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Venorica Tucker

Venorica shares how the pandemic created and exacerbated insecurity for food workers. “We don't have some people who were finally buying a home, and then they were worried about whether they were going to lose that opportunity. So we would meet. I knew nothing about Zoom, but I learned, learned a little bit about it. So I'd say to folks, listen, we're going to have to meet every week and we're going to talk and we're going to find out what it is you need, what it is any of our coworkers and friends can share with you that could maybe make your situation better.”
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Venorica Tucker

Speaker 1 (00:02):

All right. Today is May 9th, 2024. It’s 5:00 PM I’m here with Ms. V. Thank you so much for joining us as very part of the story collection process for our stories, our justice. Just really briefly, if you could give me some biographical data, your date of birth or year of birth, if you prefer, where you were born and then when you moved to dc. 

Speaker 2 (00:31):

I am a Washingtonian native Washingtonian born in the district. I’ve lived all over the city. I was born October 17th, 1948. 

Speaker 1 (00:43):

Okay, wonderful, wonderful. And then what is your full name for the record? 

Speaker 2 (00:48):

Venorica Tucker. 

Speaker 1 (00:51):

Tucker. Any relation to Pamela Tucker, by chance? 

Speaker 2 (00:54):

I don’t think so. 

Speaker 1 (00:57):

Family Tucker was a statistician. She taught it during Anacostia High School for a long time, long, long time. I’m wondering, is there an ancestor or a woman in your life or someone maybe we sort of DFI in everyday society that played a role in how you got here today? 

Speaker 2 (01:23):

I have an aunt. I had an aunt. She’s gone on, transitioned on years ago, but my aunt, her name was Arle Barnhill, and she was born in South Carolina and came to the District of Columbia to live near her sister. Her sister moved here and she came to DC to live near her sister. So she was an activist, well, before I knew what activism really was and is she would go to the courthouse and pick up young men, young women, but mainly young men who had sort of gone in the wrong direction and needed some help. She would go down and she would talk to the judges, and she would say, well, you’ve got one of my neighbor’s sons down here. And she’d say, I can give him some guidance, and she would go and collect these people, pay their fines, and bring them on out, maybe make them do some yard work in the neighbor’s homes in the community. 

Speaker 2 (02:42):

She would say things like, Mr. Jones doesn’t have any help over there where he lives, and he needs to get that grass cut, see how it’s looking. And he didn’t have to pay back the fine. She felt that that was what you needed to do. Armen, we used to call her Aunt, aunt, aunt, aunt Barney because her last name was Barnhill, and so she didn’t have children. So all the nephews and nieces and the kids in the neighborhood had her. She’d step in and shoot. She’d sometimes step over what the parents might say, oh no, this kid needs little more direction than you giving them. 

Speaker 2 (03:31):

So I learned from her. I learned a lot from her, and I learned how important it is to be family to people that are not necessarily a family. And so that’s pretty much how I got pointed in this direction. Yeah, yeah. And can you tell me a little bit about the work you have been doing over the last few years? Sure. I’ll tell you recently with the pandemic, I discovered that if I was having problems, I knew my coworkers were having problems as well. I work in the hospitality industry as a bartender and a waiter, and I’ve done that for years. So I started having meetings with my coworkers and some people, just people that I knew that were in the industry. We would’ve meetings on Fridays and on Mondays, and at those meetings, we’d sit and talk about what their situations were. Are you having problems with your rent? 

Speaker 2 (04:29):

Are you having problems with keeping food in the house? Do you have any medical needs that are not being able to be met? Because now with this pandemic, we don’t have insurance in our jobs any longer. We don’t have some people were finally buying a home, and then they were worried about whether they were going to lose that opportunity. So we would meet. I knew nothing about Zoom, but I learned, learned a little bit about it. So I’d say to folks, listen, we’re going to have to meet every week and we’re going to talk and we’re going to find out what it is you need, what it is any of our coworkers and friends can share with you that could maybe make your situation better. So we would find out what church had food pantries and who was giving out free food on Saturdays and what they were giving. So we would have a list and say, okay, well, these people have meats and they have fish. These people over here have fresh fruits and vegetables, so we are going to put something together. People don’t have cars. We’ll figure out how we can pick up people and take them so that they can get what they need. 

Speaker 2 (05:45):

Many of my coworkers had no clue. Sorry, that’s me. Many of my coworkers had no clue about how to do unemployment. So we’d say, wait a, have you ever done unemployment? Have you ever filed for it? So some did, some had, some hadn’t. So we would put together, will you go to see at unemployment? How do you fill out the application? When do you need to put it in by? And I would always say to my coworkers and friends, I’d say, this doesn’t last forever. So what are we going to do as we approach it ending? 

