BOSTON — On International Workers’ Day also known as May Day, Boston-area essential workers, advocacy leaders, and educators held a livestream event to discuss life on the frontlines of the COVID-19 health crisis and the State’s obligations to ensure safety and equity.
The front-line workers were grateful for the public’s appreciation of their efforts during this crisis but said they continue to need adequate protection and leave policies to keep them healthy.
“The union is working hard to make sure we have enough PPE but we also need a clear commitment from CEOs to make sure that the people who are working for them have enough PPE,” said Joan Edmond, a certified nursing assistant and a member of SEIU 1199.
Heloisa Maria Galvão, executive director, Brazilian Women’s Group spoke about her and her organizations’ experience working with immigrant families and workers.
“What we are really looking to do during this time — because it is very tragic — is to organize people. We want to let them know that they do have a voice and that they should exercise that” she said.
Brazilian Women’s Group is working to provide mutual aid and support to marginalized communities during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Speakers highlighted the dire need for a comprehensive recovery plan that not only addresses our communities’ immediate needs but also addresses our long-term needs.
“It is heartbreaking to see that folks are called essential workers but workers are only given less than a day’s notice that they no longer will have work. That has been very difficult for families. It has compounded the impact of this pandemic,” said Roxana Rivera, head of SEIU 32BJ.
“That’s why we are not only pushing with those major institutions that they need to be able to keep people on the payroll, give people more notice. We are taking that fight to the government as the next round of bailout talks happen,” she said.
Boston Teachers Union organizer, Natalia Cuadra Saez, highlighted the importance of continuing to fight for schools that our students deserve, even as we weather this pandemic.
“This crisis that we are living through, it makes the campaigns that we are working on, like Inclusion Done Right, even that much more urgent, that much more relevant because we know that eventually, we will be returning to schools in one way or another,” said Cuadra Saez. “The gaps that existed before will only be wider and the needs that existed before will be greater.”
Expounding on their recent win on a strong eviction and foreclosures moratorium, Steve Meachem of City/Life Vida Urbana said that they are seeing a change in perspective due to this crisis.
“There have been significant changes in the entire framing of our culture on what it means to not be able to pay rent, for instance,” said Meachem. “Only a few months ago, it was presumed in our culture that it is the fault of the individual. Now, all of a sudden, there is a common understanding that it is not the individual’s fault. It is something systemic.”
Keeping in mind the struggles faced by frontline workers and the need for a long-term recovery plan, a new alliance, Massachusetts COVID-19 Response Alliance, premiered its new set of policy demands. The demands are rooted in a “people-centered approach to the COVID-19 pandemic.”
“We believe that partnership between community and labor is just so critical to the progress we have made so far, but also for the power we are going to need to continue to win big demands and the systemic change that is needed,” said Lee Matsueda, Executive Director, Community Labor United, during the event.
“Our immediate and long term response needs to address working families, end racial injustice, deepens democracy, and put people and communities before the big corporations.”
The groups also launched their website https://macovidresponse.com/.
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The Massachusetts COVID-19 Response Alliance (MCRA) believes that the impact of the virus on low-wage workers, communities of color, and the most vulnerable people in our Commonwealth has exposed deep, systemic inequities in Massachusetts, which already faces the sixth-worst income inequality in the country. MCRA is calling on Beacon Hill to adopt a “people-centered” approach, to grant immediate relief, as well as a just long-term recovery that supports our communities and invests in their future. The MCRA is a rapidly growing umbrella group that includes a growing list of organizations and other coalitions such as Community Labor United, New England United for Justice, Massachusetts Budget & Policy Center, City Life Vida Urbana, Massachusetts Voter Table, Massachusetts Public Health Association, Alternatives for Community & Environment, the Green Justice Coalition, Right to the City Alliance Boston, and more.