The New Amsterdam Theatre has been showcasing great extravaganzas for over a century and, besides legendary entertainers such as Fanny Brice, Olive Thomas and Basil Rathbone, it has depended on people like Simon Torres to care for its audiences.
Torres, 45, of East Harlem, is a show porter at the landmarked theater on 42nd Street, between Seventh and Eighth Avenues in Manhattan’s Theater District.
“We work when the show is running to make sure everything is clean and working properly,” Torres said. “We take care of the guests. Tourists come to us and ask about the city or the history of the theater.”
Torres, a member of 32BJ SEIU, embarked on an adventure this summer that has enlightened and empowered him. He became a Member Political Organizer, helping rally 32BJ members to volunteer to elect political leaders in the city friendly to issues affecting working people.
“I am trying to build power by supporting other workers in different industries in 32BJ,” Torres explained. “Politics is an extension of that. Whoever has that power can change people’s lives. Having 32BJ involved in politics means we have the power to change a lot of things citywide.”
The Member Political Organizer (MPO) program gives 32BJ members the opportunity to work as a political organizer on a campaign. MPOs, working on the front lines of our struggle to make politics work for working people, are trained to be forceful advocates for the cause of building up service workers and all working families.
Some of the other things MPOs do include working to energize other members to get politically involved, talking to members about issues that affect their lives; recruiting volunteers; canvassing door-to-door for 32BJ’s candidates for public office; and registering members to vote and get out the vote on election day.
The experience of going door-to-door to meet 32BJ members has also opened his eyes. He recounted walking down the street wearing a jacket with the union logo stitched to its breast pocket and having people calling out to him: “32BJ!”
“These people don’t know my name but they know 32BJ,” he said. “It shows we have power. Not just economic, through our contracts, but social too. It made me feel good.”
He has found that 32BJ members are receptive when he’s trying to get them to volunteer. This, he said, is important to him.
“Whatever happens to others happens to me,” he said. “If we fail in one of these fights, then I’ve failed.”
This is just the way Torres thinks. Born in the Dominican Republic, he came to the city and landed the job on Broadway. He has allowed the work to nourish him as he has worked to make the city a better place.
“As an immigrant, I feel I am representing New York. Broadway shows are our city’s main attraction and, for me, it brings me in contact with people from all over the world. Every time I help someone, I feel like I am helping the whole world,” Torres said.