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AFL-CIO Convention Attendees Create Cardboard Cutouts of Workers to Make Invisible Work Visible

Photo of UFCW member at the cardboard cutout action.

The term “banana scanner” sticks in Jackie Gitmed’s throat. It’s what she and other members of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 770 were called during the strike and lockout nearly 10 years ago.

“They said we were ignorant and overpaid and didn’t deserve any better,” Gitmed says, as she and three friends, all of Local 770, first drew and then painted a life-size image of a grocery bagger on cardboard in one of the Monday action sessions at the 2013 AFL-CIO Convention in Los Angeles.

The session was led by Ramiro Gomez, who began the presentation by telling the story of how he transformed his own life with, he says, the art of “interruption.”

Until his cardboard cutouts portraying immigrant workers began to attract attention in public places in Beverly Hills and around Los Angeles, Gomez was a typical young live-in nanny. He had dropped out of college and needed a job, he says.

He told of seeing a gardener with a leaf blower maintaining the grounds of a fancy home. He photographed the gardener and then made a cutout based on the image. He put the cutout where he had seen the man working, on the lawn next to a house.

“It represented a man with a leaf blower, but he’s more than a man with a leaf blower. He has a family. He’s a person,” he says.

“You’ve got to just get the idea out of your head, turn it into something tangible, and put it where you want someone to see it. And that’s it, you let go,” he says. “You’re taking an idea and throwing it into the universe, into space.”

The cardboard cutouts prompt people to see and notice workers who are often practically invisible. The cutouts spark conversations about work.

Gitmed and the UFCW crew identified with feeling invisible. She was a cashier for 37 years at a Ralphs in Los Angeles. The work had lost much of its human touch and had become increasingly robotic, she says, as store managers pushed for ever-greater efficiency and productivity.

Some 35 people took part in the action session. The plan was to make a bunch of cardboard cutouts and then put them in public places around Los Angeles. Stay tuned for updates from the street part of this action later. 

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