congress to push corporations to help fix the economy and devise ways to put people back to work. Three Democratic U.S. representatives attended the event: Maxine Waters and Karen Bass of Los Angeles and Laura Richardson of Long Beach.
"There is just so much anger and so much frustration," said Refugio Mata, communications coordinator for Good Jobs LA, a coalition that advocates for working families and organized Saturday's Kitchen Table Summit. "We hope that Congress will listen and they will get the focus back on creating jobs."
The recession has slammed Los Angeles County, where 1 in 4 workers are jobless or underemployed, according to Good Jobs LA. This summer, L.A. businesses announced 5,700 layoffs, the jobs advocacy group said.
At the same time, corporations are hoarding almost $2 trillion in cash but failing to invest in jobs, the advocacy group said. The group also cited skyrocketing bonuses for many chief executives and big tax breaks for some of the nation's largest companies.
"I want to know why corporations are not paying their fair share," said Lisa Agcaoili, a part-time teacher who said she supports five grandchildren and hasn't had a pay raise in four years.
Agcaoili joined other forum participants who gathered around tables in the Inglewood High School gymnasium and vented outrage over what they view as government's willingness to cut budgets while protecting tax breaks for profitable corporations. Many residents came looking for answers and advice.
Amed Moore, 46, a father of two who has been on disability for the last year, wanted to find out how "to get on a bandwagon" of people getting positioned to rejoin the workforce. Jonesha Williams, 22, a cosmetology student, was hoping to get some reassurance that work would be available when she finishes her course. Brian Smith, 51, desired to hear "something positive, something with real substance" to keep him motivated in his job search, which has so far lasted three years.
Waters, Richardson and Bass wandered among the tables listening to residents' wants and woes.
"It's most important leaving Washington and coming to L.A. and hearing from people who are hurting, and taking their stories back to Washington and demanding that we have the resources to take the jobs back to these communities," Bass said.
Later, Waters told residents about job fairs the Congressional Black Caucus is organizing nationwide, including one such event scheduled for Aug. 31 in Los Angeles. She encouraged residents to continue their push to make government get big businesses' help to fix the problem.
"You got to stand with me to fight this," Waters said.
LaNordo Conn, 53, wasn't entirely convinced the members of Congress have the community's interest at heart. Homeless and unemployed for three years after losing his job as an architectural designer -- a field in which he worked for more than two decades -- Conn challenged the congresswomen to take a pay cut or try living without a roof over their heads for a week.
Fernandez, the former auto parts assembler, invited the congresswomen to visit communities to see firsthand how people are struggling.
Richardson didn't take up the challenge of being homeless but offered to accompany Conn to the upcoming L.A. job fair in hopes of helping him find work. She also agreed to spend time with Fernandez in his Compton neighborhood next weekend.
After the forum, scores of poster-waving residents marched on local businesses, urging them to sign a petition supporting efforts to create good jobs.