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The Pandemic’s Impact on Workers and Looking Towards a Just Recovery

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NELP’s roadmap for a Just Recovery is based on our vision for bold structural change and on our fall 2020 survey of workers on the COVID frontlines, people who lost their jobs, and other community members seriously impacted by this disease and the failure of so many of our lawmakers and employers to properly address its dangers.

Our findings illustrated how structural racism created the pre-conditions for Black communities and other communities of color to suffer the most during the pandemic, from our health to our wallets.

It’s a disturbing picture, and one that public officials can only hope to address if they start listening to workers’ demands immediately.

Here were some of our major findings on the effects of the pandemic: 

  • 34% of Black workers had a claim for Unemployment Insurance, Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, or Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation denied;
  • Covering rent, utility, credit card, student loan, medical, and living expenses got harder for a large share of U.S. households, particularly those of frontline workers and Black and Latinx workers;
  • A significant share of all workers, and a larger share of working Black and Indigenous people and other people of color, say that fear of employer retaliation would prevent them from refusing unsafe work;
  • Workers classified as independent contractors and workers employed by temporary help and staffing agencies were 2X as likely have lost income than other workers.

This blog originally appeared at NELP on March 18, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: National Employment Law Project is a non-partisan, not-for-profit organization that conducts research and advocates on issues affecting underpaid and unemployed workers. 


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Work Is the Reason Latinos Are Getting Slammed So Hard by the Pandemic

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The COVID-19 pandemic and its economic fallout have hammered the Latino community.

Latinos make up 40 percent of COVID-19 deaths after adjusting for age, according to the Centers for Disease Control, but only 19 percent of the population. This is the biggest disparity of any major ethnic or racial group.

Why the disproportionate impact? The reason is work.

Latinos are highly overrepresented in “low-wage hazardous jobs,” said Jessica Martinez, co- director of the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health (COSH), and in “essential jobs that continue to work despite the peaks in COVID.”

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Latinos represent 18 percent of the working population, but 35 percent of the workforce in slaughterhouses and 23 percent in seafood processing.

“Sixty or 70 percent of Latino workers don’t have the chance to do teleworking,” said Jorge Mújica, an organizer at the worker center Arise Chicago. “They have to show up to the factory or the warehouse.” According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, roughly half of non-Latino white workers are able to telework.

“So you get 25 workers getting sick in the workplace, and then they get 25 family members sick.”

Meatpacking and poultry plants have been particular hotspots for outbreaks of COVID. According to the Food and Environment Reporting Network (FERN), at least 49,000 meatpacking workers have tested positive for COVID.

“The companies were not providing any personal protective equipment,” said Magaly Licolli, who organizes poultry workers with the Arkansas-based group Venceremos. “Social distancing was almost impossible because of the way that these plants are structured—workers work shoulder to shoulder.”

At the same time that many Latino workers were forced to continue to work in cramped conditions, many others were being laid off. As the pandemic’s effects set in, the unemployment gap between white and Latino workers tripled, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Latinos work disproportionately in restaurants, hotels, and construction.

As a result, according to Pew Research, 59 percent of Latinos reported that their households suffered lost wages or jobs, compared to 43 percent of the overall population. The study was conducted in May.

NOT IN A VACUUM

COVID intensified the damage of “decades of structural and strategic racism,” said Martinez. “We are seeing the impact of long-term discriminatory practices in health care, employment, housing, and education.”

Latinos are more likely to be uninsured and undocumented. That means it’s harder to get treatment for COVID symptoms—and harder to get the economic relief that they disproportionately need.

For example, the checks sent out to individual taxpayers by the government were sent only to those who were documented. Even those who were part of married couples where one partner is undocumented were deemed ineligible, except for military households.

There are 10.5 million undocumented people and 16.2 million people in mixed-status families in the United States.

At work it is no different. Working at a poultry plant is extraordinarily dangerous. The line moves fast, repetitive motions often cause carpal tunnel syndrome, and workers handle chemicals whose long-term health effects are unknown, with little oversight from the government. Typically the plants are built in isolated rural spots, where workers have little recourse against intimidation on the job or discrimination in town.

SIXTY CHICAGO STRIKES

With the support of groups like Arise Chicago and Venceremos, Latino workers are fighting back against dangerous work conditions during the pandemic.

Mújica says that in the early days of the pandemic, his group was receiving between 80 and 100 calls and messages a day from workers seeking help because they had sick co-workers or even co-workers who had already died. Arise Chicago launched a campaign to assist workers to strike to defend their health.

They produced letters for workers to present to their employers, saying, “I’m sorry, but since you are so irresponsible, we are taking matters in our own hands. And we are going into quarantine,” Mújica said. Around 60 groups of workers went out on strike through this process, mostly in April and May.

Subsequently, as pandemic conditions eased, Arise Chicago produced video workshops on Facebook addressing questions about a safe return to work that have received over 380,000 views.

The group is also helping workers to form unions.

