March 31, 2020 by Meaghan Lasala

Solidarity is Always the Answer: Demands for Human Rights in the Time of COVID-19

Our conditions are changing rapidly. We published this response on March 31st, 2020. We will continue to update our members as our positions evolve in response to the rapidly evolving crisis. 

Our people are in crisis, facing loss of income, eviction, debt and dangerous work conditions. Workers who are told they are “essential” are being paid poverty wages while putting themselves and their loved ones at risk. Unemployment applications are at record highs. Renters’ payments are due but there is no money coming in. Health care workers and home care workers have grossly inadequate protection. Maine’s already inadequate shelter system is leaving homeless people exposed. Because our economic system is founded on racism, Black and Brown people are bearing the brunt of the risk. This crisis was created by an economic system that puts profit, greed, and individualism above community, care, and human rights. 

The Southern Maine Workers’ Center organizes to improve the lives and working conditions of working-class and poor people in Maine. Over the past seven years, we have organized for the human right to health care and the right to work with dignity. Our work is at the nexus of this healthcare and economic crisis, which is reinforcing for us three things that we have known all along. 1) Workers are treated as expendable in a system that puts profits first, and those who keep things running or do care work are often paid and protected the least. 2)Our people are suffering cruelly and needlessly under the weight of a profit-centered health care system. 3) Organizing for health care and our rights on the job are two crucially important interventions when it comes to building a mass movement  FOR and BY those who struggle most under the economic system. 

We see our work as deeply interconnected with many struggles for justice. Our members are not just patients and workers. Our members are parents, students, educators, immigrants, youth leaders, seniors, caregivers, queer and trans folks, women, survivors, people who have experienced homelessness, people living with disabilities — and so much more. Together, we are facing an unprecedented opportunity. The moment we find ourselves in is changing what feels politically possible: it opens up new solutions to the crises we face and the possibility of transforming the systems that created these crises in the first place. As movement visionary Grace Lee Boggs has taught us “a crisis is not only a danger but also an opportunity.” The only way we are going to seize this opportunity is through solidarity, and through a mass, multi-issue, multi-sector, multi-racial, intergenerational, international movement rooted in solidarity and love. 

IN THAT SPIRIT, WE OFFER UP THESE DEMANDS AND POSITIONS— both to offer up our expertise as leaders in healthcare justice and workers’ rights, and also to lift up the solutions of our movement allies at the forefront of other struggles. Solidarity is always the answer. 

  • We need universal health care now. The stimulus just passed by Congress includes half a trillion dollars to bail out corporations who just this year used their massive tax cuts to buy back stock and award executive bonuses. The lie that we cannot afford to care for our people is exposed. The only way to ensure the human right to healthcare for all is to take profit out of healthcare with a universal, publicly funded system, now. In the interim we demand:
    • Governor Mills must expand the Proclamation of Insurance Emergency to ensure that no Maine resident will incur any costs related to care for COVID-19. People without insurance should also incur no cost for screening, testing, or care. 
    • Governor Mills must immediately secure a Medicaid Waiver to automatically enroll all Maine residents in MaineCare.
    • Governor Mills must compel all businesses to follow a set of best practices designed to keep employees and the public safe. These practices shall be developed with feedback from those working in high risk areas, and shall focus on social distancing, mitigating the spread of the virus on hands and surfaces, and ensuring that employees are able to stay home when sick or at high risk.
    • The State of Maine must allow healthcare providers to make “presumptive eligibility determinations” that “essential workers” qualify for Medicaid coverage. This must be coupled with expansion of Medicaid to enroll everybody in the state. 
    • Until the Medicaid Waiver is secured, our federal congressional representatives must advocate for the creation of an open enrollment period for the Affordable Care Act Marketplace in Maine.
    • The State of Maine must prioritize every available resource to make COVID-19 testing universally available, and to provide adequate Personal Protective Equipment for all frontline health care workers. 
    • Governor Mills must ensure that people with disabilities and underlying conditions are guaranteed equal access to care and are not subject to discriminatory triage plans or practices. 
  • Strengthen unemployment by increasing payments, extending the limit, lowering minimum earnings, and including typically excluded workers such as self-employed workers, contractors, government employees, and workers at small non-profits. 
  • We uplift workers’ right and capacity to organize for their needs, including but not limited to the right to paid sick days, the right to stay home, the right to adequate protection, hazard pay, and free child care. 
  • We condemn xenophobia and racism. We admonish Trump’s violent language that is causing a spike in anti-Asian hate crimes, as well as border policy that terrorizes migrants and puts them at higher risk of death from COVID-19. 


  • Migration is a human right. We support demands of immigrant justice organizations, including
    • Never Again’s call on governors across the country to use their emergency executive power to order the release of all immigrant detainees in their states.
    • United We Dream’s demand that Immigration and Customs Enforcement cease all operations, detentions and deportations. 
    • Mijente’s call on tech companies and other corporations to cease doing business with ICE. 
    • We support the Climate Justice Alliance’s demand of “no coordination of any agencies managing the public health crises with ICE, Department of Homeland Security (CHS), or U.S. Border Patrol agents.”
    • The U.S. must continue receiving and processing asylum claims. Doctors without Borders has said “using COVID-19 as an argument to evade their international obligations towards refugees and migrants is not only unacceptable, but also counterproductive in terms of outbreak control.” 
  • Housing is a human right:
    • We support Right to the City’s demand to cancel rent, mortgage and utility payments and ensure homes for all.
    • We support the demands of Homes for All in Maine.
      • No home foreclosures, evictions, rent increases, or penalties.
      • Homes and support for the homeless
      • Debt suspension for homeowners and small businesses
      • Cancel Rent and Reimburse Landlords
      • Safety for the incarcerated and detainees
      • Promote housing as a human right and preventive healthcare measure 
  • Water is a human right. We support Community Water Justice’s demand for $35 billion a year dedicated to upgrading and maintaining public water systems. No one should be denied their basic human right to water, especially during a pandemic. 
  • Transformative Justice, Not Prisons. We support the demands of abolitionist organizations, including: 
    • Release all prisoners at higher risk of COVID-19 complications, 
    • Reduce police contact with communities that would lead to arrest and jail, and put an immediate end to “quality of life” policing, 
    • Access to free and quality healthcare, and free healthcare and sanitation supplies for all imprisoned people. 
    • Commute the sentences of people serving Life Without Parole.
    • Release all people in jails held pretrial.
    • We also support the campaign to close Long Creek Youth Development Center. Youth belong in the community, not in cages. The youth prison has cut off visitation and volunteers, further isolating youth from their community. 
  • Respect Indigenous Sovereignty.
    • We support the recommendations of the Task Force on Changes to the Maine Indian Claims Settlement Implementation Act, and urge legislators to implement them as soon as the legislature reconvenes. Wabanaki Sovereignty is a necessary precondition for the health and wellbeing of Wabanaki people. 
    • Like our allies at the Climate Justice Alliance, we recognize the need for the United States to live up to its trust and treaty responsibilities to tribal nations and we support the demand of “no less than $120 million allocated to tribal nations and urban Indian organizations who deserve access to the same funding support and information as states.” 
  • Just Transition that centers the most vulnerable. We support the Climate Justice Alliances call for a Just Recovery that centers the needs of frontline communities and rejects racist, militarized responses to the crisis.