“You know how when you’re a kid, you kind of hate where you come from? Not me. It’s actually something I have always been very proud of,” said Jorge Torres. “I’m from Kern County, where Cesar Chavez organized the Delano Grape Worker Strike,” Torres said in reference to the famous strike that began in 1965 when farm workers refused to work picking grapes near Bakersfield, California.
Torres is a Health and Safety Manager and the Site Safety Representative for MWH Webcor. He works on the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission’s (SFPUC) Biosolids Digester Facilities Project (BDFP) in the Bayview-Hunters Point. The project will replace and relocate the outdated existing solids treatment facilities with more reliable, efficient, and modern technologies and facilities at the Southeast Treatment Plant.
On the job, Torres ensures that subcontractors comply with safety standards and have the necessary tools, training, equipment, and resources to work safely.
Reflections on Hispanic Heritage Month
When asked his thoughts on Hispanic Heritage Month, Torres was quick to answer. “For me, this time of year is for reflection. I look at everything that it took to get me where I am today as a first-generation American," Torres said.
Both his parents came from Mexico in the early 1970s and worked picking grapes in Kern County. "They were very involved in the United Farm Workers (UFW) movement. I saw the power of unity and the power of sticking together for a cause you fully believe in. I learned to work for fairness and safe working conditions," Torres explained.
A point of family pride is the fact his grandfather had worked in the United States (US) years before as part of the work program “Bracero Act,” which permitted millions of Mexican people to work legally in the US on short-term labor contracts. “But at the start of the Great Depression, he and my grandmother repatriated to Mexico,” recalled Torres.
Eventually, his grandmother returned to the United States and began the citizenship process for her and her children, including Torres’ young mother, made possible by his grandfather’s previous work in the US. “I didn’t even know about that until I was doing a high school project," Torres recalls. “It’s a blip in world history, but it is a big thing for my family.”
Torres added that he feels a continuous sense of pride for his community. “Every day, I see my culture’s work ethic. We have a strong sense of community. Everywhere I go, I see all kinds of work we are doing, and I see myself in everyone.”
Supporting Local Workers & Students in the Bayview
Torres carries a sense of community to his work at the SFPUC construction site. Through his work at MWH Webcor, Torres supports ongoing free OSHA training for the local Bayview community, an active Safety Recognition program for staff, and a back-to-school drive for a nearby school. “The other day, I saw the list of what we do for the community, and it’s longer than I thought.”
He and his team are also planning construction career days at two Bayview elementary schools. “I want kids to be able to walk up to people who do this work and ask questions, like, ‘what is that machine and what does it do?’”
Torres hopes to arrange field trips to the BDFP site for Bayview 5th graders to see the work in action and hopes they can imagine themselves there one day. “For me, it’s important to get that one-on-one with our kids, to take the time and show what is possible for them.”
Remember ‘Si, Se Puede’
Torres said he encourages young Latinx people to use resources available in school, even if they feel the resources don’t apply to them. “Go in and ask your counselors about programs. Ask what you can do now for your future.” He said he did that when he was young and it made all the difference.
“We have to remember ‘Si, se puede’ from the UFW movement,” Torres added. “‘Yes, we can!’”