Issued April 25, 2020
NATIONWIDE -- Nearly 20,000 workers came together Saturday for a tele-town hall to hear from Senator Warren and launch four major demands of Congress ahead of the next major COVID-19 relief bill. The more than 19,500 workers in attendance cut across industries that play critical roles in slowing the pandemic and keeping our country running. Home care workers, doctors, nurses, social workers, security officers, education support staff, delivery drivers and more concluded their testimonials with the same statement: “I am an essential worker.”
“We have to recognize what you do,” Speaker Pelosi told workers on the Protect All Workers Tele-Town hall. “The custodians of our children. The facilitators of our lives. The protectors of the safety of our community. Our health and well-being. It’s who we are as a nation… It just is amazing to me that corporate America doesn’t know how much better they would be if they had workers at the table. In other countries, they do. It is an advantage. We’re going to have to make sure that in everything we do, there is no loss of wages, benefits, hours -- and as we had in our first bill -- to ensure collective bargaining. That is essential.”
Speaker Pelosi ran through all four categories of workers’ demands and outlined ways in which Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives are working to address each of them.
“We don’t agonize, we organize -- and you know what -- we unionize,” Speaker Pelosi continued. “That is the strength of America’s workforce and therefore the backbone of our democracy.”
The event -- Protect All Workers Tele-Town Hall: We Are Always Essential -- was organized by Protect All Workers, a campaign of millions of service and care workers in the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and the Fight for $15 and a Union. The town hall also brought together essential workers with the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), American Federation of Teachers (AFT), American Postal Workers Union (APWU), Communications Workers of America (CWA), International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT) and the National Education Association (NEA). These essential workers also came from all backgrounds -- all races and regions of the country were represented as workers pressed top leaders on how they’ll do more to support working people.
“This is an extremely challenging time for our country. Even before this pandemic, too many families were already struggling to stay afloat,” Sen. Warren told workers. “I’m fighting in Congress to make sure that everyone can stay safe and whole during this time. But let’s be clear about this: we need to do it in a way that makes structural change so that families don’t have to live crisis to crisis. As you know Congress is working on the next stimulus package. And one of my top priorities is getting serious protections and benefits in place for essential workers…”
“We need essential workers, unions, and worker organizations at the table, designing safety standards and designing responses to this crisis,” Sen. Warren continued. “And that’s every place from individual worksites all the way up to the White House Task Force on Coronavirus. I see it this way: you see the needs and problems firsthand, and you should be helping develop the solutions.”
Bridget Hughes, a longtime leader in the Fight for $15 and a Union from Kansas City, moderated the town hall and engaged with Speaker Pelosi and Sen. Warren. Hughes works two fast-food jobs, including at McDonald’s, to support her three children.
“This is about us, the people who are working to keep this country fed, keep this country clean, keep this country safe and healthy,” Hughes told fellow workers attending the tele-town hall. “It is time for us to have a say about what America needs to do to protect us. A lot of people who used to look down on us for having a service industry job all of a sudden understand that this country doesn’t function unless we go to work.”
WORKERS LAUNCH DEMANDS FOR U.S. SENATE, HOUSE, WHITE HOUSE
During the tele-town hall, workers outlined four broad demands for the next major relief package that put working people ahead of corporate CEOs. Over the coming days and weeks, workers will drive calls to members of Congress, engage in a social media campaign and host a set of virtual town halls with Senators and Representatives to ensure these demands are included in the next piece of coronavirus relief legislation passed by Congress.
“One of the primary priorities of the American people, of the labor movement, of the governors and mayors, Democrats and Republicans, is the safety and the health of our essential workers,” said Speaker Pelosi when responding to the demands. “We aren’t worthy to thank you and pray for you unless we’re willing to support you in a very substantial way.”
The demands come directly from workers on the front lines of the COVID-19 crisis, many of whom shared their experiences during Saturday’s tele-town hall.
“All my clients are typically 65 and older, my oldest client is 107. We serve the most vulnerable populations, they’re not able to go to the grocery store on their own and they’re running low on food.,” said Cheylynda Banard, a social worker for Adult Protective Services in Riverside County, Calif. “We are asked to work from home. But in emergency situations, when we do go out to the homes, we don’t have enough PPE. Some of my clients understand and some of them don’t, they want to hug us and shake our hands to thank us. Unless there is state and local funding incorporated in emergency relief packages, workers like myself will be laid off. And then who will take care of our vulnerable populations?”
