The members, staff, and board of SMWC have been closely monitoring the rapidly changing news and impact of COVID-19 (coronavirus) and the response this week. The times we are in are uncertain and unknown. We’ve never been a Workers’ Center under circumstances like these, and we are trying to pivot quickly to respond to the needs of our community.
One thing that we do know is that a crisis can crystalize the underlying problems that created the crisis in the first place. And crises will be used by the corporations, the wealthy, and their interests to further profit off our hardship. However, if we organize, these moments can also open up new pathways to systemic solutions. As movement visionary Grace Lee Boggs has taught us, “a crisis is not only a danger but also an opportunity.” With a human rights approach that centers universality and equity, we have the opportunity to weather this storm together. We have the opportunity to take care of each other and to continue to build power so that we all have what we need to thrive.
We are hearing from workers and other folks that this combination of public health and economic crisis is untenable and there is a need to get organized and take action. We want to help folks think about how to organize in this moment. We want to lift up the solutions coming from the collective imagining, resistance, and love of people who are most directly affected. We want, especially, to center the experiences and solutions of Black, immigrant, indigenous, and communities of color who will be disproportionately impacted by this crisis.
It is in that spirit that we offer the updates and resources below. As always, please feel free to be in touch with any questions. We will respond as quickly as possible—but please be patient, as we’re a small staff navigating a lot right now. Thank you in advance.
Solidarity is always the answer,
DrewChristopher Joy, Executive Director & Meaghan LaSala, Board Chair
Collective Care & Community Organizing
First, we want to let you know what measures we are taking to help keep staff and members safe and our work accountable to our broader community:
- Effectively immediately, staff will work remotely.
- Committee and other meetings will be held online and/or over the phone. We will work with members to make sure they have access to and know how to use the technology they need to participate.
- Our Workers’ Rights Legal Clinic will be postponed indefinitely, though people will still be able to reach us through our Workers’ Support Hotline.
- We are postponing our Annual Meeting that was scheduled for Saturday, April 4th. We do not yet have a date for when that will be held.
- We’ll be working on setting up mutual aid to support SMWC members, their families, co-workers, and loved ones during this crisis. Let us know if you want to get involved by contacting email@example.com.
- We are assessing how we can best direct our resources to respond to the flood of contacts we are receiving from folks who are already feeling the economic strain of this crisis.
We are taking these measures because, from what we have read, while individual risk remains low for many, the best thing we can do for the good of the community and society as a whole is to act immediately to “flatten the curve” or slow the exponential spread of the COVID-19. We encourage all of you to take the actions you can to limit physical contact and large gatherings, work from home, if you can, and wash your hands more than you ever have before. People who are older than 65, are immunocompromised, or have other health issues, or are caretakers of those folks, should take special care to limit physical contact with others. If we show up each other now, and act collectively, we can protect ourselves and each other for the long-haul.
We are grateful to have the flexibility in our organizational work, to allow staff to largely work at home, and to shift our practices to accommodate the needs of this moment. Most workers, and many of our members, face very different circumstances. The economic impact will hit many more people directly and immediately than the virus itself. Businesses of all sizes must take responsibility to protect their workers and public health. City, state, and national governments must take actions to create policy that defends workers’ health, and lessen the economic impact on low wage workers, working class, and poor people. Marginalized people will carry the brunt of this crisis and policy must reflect that understanding.
We are working to understand and address the cascading impact of this crisis on working class people, from work closings, to childcare, to housing issues. We’re also thinking about the demands we can make on policy and workplaces to make things better–now and in the future. Please fill out our survey, so we can better understand what you are up against, and what we can collectively do about it.
Paid Sick Days
SMWC has said for years that our communities as a whole, including workers, businesses, and overall public health, are better off with a universal paid sick days policy. The reasons for that are now clearer than ever.
Unfortunately, the City of Portland and the State of Maine missed huge opportunities to be prepared for this crisis when they failed to pass and implement strong paid sick days ordinances last year. It’s now clear that a guaranteed 14 day paid sick day policy is the bare minimum of what employers should be providing to protect their employees and public health in a time of crisis.
We are incredibly disappointed that Gov. Mills has encouraged employers to be “generous” with their paid time off policies, instead of simply moving up the implementation of the state paid time off law passed last year. Without the Governor’s support, this law—which has minimal coverage but would at least provide a starting point–won’t go into effect until January of 2021. We need more, now.
Nationally, the “families first” coronavirus response bill, passed by the house on Friday, March 13th, includes temporary measures to support and protect workers, including 14 days of paid sick time, and enhanced family and medical leave for some workers. Universality is key for creating policy that actually serves its intended purpose. The paid sick days policy put forward in this bill excludes 80% of workers, including those who work at the largest corporations in this country. Democrats must move beyond optics, and actually fight for workers who are on the frontlines of this crisis.
Businesses themselves can also lead the way–and in this moment they must. Many of the businesses that endorsed our paid sick days campaign already had or have implemented paid sick days policies. We call on all employers to implement policies now, if they haven’t already, especially if they publicly supported sick days legislation. It’s past time to live our values.
Temporary & Permanent Work Closures
We are already hearing from many of our members about the places they are working temporarily closing, leaving workers without hours and income they are dependent on. We’re also hearing from people who have lost hours or lost their jobs. The federal government has released new guidance to states to update unemployment law to help workers in several scenarios related to COVID-19, including temporary or permanent business closures, quarantine, care of a family member, and other circumstances.
Gov. Mils is bringing legislation to implement this guidance in Maine, and it is very important that these measures pass. We will be working hard to ensure that Maine’s Department of Labor takes all measures possible to provide support for workers who have lost their jobs or hours. If you have lost work for any of these reasons, please contact us. We will also be offering a webinar on navigating unemployment insurance soon.
We’ve heard from a few workers asking for their employers to close for the sake of public health and their health as workers. Many workers are feeling trapped at work, facing the impossible choice of forgoing public health recommendations or losing vital income. 40% of Americans don’t have enough reserves to deal with a $400 emergency. Many small businesses fear shutting down or not making payroll. To deal with the immediate crisis, we must demand action from lawmakers and employers to ensure that every person that needs it has access to paid time off and unemployment in order to stay afloat. We also support local, state or federal funding to help small businesses afford to do the right things by their employees and public health.
Health Care is a Human Right
If there ever was a moment to illustrate why universal, publicly funded health care is the only way to manage health care in a world in which we are all interconnected, this is that moment. We hope that this crisis can be the tipping point that leads the country to national Medicare for All.
In the meantime, Maine should lead the way by ensuring that all testing and treatment related to the COVID-19 is free at the point of service for everyone regardless of their insurance status.
With Love & Solidarity
We will continue to update you as this crisis unfolds. In the meantime, please take care of yourselves & each other. Social distance doesn’t need to mean social isolation, and we will continue to organize, build power, and be in community with all of you. Together, we can keep fighting for the health, safety, and dignity of all our members—and, ultimately, for all of our communities. Solidarity forever.