Promoting Safety and Health for Buffalo Workers

July 12, 2018
Hannah Bollinger

Before every Friday panel discussion and each Wednesday dinner conversation, Megan Connelly, our High Road Fellowship director, proudly states, “Buffalo’s greatest asset is our people.” These words set the tone of discussion and generate a slightly quieter silence as people reflect. My first four weeks on the high road have been about engaging and understanding the meaning of an “asset” and its relation to value.

 

Entering Buffalo this summer, I was less aware of the role values and assets play in my life. I knew I’d picked up certain values from my parents, school, or reading, but I wasn’t sure (and I’m still not sure) how I made those decisions or decided what was of value to me. The only common element was that I’d made those judgements based on what I knew or what had been taught to me by others. My values were (and still are) defined by individual experiences and interactions with others.

 

If every individual’s notion of value is determined by what they know, the definitions of value and assets become infinite and almost incomprehensible. I began to question how Megan’s reminder of our “assets” fit in if asset and value have different meaning to everyone. 

 

Through conversations with my colleagues, researching temp workers online, and engaging in outreach, I’ve had a few moments that reframed my understanding of assets and value. In the pre-course, we discussed that although narratives of growth framed in terms of cents and dollars are measurable, it’s nearly impossible to measure values and morals. I carried this thought with me as I began my placement.

 

This summer I am working with the Western New York Council on Occupational Safety and Health (WNYCOSH) Worker Center. Our mission is to promote safety and health at work through training, education, and advocacy. The goal of my summer project is to research and interview temp workers in the Buffalo community to better understand their prevalence, their precariousness, and how their experiences compare to those of temp workers across the country. One body of research I’ve encountered is about treating employees as assets and valuable beings that, when treated with dignity and respect, will best help an organization function and profit. Although this research draws in elements of quantifiable of value, the message of cultivating well-being began to inform my understanding of Buffalo’s model of assets.

 

Complexifying the narrative of growth in the precourse and reading about the asset model, I finally found a (partial) answer during outreach. Outreach entails setting up a table at festivals, town hubs, and churches and providing information about our organization. For the most part, people walk by and smile politely. Yet, the occasional drifter will walk by, greet us, and say, “Oh, I had that problem on the job.” Listening and engaging with others has showed me that everyone has something to add, it’s just a matter of recognizing that talent.

 

Moments like these have added the most value to my summer and have added another dimension to my conceptualization of value and assets. Buffalo’s greatest asset are the people that make the city run. When I commute to work, I see the faces of everyone that puts the city in action. When I walk downtown, I pass by Assemblyman Ryan and the speaker I heard at an event the night before. My values and understanding of assets will always be fluid, but thinking about the people, about our assets and what we, as assets, can do for each other generates a new discussion I look forward to exploring the next half of this summer.