Speaker 2 (06:23):

How can we be prepared for when it ends? So my thinking is you don’t need to wait until just before it ends. You need to start planning as soon as you think about it. So one of my coworkers, I told her, I said, look, I went to an event. It was at the Warman Park Marriott. I said, I went there and I listened to this brother speak about philanthropy. He said, people that are black don’t think they can get help through philanthropy. He said, that’s really not true. He said, you can get some help. You just have to know it. Believe it, do it. So I went to a couple of places that I had been associated with. One was this program called Consumer Health Foundation. It’s now called if, and I’ve gone to some retreats with them, done a few things with them. I was impressed with who these people were, and so I told ’em, I said, I was thinking that we can put together something for my coworkers and myself and anybody who is in need, we can figure out how to do this. 

Speaker 2 (07:32):

So I told them what my thoughts were on it, and the lady who was there at the time, y unique Redwood, real nice woman, and I gave her my idea. I said, this is what I want to do. I think we can do this. So we did it. We went and she put together what she called a table, and it was a table of workers who in the DMV, who of mind. So we discussed with them how we wanted to make this happen, and we made it happen. We got 75 people and the 75 workers that we got, we didn’t go through the regular processes that people go through, oh, you got to fill out this and has to be done in triplicate and you have to do this. We didn’t do any of that. We just said, we know some people because we’ve worked with them, or we’ve heard other people who’ve worked with them, and we know that their struggle is real and we want to help them as we help ourselves and others. And so we found 75 people, I think they said they would meet with us and deal with 50 people. 

Speaker 2 (08:43):

I said, well, I got much more than 50 so I could give you a hundred people. Because previously I had done several organizations in the city were saying, okay, there’s a program called, what’s that program? It’s from dc. I work with Rock dc. And so from DC there’s a program. I was trying to find money to help folks, and whenever they would get a little money, they’d say, okay, can you get some people? Of course I can get some people. That’s a crazy question. So we got people and we helped them with $500. It’s a one-time deal, gave ’em $500 to help them make their load lighter. And then I rock DC got some extra money from some source, and they said, we got $300. We want to give 300. Pretty much the same people because 500 doesn’t last forever. So we told them about those same people. They got their information and they got some help. So when we did our program, our program is Let’s go DMV, and the reason it’s let’s go DMV is because it’s a guaranteed income program. But I was thinking, why would we only say for the District of Columbia? I don’t live in dc. I was born here, raised here, but I don’t live here. I can’t afford to live here. 

Speaker 2 (10:12):

I was living in Alexandria at that time. And so what happened was many people that were affiliated with us while they worked in a district in food service, they lived in Washington, Maryland, and Virginia. So it was pretty good to be able to sell folks on the idea, the people behind the scenes, and sell them on the idea of let’s do this for Washington, Maryland, and Virginia workers who happen to live someplace else. They live in Maryland or they live in Virginia, but they work in dc. When you get to fill out unemployment, they don’t ask you where you live. They ask you where you work. So we attempted to do that. Everybody tried to shoot us down. Oh, no, no, no, no, you can’t do dc, Maryland and Virginia. They don’t work like that. They don’t work together. And I said, well, that’s kind of crazy because every day during the pandemic, Bowser, and I think that was the governor of Virginia. Virginia and Maryland, it was like Ralph Northam, I think at the time. Yeah, it was north. And in Maryland, you had Hogan. They would meet around noon every day, and you would see them talk about the pandemic and how it was affecting them. And I said, well, hell, they don’t cut people off at the bridge. These people, the same people. So while folks kept saying no, they finally said yes. And so with yes, we did. We developed our program, which was let’s go DMV. And so we’ve been doing it for three. 

Speaker 1 (11:54):

That’s fantastic. Universal basic income, is it still 

Speaker 2 (11:59):

We’re call ’em universal basic income. We call it guaranteed basic income. 

Speaker 1 (12:03):

Guaranteed basic income. Gotcha. 

Speaker 2 (12:05):

With the hope of being able to get the government involved in supporting it presently, the government has not signed on for that yet, but we are hopeful. 

Speaker 1 (12:19):

Yeah. Fantastic. Fantastic. I’m wondering, one, are you familiar with the history of Ruby Duncan and that Ms Horn? 

Speaker 2 (12:27):

Not really. Okay. 

Speaker 1 (12:29):

What about the National Welfare Rights Organization? Okay. So then thinking about their work, the work of welfare mothers at the time, I’m wondering if you can speak to how that activism resonates with the challenges faced by the communities that you work with today? 

