By Sheri Williams
When 2020 began, the upcoming elections seemed like the most pressing issue for union members and their families, presenting battlegrounds at the local, state and national level to stop ongoing attacks on working families.
By spring, the coronavirus had upended lives and plans, turning Labor’s attention to its core mission: protecting the lives and safety of working women and men.
“This year has been unlike any other,” said Sacramento Central Labor Council Executive Director Fabrizio Sasso. “I am thankful but not surprised that the family of Labor rose up to meet the challenge and stand together for the good of all.”
As the virus began spreading across our region and across the country, it laid bare social and economic divisions. It quickly became clear that some demographics were at more risk than others. The disease was more deadly not only to the elderly and those with underlying medical conditions, but also to Black and brown workers in jobs that required close contact and in-person work.
Our union members across hundreds of industries – farmworkers, janitors, construction workers, medical professionals, childcare providers – were quickly deemed essential, but left without the protections they needed and deserved to continue to do their jobs.
Into that void of regulation and common sense, the Sacramento Central Labor Council and the Sacramento-Sierra’s Building and Construction Trades Council joined the fight with Labor organizations across the United States to ensure that workers were protected.
“I am proud to say the Building Trades stepped forward to present some of the strongest and first protocols for returning to work safely,” said SSBCTC Executive Director Kevin Ferreira.
At the Central Labor Council, Sasso and union leaders waged a tough battle to pass first-in-the-nation laws at the Sacramento City Council and county Board of Supervisors giving workers added protections. That included a new ordinance granting all workers in the city and county, not just union members, the right to refuse, without retaliation, an assignment if it seems dangerous. Those protections are set to continue into next year.
The Sacramento Central Labor Council also joined with the Center for Workers’ Rights to create a hotline to help workers navigate safety and health issues. Within weeks, that outreach effort received hundreds of calls and grew to encompass more issues, such as rental and housing assistance.
On the state and national front, unions for nurses, home health care workers, teachers and more continue to fight to protect their members. Though access to personal protective gear such as masks and gloves has increased since severe shortages in the spring, many workers continue to lack these basic protections, with some employers flaunting new rules. Unions continue to press for adequate protections and staffing as the virus once again spikes, filling hospital beds and increasing the risk for workers including delivery drivers, public safety employees and medical staff who don’t have the option of staying home.
Unions have also successfully fought for more paid sick leave, direct financial aid to workers and accountability from government and employers.
Despite the ongoing crisis, the elections still loomed even as those efforts around the virus happened. The Sacramento Central Labor Council quickly adapted its door knocking and phone banking to the realities of the pandemic, pivoting to bring these outreach efforts online. Hundreds of union members across the region joined in via video conferencing and other means to reach out to fellow unionists across the region and remind them of the important local issues on the November ballot.
Those efforts paid off with Labor-friendly candidates elected in West Sacramento for the first time in many years. And on the national front, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris won the presidential race, vowing to protect and grow unions in the coming years.
Though 2020 challenged unions and the country in unprecedented ways, 2021 offers both the hope of national leadership focused on working families, and multiple vaccines that promise to end the pandemic.
In the New Year, Labor will fight to ensure equity in vaccinations, and prioritization to inoculate frontline workers to they can continue to do their jobs in safety.
“I am hopeful that 2021 will begin our recovery,” said Sasso. “Labor will be here to make sure that recovery is fair to working families.”