Solidarity in challenging times

By Sheri Williams

With the coronavirus pandemic attacking essential workers in California and across the country, Sacramento union members this year will celebrate Labor Day from afar.

Despite being unable to gather as the family of Labor, Sacramento Central Labor Council executive director Fabrizio Sasso said that the crisis has only strengthened the commitment of unions and their members to fight for fair and safe workplaces, and highlighted the many achievements of Labor over the past year.

“I am tired of the word unprecedented, but the challenges we are facing right now – a global health emergency, wildfires, economic devastation for our most vulnerable families and a president who seems to care about none of it – have shown that we in the Labor movement always find it within ourselves and our unions to rise to the fight,” Sasso said. “Unprecedented battles have shown an unprecedented commitment from our members to not only go to work every day to keep America going, but to fight to protect each other and our country from the many forces that seek to diminish us.”

Sasso pointed out that union workers are among the most essential people being asked to continue working despite the health risks.

“On this Labor Day, my greatest gratitude goes out to those union members we think of on a daily basis, and those who are no less essential but perhaps we too often forget,” he said. “I honor the work of our nurses, our firefighters, our first responders, our teachers. And I honor the work of our janitors, our transit workers, our postal workers and so many others whose Labor is critical.”

Sasso was also quick to thank those workers who lack the protections of a union, but are still on the job. He pledged to continue the fight to help all working families to have protections and to organize for their collective good, and to continue to work with social justice organizations to ensure that Labor is inclusive and equitable.

This year, the Sacramento Central Labor Council was instrumental in passing legislation in the city that expands Paid Sick Leave for COVID-related purposes for employers with 500 or more workers.

It also helped write and pass another groundbreaking measure: The Sacramento Worker Protection Ordinance at both the city and county level. This measure includes California’s first “Health & Safety Protocols” and the nation’s first local “Right to Refuse Work” law that protects workers from retaliation if they refuse to return to an unsafe job site.

The Council also established, with the Center for Workers’ Rights, an unemployment hotline that has helped thousands of workers who have lost their jobs to navigate the complex unemployment process. In just the first few weeks of operation, the legal team behind that effort helped hundreds of workers gain information and aid for questions about their rights.

And, the Council has also provided more than 150,000 masks and other items of personal protective gear to affiliates and their members. It also fed thousands of frontline and essential workers with free lunches at various sites, an effort hosted with state Senator Richard Pan, a longtime friend of Labor.

“I am so proud of the work we have done this year,” said Sasso. “But the need is still immense, and we will not stop.”

Sasso said the Labor Council is already planning for a busy fall, including work around the upcoming elections. He pointed out that it is critical every person vote this year, not just for national offices, but to protect working families at the local level as well.

Labor is backing Gregg Fishman for the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors and helped Fishman win a spot to contend for District 3 in the runoff earlier this year. If Fishman is elected to replace anti-union incumbent Susan Peters, it will shift the power of the board to help working families, said Volma Volcy, field director for the Sacramento Central Labor Council.

“This is a priority campaign for us,” said Volcy. “For too long, Peters and other anti-union members of the Board have blocked basic rights for workers in the county of Sacramento, and prioritized spending to help the rich. Now, with an eviction crisis looming and criminal justice reform stalling in the county, it is imperative we replace her with someone who understands the importance of equity and honors the labor of working people.”

Labor is also fighting to elect Martha Guerrero as Mayor of West Sacramento to defeat Christopher Cabaldon. Sasso said that Cabaldon “has opposed our unions for two decades” and must be replaced with a pro-worker mayor.

“It’s time for him to go,” Sasso said.

The Council is also asking the family of Labor to think ahead to the holidays, when it expects that many people will need basic help with food as the holidays approach. Already, food banks are reporting massive need, with even middle-class families seeking provisions as the economic crisis triggered by the coronavirus and a lack of federal response continues to worsen. The Labor Council will once again be collecting donations for Operation Christmas Basket in coming months to aid those families who cannot afford to keep food on the table, and reminds all members that its food pantry is available year-round for those who need help now.

“More than anything, we are here to help,” Sasso said. “If you need us today, call today. And if you have extra that you can spare, please donate. We are family in the truest sense, and together we will weather this painful time.”