Speaker 2 (12:50):

Well, I don’t know if I can speak to that clearly enough, but I would say what we have done is we have been outside on the streets, various communities throughout the DMV, it, it’s disappointing to hear citizens of this area say that it’s a bunch of greedy people who simply want a freebie, who want something for nothing, who don’t want to work anyway. So you offering them some money and they’re happy to take it, but you’re not helping them by giving them a freebie. We say to people who say that the majority of people that you offer any assistance to, what do they do with the money? They take care of their families, they feed them, they provide shelter for them, clothing, that’s what it is. Or health concerns get taken care of because you now have the funds to be able to do that. And if you were to say, well, I’d like to take some of these kids to the park or take some of these kids on a vacation, are they not deserving of some of that? Of course they are. And maybe they’ve never had a vacation. Maybe they’ve never experienced little extras that everybody, some people take for granted all the time. They can afford those things. So pretty much, 

Speaker 1 (14:16):

Yeah. I know we’ve sort of talked about the pandemic as this particular moment, either there or at another moment in your life, was there a time or an interaction that you had with a person that inspired you to step up and be a leader? 

Speaker 2 (14:35):

When I was five years old, probably all my life. I remember in grade school, these girls’ twins, one had a handicap and she was like, I think she might have had cerebral palsy or something like that. And people were mean to her, makes think hell. Where do they come from being mean to this kid who has a condition that she has no control over? Why would people treat her like that? So maybe Arlene Barnhill came out in me at that time to make me believe that it’s important to help people. It’s important. Somebody’s going to help you, they’re going to help your kid, they’re going to help. It goes around and it comes back. So I felt the need to just be there and help when you can help. I mean, we’re on planet earth together. So I just think that that’s what we are here to do. We have to help each other. 

Speaker 1 (15:36):

Absolutely. Absolutely. And then to close, I’m wondering if you can tell me about the biggest challenge you faced in your work, and either how you were able to overcome it or what that challenge looks like in the moment. 

Speaker 2 (15:54):

Well, the biggest challenge I had to face at work is that for 30 years, I have been a shop steward. I believe in unions, but I don’t believe in bad leadership. If you’ve got bad people representing you in your union, you may as well not have one. Because I mean, what are you getting? And it’s a sad thing. I fell in love with A Philip Randolph. This dude was just like he was, was it? And so when I see people that are not willing to go that distance, I see people who will get kicked around, smacked around, and they feel they don’t have any recourse. I feel sad. I really do. I just feel that you have to step up, stand up and do whatever is necessary in order to be successful. 

Speaker 2 (16:51):

So I was fired from my job of 35 years a year ago. Wow. I was fired from the job because I was doing union, conducting union business. A company came in and took over our job. So the company that was there, we’d already broke them in and got them on the right track. And when they left and we had to be placed into the hands of this other company. And I came in, I was a shock steward when I came in because I’d already been working with the previous company there. I worked at the US House of Representatives. It’s supposed to be a place where bills are made and people are supposedly treated decently. No, nah, not. So, anyways, so I would tell the company that we were now working for, listen, you said you were coming in and you would follow the rules that were in place already until such time as you could get a contract created and agreed upon from the union workers, the union officials, and yourself. 

Speaker 2 (18:05):

I said, these are the things you agreed to do, and then now you’re not doing them. So you’re doing this little pick and choose thing. You’ll, okay, I like that guy right there. I think I’ll give him that insurance that he needs, but I’m not going to give it to her. I don’t like her. I don’t like her attitude. And we say, no, no, no, you can’t do that. You said you’re going to follow the contract as it is until you could put one in place, and now you’re saying Uhuh not going to do it. So when they did those things, I called them on everything they did. I didn’t call ’em cussing them out. I didn’t call them wanting to fight. I called them and said, no, you can’t do that. You can’t tell him he can have insurance, and you can’t tell me that you like me and you’re going to give me something, but you won’t give it to this person and that person. 

Speaker 2 (18:53):

It’s not going to work. So they did a lot of crazy things. We had a pension, pension plan. They didn’t take the money after the pension. Well, what good does that do me when I go to collect mine? So I call them on all those things. And so what did they do? They figured out a way to get rid of me. If I had a good union, they couldn’t have done that because my good union would’ve said, no, not going to do that. Right. So that’s where a current thing that has happened. I went to arbitration. I believe that the arbitrator had dementia or something. I don’t know. He had some kind of issue that he can’t see reality. So he said, didn’t, the union’s lawyer didn’t prove their case. So I lost, but I recognized the need to do something more. I couldn’t give up. 

Speaker 2 (19:52):

I couldn’t, just couldn’t. It’s not in me. So I had already gone to the National Labor Relations Board, and so I had them lined up to do more. And that’s where I’m at right now, waiting on them to conclude that they either support what I’m saying or they don’t. And if they say they don’t, well, even if they say they do, I will. More than likely. If they do and I get all back monies and everything, I’ll take most of that money and go to court. Because you can’t let people walk over people if they continue to walk over you. That’s not a good look. Yeah, absolutely. Ms fee, thank you so much for taking this time with me. Oh, you’re very welcome. I hope I helped. Absolutely. You were wonderful. Thank you. Can I shake your hand? Yeah, absolutely. Thank you. Thank you.

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