Community Leader: Andrés Gallegos

Andrés Gallegos joined the Long Beach Coalition for Good Jobs and a Healthy Community in early 2009. He views his involvement in the Coalition as a continuation of the community work he’s been involved in virtually all of his life: the son of activist parents, he learned from a young age to value civic engagement, seeing it as a way for people who are often ignored or silenced to shape their own futures.

After graduating from Pomona College, Andrés moved to Long Beach and began working at the front desk of the Hilton Long Beach hotel. He lives with a roommate, which helps defray the costs of renting in Long Beach—a challenge for any young person on a budget, but particularly for someone in an industry that does not often offer affordable health benefits or a living wage.

Andrés joined the Coalition because he wants to see conditions improve for the people who work in the service industry in Long Beach. In particular, Andrés has watched the Downtown area of Long Beach transform under the watch of city officials who continue to favor the tourism industry with subsidies, tax breaks, and special treatment. “This extra attention that the downtown area receives is unheard of in other parts of Long Beach. Most of my coworkers live north or east of Downtown, and we all know that the money dropped here is nonexistent on our streets and in our homes. It’s a disparity that is absolutely frustrating and that a lot of folks really wish they could change. We just need to know how.”

His fellow workers frequently struggle with high rents and low wages, and unlike Andrés, many of them are raising families. Andrés knows that as wages rise, entire communities benefit; families will be able to afford more than mere basic necessities and can reinvest in their local communities. Similarly, when employers provide health benefits, it means that families no longer have to rely on public assistance programs for care.

“The city has worked so hard to help these companies succeed, but we need to realize it’s at our expense. The city should wake up and realize it’s losing money when our communities—who work here, spend here, and raise families here—aren’t getting anything back.” Andrés finds it disappointing that redevelopment over the last decade has left other areas of the city to make do with far less investment. Like many Coalition members, he understands that the best solution is to change the way the city deals with tourism development, specifically by encouraging businesses which accept taxpayer subsidies to guarantee good wages and high environmental standards. Though he knows that creating systemic change in Long Beach will be a years-long challenge, Andrés is still hopeful. “The thing about Long Beach is that you can’t ignore the poverty here,” Andrés  says. “It really is like two different cities, and everyone can see it. Hopefully, that makes people want to confront it, and fix it.”

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