A Call For Respect: Philly Workers Take Action in the Wake of COVID-19

Philly We Rise Power Series

A Call For Respect: Philly Workers Take Action in the Wake of COVID-19

By Shanayah Wyche, Philly We Rise Intern

The COVID-19 outbreak has revealed just how broken our country’s social safety nets are. Millions of Americans are struggling to navigate our country’s inadequate health and labor systems. In the midst of this intense moment, communities have come together to build powerful and large-scale organizing campaigns to support those who are the hardest hit. We’d like to take a moment to focus in on how Philadelphia workers are uniting and organizing during this unprecedented time.

Protecting the Backbone of Our City

The call to shut down all nonessential businesses has left thousands of workers in our city in peril. Mass amounts of people have been laid off or furloughed indefinitely, and many of those who are still employed are working at the frontlines of the crisis, as healthcare workers or in dangerous low-wage positions, at grocery stores, convenience shops and delivery services. These low-wage workers, who are now putting their lives on the line to keep our city functioning, have historically had little to no labor protections. Now, these same workers are coming together to demand dignity, real safety and expanded labor protections.

Pennsylvania Domestic Workers Alliance (PDWA), a network of house cleaners, nannies and caretakers that works for respect, recognition and labor standards, is one of the organizations at the front of the fight.

PDWA has joined together with local unions, labor groups and community organizations to demand that the city implement emergency legislation that will ensure safety and protection for all workers. The two major demands being proposed highlight the struggles of two subset labor groups: formal and informal workers.

The first demand calls on City Council to expand the Paid Sick Days law to meet the needs of this moment. The expanded legislation calls for an increase in employee paid leave to 112 hours or just over two weeks. This change would protect those who get sick, those sent home due to the citywide shutdown, and those forced to take time off to take care of children during the school closures, among other circumstances. The second demand calls for protection of workers that fall out of legislative boundaries, such as independent contractors, nannies and undocumented gig workers. The collective of workers demands that the city create a COVID-19 emergency fund that would provide financial relief to low-wage, informal laborers.

Under these two major demands, the coalition believes the emergency legislation should also include: guaranteed return to the same job, continuation of job-based health insurance, and affordable testing in ICE-free health facilities, among other policy proposals. Read the full list of demands here.

Philly Workers For Dignity is another coalition calling on the city and state to bail out workers. Philly Workers for Dignity is a collective of domestic, formal, and informal workers coming together to fight for workers’ dignity and the right to organize. In the wake of COVID-19, the group has called attention to the contradictions in the way the federal government has prioritized corporations over individuals, highlighting the Trump administration’s readiness to bail out big business while leaving the low-wage workers to fend for themselves. Through the length of the pandemic, Philly Workers for Dignity is demanding legislation that includes free testing and treatment that protects undocumented workers, a moratorium on evictions, foreclosures, and layoffs, and reimbursement of lost wages.

Nicole Kligerman, Director of Pennsylvania Domestic Workers Alliance, views this as an important moment for city officials to radically rethink worker and social policies.

“Massive numbers of people have lost their jobs and do not know when they are coming back or how to pay for food, rent, or utilities. There’s also large numbers of people in informal businesses and workplaces, like domestic workers, facing concerns. Parents who are at home do not need nannies and employers concerned for their pockets are cutting house cleaners,” said Kligerman.

“At the same time, people in work are not receiving material protections and being put in harm’s way. Workers need financial and public health protections and widespread testing. Organizers and laborers are demanding emergency aid that could result in permanent policies while supporting each other to protect ourselves collectively from the next disaster.

It Takes All Forms of Community Togetherness

During this pandemic,PDWA and other worker rights’ groups have seen increasing stress and anxiety experienced by individuals who battle mental health, have difficulty with isolation, or have no certainty when they will return to work. Along with emergency legislative resolutions, this needs to be a time where organizations and individuals are providing community support and resources to the best of their ability.

PDWA has a committee dedicated to distributing material aid and technology training during this time. They have trained members on how to use Zoom and provide individual community support for folks who are facing depression because of isolation and job halts, letting them know they are not alone during this time.

“Workers’ rights ultimately are people’s fundamental ability to provide for themselves and their families and to stay healthy. As long as the system is set up to be dependent on our employers for food and health insurance we will continue to face a crisis in an increasingly changing labor market where so many people are gig workers and independent contractors falling out of the social safety net. We must continue to all work together to radically rethink how we help everyone meet their basic needs.” said Kligerman.

What’s Next?

In hopes elected officials respond to the demands of low-wage workers and step into leadership, the coalition of workers rights’ groups is holding a virtual town hall tomorrow, March 26, at 6:00 PM. They are inviting all council members and the mayor to hear from different workers about how this crisis has impacted them. There will be different virtual rooms for English, Spanish and, hopefully ASL, so that everyone is heard and able to speak to representatives directly. There will be a prepared agenda. All workers are encouraged to RSVP.

TAKE ACTION to Protect Philly Workers During COVID-19!

  • Tune into tomorrow’s virtual town hall, share your story, and to support thousands of Philly workers!
  • Sign the coalition’s petition that lays out how the the city can take action to protect the all workers during this moment and beyond.
  • Sign Philly Workers for Dignity’s Petition that challenges the status quo and demands immediate action from local officials.
  • Donate to the National Domestic Workers Alliance’s Coronavirus Care Fund. The group’s goal is to raise $4 million to disburse to domestic workers in Pennsylvania and across the country.

Support Organizations Providing Mutual Aid & Community Relief

There are large numbers of homeless teens, individuals battling with substance abuse, individuals without internet access and more facing increasing concerns during this public health crisis. Here are a few organizations who could use additional help as they are supporting the community:

  • Donate to Guiding Stars, a non-profit youth organization that is currently keeping their center open so homeless youth can have food, a place to stay, and a hot shower. Year-round the organization focuses on juvenile justice, health & wellness, college readiness and professionalism, and holistic evidence-based sex education. They are also always looking for volunteers! Contact Kimberly Reese, Founder & CEO of Guiding Stars, at (215) 406-5101 or through the Facebook page for more information.
  • Donate to CleanSlate, a national organization dedicated to providing access to addiction treatment. They have resources to prevent overdose death and provide education to the homeless community, among other services. The Port Richmond & South Philly locations are currently accepting donations of hand sanitizer, personal care items, non-perishable items, and clothing. Contact Brooke Feldman, Center Manager of CleanSlate Outpatient Services, at (215) 433-1855 for more information.
  • Here is a Philadelphia COVID-19 Resource guide for you, your family, and to share with other individuals.
  • Philly We Rise’s parent organization, Movement Alliance Project (MAP), is fighting to get everyone affordable, accessible and reliable internet access during the COVID crisis. If you or someone you know has been struggling to get or stay online, please fill out their survey here.
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