CALL THEM UP

Licolli said she was forced to turn away from in-person communication because of the pandemic and had to rely on phone calls to organize poultry workers. She made calls to workers, dividing them up by company and plant.

“Workers were terrified” to speak up against management, “but also afraid of losing their lives,” said Licolli.

Through this process she helped workers identify their needs, like social distancing at work and personal protective equipment, and map their workplaces to identify leaders who could help organize. From there, Licolli and the workers created a petition that received 300 worker signatures. The group set up public rallies to draw attention to the poultry plant conditions and began attracting national media attention. Workers gathered videos from inside and gave testimonies to the media.

So far, workers at Tyson Foods, an Arkansas-based multinational food company, have received daily surgical masks, more sanitation stations, and two additional $500 bonuses if workers were able to meet attendance requirements. They have fallen short, however, of winning paid sick leave, which was one of their top demands, and the surge in COVID cases is making it difficult to continue having public events.

DRIVERS’ LICENSES FOR ALL

In Massachusetts, immigrant workers have continued to push for a key pre-pandemic demand, despite the new obstacles to organizing: driver’s licenses for all. In July, the Pioneer Valley Workers Center and the undocumented-led Movimiento Cosecha (Harvest Movement) led an occupation at the steps of the Massachusetts capital for 13 days.

Undocumented workers have been demanding driver’s licenses for years because they need to travel long distances within the state to get to and from work. A single arrest due to racial profiling or a minor traffic offense can lead to detention and deportation.

One alternative to driving yourself is to carpool—often with a management rep driving, for an exorbitant fee, as frequently happens in farm work. This was uncomfortable and unsafe before—but as Andrea Schmid of the Pioneer Valley Workers Center points out, in a pandemic it’s also yet another health risk.

This blog originally appeared at Labor Notes on November 30, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Saurav Sarkar is an Assistant Editor of Labor Notes. Saurav previously worked for the Poor People’s Campaign, as a staff writer for the business daily Mint in New Delhi, India, and at the National Union of Teachers in the United Kingdom. He also started the blog South Asia Labor Watch. Saurav covers worker centers, immigrant workers, LGBTQ workers, the Steelworkers, the Electrical Workers (UE), and the global labor movement.


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Even after improved jobs report, Latinos remain heavily impacted amid pandemic

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While the national unemployment rate has ticked down in the most recent jobs report, the news hasn’t been so fortunate for all workers. “Latinos, who have been the hardest hit by the nation’s coronavirus-related economic crisis, once again led all groups in joblessness this month, with 17.6 percent of Latinos unemployed,” NBC News reported. But times remain tough even for those fortunate enough to be working again. 

Andrea Osorio, a housekeeper and mom of four in San Antonio, told NBC News that while she’s bringing in money again, she’s been able to recover only half of the 10 clients who laid her off as COVID-19 infections began to surge across the country.“But Osorio tells NBC News she can pay bills again, even if she doesn’t have the extra spending money she had in the past,” the report continued.

A slew of data in recent weeks has indicated Latinos have been devastated by the pandemic in both human and economic losses. 

A survey last month showed one-fourth of Latinos said they know someone who has become sick with COVID-19, and of that group, one-third said they know someone who has died from the virus. “More disconcerting is the fact that a startling high percentage of Latinos—27%—report that they know someone who wants a test, but has been unable to get tested,” leading polling firm Latino Decisions said.

Latinos have also been “more likely than Americans overall to say they or someone in their household has experienced a pay cut or lost their job because of the coronavirus outbreak,“ Pew Research Center said in further findings. “Only 25.2 percent of Latinos could do work from home when the pandemic forced workers to leave their offices and put distance between themselves and their co-workers, according to the Urban Institute,” NBC News said.

Osorio had been among Latino workers forced to dig into their minimal savings following their job losses. “At the beginning, I thought I could do this,” she told The Washington Post last month. Her husband Oscar, a construction worker, had taken only a small hit in lost work. “But two weeks became three and then four and now who knows when I can work again?” she said. “I cry, but never in front of them. I wait until they go to sleep and I’m alone.”

As the pandemic continued but work did not, she told NBC News that the family was among the thousands who lined up at a food bank in town, something that was completely new to them. “We didn’t have extra money but we were okay with my husband’s income and mine, we paid for the house and the bills,” she told NBC News. “When we went to the doctor, we paid. When we bought food, we paid.”

Due to their mixed immigration status, the family was among the millions denied stimulus relief. However, the Post reported that a small bit of much-needed help came via an anonymous act of kindness from an unknown person or persons: “The other day, a man called offering Andrea some work. And Oscar found an envelope stuffed with $240 in their mailbox. For the first time in April, the family had meat for dinner.”

This blog originally appeared at The Daily Kos on June 9, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Gabe Ortiz is a staff writer at Daily Kos focusing on immigration, LGBT, Latino issues.


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Priorities USA launches Latino persuasion program in Florida

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Laura Barron-LopezPriorities USA is focusing on Latinos early.

