Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 7 / 15 February 2018

Lesbian SJ labor activist mourned


Yasmin Fernandez
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South Bay labor activists are mourning the death of a lesbian who died recently after years of fighting for local workers to get a $15 minimum wage.

A memorial was held Friday for Yasmin Fernandez, 36, who died September 15. According to the memorial's organizers, Ms. Fernandez had had a heart attack and collapsed the previous day at the South San Jose Panda Express restaurant where she worked.

Ms. Fernandez, who was originally from Mexico, worked in the fast food industry for more than 15 years.

"She was a passionate advocate for her co-workers and community and instrumental in bringing the Fight for $15 movement to San Jose," memorial organizers said in a news release.

In September, Ms. Fernandez, who also worked at a gas station, led what activists called "the largest fast-food worker strike in San Jose history."

In an apparent reference to comments President Donald Trump made on the campaign trail last year, Ms. Fernandez's memorial program includes a quote from her that says, "I have been discriminated against for my sexual preference, and now we have been called criminals, rapists, and our only crime is to work hard to provide a better life to our families."

Elly Matsumura, managing director of the San Jose-based Working Partnerships USA, said in response to the Bay Area Reporter's emailed questions that Ms. Fernandez "was at the forefront of local fights winning minimum wage increases in eight Silicon Valley cities – nearly 120,000 workers will get raises three to four years ahead of the state – and also wage theft protections," among other victories.

Matsumura, who called Ms. Fernandez "a force of nature," said, "Her fundamental cause was asserting the human dignity of people who are dehumanized daily, her community – fast food workers, immigrants, Latinxs, members of the LGBT community. She was so clear, articulate and unconflicted about these values and the need to fight for them that she made others feel bolder in standing up to their bosses and to the Goliaths who run their daily lives."

Ruth Silver Taube, the supervising attorney for the Workers' Rights Clinic at Santa Clara University Law School's Catherine and George Alexander Community Law Center, said in an interview that Ms. Fernandez "played a really oversized role in advocating for Fight for $15 and bringing about change at local fast food restaurants. She was also instrumental in the fight to end wage theft in San Jose."

Taube added that Ms. Fernandez's death is "a huge loss. I'll never forget her."

The day Ms. Fernandez collapsed, no one trained in providing first aid was at the restaurant, which was also "understaffed," said Taube.

Nobody answered the phone Tuesday at the Panda Express where Ms. Fernandez worked, and spokespeople for the restaurant chain didn't answer the B.A.R.'s emailed questions about Ms. Fernandez's death.

Instead, they issued a statement that said, "We are deeply saddened by the untimely passing of a member of our Panda family. We send our sincerest and deepest condolences to her family and loved ones. Out of respect for her family, we are not able to comment further."

Staff at the Santa Clara County Coroner's and Clerk-Recorder's offices said they didn't have any record of Ms. Fernandez's death.

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