Spring 2021 Newsletter
National Campaign Updates
ALWAYS ESSENTIAL Campaign Demands Vaccine Priority for Essential Workers
In the year since the COVID-19 pandemic began, the nation has lost more than half a million lives — disproportionately Black and Brown people working essential jobs who put their health and lives on the line every day to keep our country running.
Together with our partners, Jobs With Justice launched the ALWAYS ESSENTIAL campaign to transform what is possible for essential workers — especially those in low-wage sectors. As the vaccine rollout continues, we are demanding that essential workers need their own protected category and must be prioritized in vaccination plans. In recent weeks, we’ve called on President Biden and governors to use all available federal and state resources to ensure essential workers can access lifesaving COVID-19 vaccines and guarantee uniform standards in vaccine distribution efforts.
The campaign also continues to coordinate and support state and local efforts to build essential worker task forces, pass essential worker bills of rights, and expand other benefits and rights for these workers. To learn more about all the ways ALWAYS ESSENTIAL is building long-term power for essential workers, visit the campaign website!
Advancing Black Strategists Initiative Welcomes New Program Manager
We are excited to announce that Sherman Henry will join the Advancing Black Strategists Initiative (ABSI) as the Program Manager for Labor Studies within the International Comparative Labor Studies Program at Morehouse College. Sherman has deep experience within the labor movement, working as a rank-and-file union custodian in his hometown of Miami, and eventually becoming president of AFSCME Local 1184, where he doubled the local’s membership. It was here that Sherman helped to build JWJ, eventually co-chairing South Florida JWJ in the mid-1990s. He later transitioned into academia, getting his bachelor’s degree from the National Labor College and a master’s from Florida International University.
“Mr. Henry is a real gift to the movement,” says Erica Smiley, Executive Director at Jobs With Justice and co-founder of ABSI. “He has the experience of a union member, union leader, movement staff, as well as academic credibility. He embodies ABSI, and I can’t wait to work with him and expand a southern-led, Black-worker-centered framework on collective bargaining.” Sherman Henry started his position on April 15 and will help elevate ABSI at Morehouse and with partners throughout the South.
Building Access and Equality in Construction Careers
In 2020, Jobs With Justice partnered with the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades (IUPAT) to launch joint campaigns in three key cities: Houston, Nashville and Denver. These new initiatives significantly deepen and expand our ongoing work to build power for the painters and construction unions more broadly at the local level, while also ensuring inclusion for women and people of color in the building trades.
Success will be measured by targeting bad actors, strengthening community labor alliances, and expanding membership with local movement organizations. The effort also calls attention to the fact that women hold just 3.4 percent of construction jobs, and that racial minorities are underrepresented in higher-paying construction trades. The campaign will also address several structural issues such as low union density rates and Latinx overrepresentation among construction fatalities.
The Construction Careers Program grew out of internal discussions within the Jobs With Justice network about how to address longstanding inequities within the construction industry. A related effort at Jobs With Justice continues to push institutional investors to devote endowment dollars to responsible and inclusive real estate projects.
Corporate Landlords Take Billions in Tax Relief and Subsidies While Trying to Evict Struggling Families
Jobs With Justice local coaltions played vital roles in a major victory for working families in 2020, as mass eviction moratoriums passed in cities like Washington, D.C. and Boston. Other renters across the country had no such protections. While large corporate landlords received assistance and massive tax relief, tenants faced eviction. In January 2021, Jobs With Justice Education Fund released a report calling out these landlords for taking millions of dollars in government subsidies designated as COVID-19 relief while trying to put thousands of families on the street. Among other findings, the study shows the amount of COVID stimulus funds received by corporate landlords could have paid nine months of rent for 24,394 families. The report, titled “Taxpayer Subsidized Evictions,” can be found here.
Stories From the JWJ Network
NY HERO Act Successfully Passes Senate, Empowering the Empire State’s Essential Workers
As the COVID-19 pandemic spread over the last 12 months, essential workers across the country and especially in New York faced incredible challenges, while being denied basic protections by their employers.
ALIGN (Alliance for a Greater New York) joined with partners like New York Communities for Change, Make the Road New York, and Make the Road New Jersey formed the New York Essential Workers Coalition (NYEWC) to address inequities and strengthen health protections, safeguard against workplace retaliation, and offer a platform for essential workers to share their stories. Last August, this coalition introduced the New York Health & Essential Rights Order, or NY HERO Act, a bill that requires all businesses to adopt enforceable health and safety standards to protect workers on the front lines and reduce the risks of COVID exposure and spread. The bill, which was introduced in August 2020, overwhelmingly passed the New York State Senate on March 1 and is awaiting a vote in the State Assembly.
The NY HERO Act would also allow these workers to take a direct role in reporting violations through authorized workplace health and safety task forces. Underlining the fierce urgency of the issue, ALIGN Executive Director Maritza Silva-Farrell argues that passing the NY HERO act is literally a matter of survival. “The NY State Legislature must prioritize the health and safety of New Yorkers, small business owners, and their customers by passing the NY HERO Act right now. Passing the NY HERO Act will prevent any more unnecessary sickness and deaths of New Yorkers across the state by ensuring adequate protections and a stronger voice in the workplace. This cannot wait.”
Chicago Jobs With Justice Fighting Against “Gigification” of the Economy
Over the last decade, Chicago has experienced a predicament growing across the country. The rise of tech in the Windy City, which has grown by more than 270 percent in that time, has created an unsustainable dynamic for many working people there.
Chicago Jobs With Justice Executive Director Susan Hurley calls it the “gigification of the economy,” which like in other places has created a sub-class of labor that is routinely left out of full pay, benefits, and legal worker protections.
To address the growing problem, Chicago Jobs With Justice and its partners launched a new coalition. The coalition quickly recruited additional coalition members like the Illinois Education Association, Illinois Federation of Teachers, Cab Drivers United/AFSCME Local 2500, and Chicago Workers Center for Racial Justice. Together, they’ve worked to increase public support and develop policy alternatives that benefit workers rather than big tech companies.
While Silicon Valley giants like Uber and Lyft rightfully received much of the attention on this issue, Hurley argues that universities and academic institutions deserve scrutiny as well. “Most teaching staff within the University of Illinois school system are adjunct. In a way, it’s especially problematic given that this is what our tax dollars are going to support.” Like tech giants, universities are hiring adjunct personnel at a reduced cost, skimping on healthcare and benefits that they would provide to full employees.
A March 16 conference with coalition partners in Chicago sought policy-related solutions to the rise of the gig economy and ways to create economic democracy in action. Inspired by the wave of worker-led task forces created around the country, Chicago Jobs With Justice is looking to create a similar model, giving gig workers and essential workers increased control over their own health and safety standards.
Crucial Labor Protections for Delivery App Workers Extended in San Francisco
One year ago, at the onset of the pandemic, the city of San Francisco issued an emergency ordinance providing temporary protections for delivery app workers. The ordinance mandated that companies like Uber Eats, Grubhub, and DoorDash provide protective equipment to workers making deliveries or reimburse them for products like hand sanitizer, masks and gloves. It also protected workers exercising these rights against employer retaliation.
Because these protections are temporary in nature, they were set to expire in April 2021. Joining with reliable partners like UFCW Local 5, San Francisco Labor Council, SEIU 1021, and Gig Workers Rising, JWJ San Francisco successfully pushed the city to make these measures permanent in the city. These protections fit within a larger framework that has come to be JWJ’s mantra: That all workers should have collective bargaining rights, employment security, and a decent standard of living within an economy that works for everyone.
Jobs With Justice in the News
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