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#WalkoutWednesday: Reopening Or Not, Essential Workers Must Weigh In


As public spaces like schools consider reopening, essential workers need a seat at the table.

Walk Out Wed Episode 17 August 5 2020

As workplaces, public spaces and schools weigh reopening, essential workers need a seat at the table to make sure we're all safe. Hear education workers discuss with SEIU President Mary Kay Henry and Poor People's Campaign Co-Chair Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II about how companies and the government must step up to #ProtectAllWorkers.

Child care provider Nancy Harvey, a longtime leader in the recently-won, two-decades-long fight to enable 43,000 California child care providers to join together in a union, spoke about how "97% of us said yes, we need a union! And, so, just for me to be able to say that, that now I have a seat at the table, is monumental. There's a lot of power in being able to say that. We will go to the table in strength—not sheepishly, but in strength—knowing that we deserve what we need in order to survive."

Ana Samaniego, another child care provider and SEIU member on the west coast, in Washington state with SEIU Local 925, spoke about the economic (COVID) impact of high unemployment directly hitting her. Her two child care centers are at just 65% capacity, a big challenge as she continues to pay her talented and loyal staff. She echoed Nancy's concerns about how in the world these community-serving businesses are supposed to hold on, particularly for the benefit of all the working parents who'll need them once this crisis is under control, without government support.

Agnes Braga, a speech language pathologist assistant in California and a member of SEIU Local 99, spoke about the option that teachers in Los Angeles have to either work in the classroom without students or to work from home. But she raised the need for the working environments of all support staff, such as sign language interpreters, to be thought through and considered as well.  

Mark Tatum, an adjunct professor at three different colleges in Maryland and a member of SEIU Local 500, spoke about the reopening of colleges and his preference for hybrid learning, a combination of distance learning and in-person, if it can be kept safe. But in terms of big-picture support for adjunct professors, he stated that what's needed is an actual living wage! "For a lot of colleges, a majority of their teachers are adjunct professors … because we're paid less than a livable wage. …It never made sense to me that those with advanced degrees are paid less than a livable wage at a college, at a university. You would think they would pride themselves on education and the value of education!"

Liz Stanton, a food service worker at Carnegie Mellon University in Pennsylvania and a member of 32BJ SEIU, spoke about temporarily being out of work since March but being able to get by with the $600 per week pandemic unemployment assistance. But just as this unemployment assistance is expiring, she's learning that her university won't be opening all its dining halls, so there may be no job to return to. She expressed how taking that assistance away right now, when this pandemic is still raging out of control, is just plain wrong.

Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II stated, "This is no longer, and it never has been, but it's no longer just conversation. It is not left versus right, Democratic versus Republican. It's not just bad policy. These are matters of life and death and what is even worse about it is that the doggone people that block living wages then turn around and want the same people back to work in jobs that are less than a living wage by claiming that people getting $600 a week in unemployment [assistance] are somehow being treated extravagantly!"