The Democratic super PAC is launching a sustained digital effort to woo Latinos in the run up to the 2020 presidential election, according to details of the plan provided to POLITICO. Priorities USA is starting in Florida first and will expand the slate of digital ads to other battleground states across the country as the cycle progresses.

It’s a new piece of the super PAC’s $100 million commitment to the primaries. The group didn’t spend on Latino-focused ads in 2015.

This time they are starting before 2020 and in a state that is at the heart of President Donald Trump’s re-election efforts. The digital ads which will run on Facebook and YouTube, cover pocketbook issues that Florida Latinos care about, according to the super PAC. The group didn’t specify the amount of money being spent on the Latino outreach program.

The digital program includes digital banners, audio and pre-roll ads. The program also includes promoting news articles across Facebook focused on the impact of Trump’s policies on Latinos in Florida.

Priorities USA said the ads will be about rising health care costs, wages, and Trump’s racist rhetoric and immigration policies.

“Latino communities are feeling the negative economic impacts of President Trump’s reckless policies,” said Daniela Martins, Hispanic Media Director for Priorities USA. “We are launching this program in order to establish a continuous dialogue with Latinos on the everyday pocketbook issues they care about, like stagnant wages under a rising cost of living, the rising costs of healthcare, and the increasing lack of opportunity in an unstable economy.”

“We want them to know that their experience is not isolated, that they are not alone,” Martins said. “That they have a voice for the White House to hear, and the right to push back.”

Priorities USA is taking steps to understand Florida’s different Latino communities, which include Cubans and Puerto Ricans. And is using research it conducted earlier this year surveying Latinos in Florida, Nevada and Arizona to better understand how to reach and mobilize the voting bloc.

Latinos are on pace to be the largest non-white eligible voting bloc in 2020. Miami-Dade County, Florida is home to the third-largest Latino population, 1.9 million, according to Pew research. And hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans, who are U.S. citizens, are estimated to have migrated to Florida after devastating hurricanes hit the island in 2017.

This article was originally published by the Politico on November 13, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Laura Barrón-López is a national political reporter for POLITICO, covering House campaigns and the 2020 presidential race.

Barrón-López previously led 2018 coverage of Democrats for the Washington Examiner. At the Examiner, Barrón-López covered the DNC’s efforts to reform the power of superdelegates and traveled to competitive districts that propelled Democrats into the House majority. Before that, Barrón-López covered Congress for HuffPost for two and half years, focusing on fights over fast-track authorization, criminal justice reform, and coal miner pensions, among other policy topics in the Senate.

Early in her career, she covered energy and environment policy for The Hill. Her work has been published in the Oregonian, OC Register, E&E Publishing, and Roll Call. She earned a bachelor’s in political science from California State University, Fullerton.


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Why California Is a Pro-Union State (Sort Of)

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Ask Los Angeles Times reporter Alana Semuels why union membership in California rose by 100,000 in 2012, and she’ll give you a simple answer:

“Latino workers.”

To explain the contrast between the trend in California and the United States as a whole—where union membership dropped last year by 400,000—Semuels turned to some credible sources, including Steve Smith of the state labor federation who cited “an appetite among these low-wage workers to try to get a collective voice to give themselves opportunity and a middle-class lifestyle.”

Quoting Smith and others, Semuels finds that, “After working hard to get here, many Latino immigrants demand respect in the workplace and are more willing to join unions in a tough economic environment, organizers say.”

True enough: Immigrant workers have been particularly important for unions in California and Latino organizing has helped reignite the state’s labor movement.  But that’s only part of the story.

Many California unions, allied with progressive groups up and down the state, have dedicated enormous resources to community and economic organizing. This has influenced California’s political culture. Union-friendly city councils, boards, commissions, a democratic legislature and statewide office holders produce a relatively pro-worker political and economic atmosphere.

Though employer resistance to unions can be as fierce in California as in other states, there is also a growing sense that a cooperative relationship with labor can be good business (note the expedited permitting for the construction of downtown L.A.’s Farmers Field).

California unions were ahead of the curve in recognizing the power of Latino workers and voters and then led other states in building diverse constituencies around progressive economic development strategies. The number of “living wage” districts around the state testifies to that.

There is no pro-union state in the United States. But California (with 18.4 percent of the workforce unionized) may be pointed in that direction.

Despite its failure to offer context, the Los Angeles Times piece draws the same conclusion.

“Labor’s more optimistic proponents say that California could serve as a blueprint for unions across the country as they seek to stem membership declines,” writes Semuels. “The trend comes amid forecasts that the Latino population in the United States is likely to double in two decades.”

This post originally appeared on LaborLou.com and was also reprinted on AFL-CIO NOW.

About the Author: Labor Lou – Laborlou.com began in 2009 as commentary on the Obama Presidency and then became more open-ended.  This past year Labor Lou posted several autobiographical narratives.


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