“This crisis has exposed the haves and have nots and it’s horrible,” said Vanessa Jiminez, an educational support professional from Phoenix, Ariz. “On an average day, I do school visits and coordinate with community liaisons. Since the COVID-19 crisis, I have worked with leadership, bus drivers, food service workers, and security assistants to make sure they have what they need to deliver meals to our families. In district or not, if they’re under 18, we’re feeding them.”
80% OF NURSES LACK PPE: FRONTLINE SERVICE AND CARE WORKERS TAKE ACTION
During Saturday’s town hall and in the weeks preceding it, frontline workers across industries have come together to raise alarms over harrowing working conditions, a pitiful lack of PPE and more. SEIU, the largest union of healthcare workers, released a survey Friday illustrating that more than 80% of nurses still don’t have access to vital PPE, more than two full months after COVID-19 appeared in the U.S. The national survey of 1,000 nurses found that:
“Everything we’ve learned about infectious diseases has been thrown out the window,” said Sherri Dayton, a longtime registered nurse. “We are made to reuse our masks and gowns with potential contaminants going in and out of patients’ rooms; and from house to house. I am self-isolating, so I don’t expose my elderly father, but I fear that I give it to my patients who are immune-compromised.”
As Law360 recently reported, “A dearth of protections for fast food workers, subway operators and other essential workers who continue to toil on the front lines of the coronavirus outbreak has triggered a wave of strikes and walk-offs that experts say will not only persist through the pandemic but also have long-term reverberations.”
Healthcare workers organized the largest one-day protest demanding PPE, they’ve blown the whistle on hospitals ignoring safety protocol, and are urging people to stay home as anti-lockdown rallies emerge. McDonald’s workers have gone on strike and inspired colleagues across the fast-food industry to do the same. Janitors, child care workers, security officers, call center workers, truck drivers and other essential workers are raising their voices, refusing to be overlooked.
Service Employees International Union
The Service Employees International Union is the largest union of healthcare workers, representing over 740,000 home care workers. SEIU is an organization of nearly 2 million members united by their belief in the dignity and worth of workers and the services they provide and dedicated to improving the lives of workers and their families and creating a more just and humane society.
Protect All Workers
Workers at the forefront of the growing coronavirus pandemic recently launched Protect All Workers, a demand calling on leading industries — from airlines to hospitals to fast-food and beyond — to take immediate, sweeping, and concrete actions to protect the health, safety and financial security of all workers in America. Backed by the 2 million-member Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and workers in the Fight for $15 and a Union, Protect All Workers is mobilizing thousands of working people to pressure corporate leaders and elected officials to protect all workers amid the global pandemic and economic crisis.
“It shouldn’t be up to each company to decide whether or not the employee’s get paid sick leave, that should be the law. And all essential workers should get PPE,” said Kevin Weber, a delivery driver for XPO from Kansas City, Mo. “Trying times shows the importance of organizing to hold companies accountable because they DON'T care about us, and we're going to care for each other by being in this fight together.”
“As a 311 operator, I am the link between residents and important city services – services that are more critical and more in demand than ever during this pandemic,” said Sonia Rico, a 311 customer service operator for the city of Houston, TX. “None of this work stops because of the pandemic. Our communities expect us to be there for them. That’s why it’s so important that Congress steps up to keep local county and state governments and communities services funded.”
“We were the first U.S. city that had a large amount of COVID-19 cases,” said Demetrus Dugar, a security officer in Seattle, Wash. “It’s scary for a lot of us because we weren’t given any PPE or even sent an email about procedures to avoid the virus. We need to make sure all workers have paid sick leave during this crisis, and PPE for those who still have to go out in the field. I am an essential worker.”
“Residents are the front line response to COVID, but are a vulnerable group of workers, who have to finish residency in order to practice independently, which means we often can't easily speak up when we feel unsafe, or change jobs if we're treated unfairly,” said Dr. Anna Yap, a resident emergency medicine physician. “We are often over 200k in debt, making around $15 an hour, and working 80 hour weeks, often without simple rights such as the right to unionize, sick time off, and due process.”
Maximus is one of the largest government contractors in the country,” said Dillon Williams, a call center worker from Phoenix, Ariz. “We are essential workers who help Americans access healthcare at a critical time. When the site where I work was shut down on April 8th because of a presumed positive case of Covid-19, we were required to use days from our emergency sick leave bank during the closure. If you had already exhausted the two weeks of emergency sick leave given by Maximus (which we won after putting a lot of public pressure on them) and your PTO, you were not paid for the hours the site was closed. So lots of workers at our site - including myself - missed out on pay during the closure. We deserve better.”