Helping Those in Need Is a ‘Labor of Love’ for Union Members in North Georgia

From the AFL CIO Blog:

Helping Those in Need Is a ‘Labor of Love’ for Union Members in North Georgia

by Aaron Gallant

April 23, 2020

https://aflcio.org/2020/4/23/helping-those-need-labor-love-union-members-north-georgia

Wearing face masks and gloves and sharing a determination to help their brothers and sisters in need, dozens of members of the Atlanta-North Georgia Labor Council sorted and bagged emergency food to hand out to union families on Saturday, April 18. The “Labor of Love” food drive was a member-to-member relief effort in collaboration with the United Way of Greater Atlanta and the Georgia State AFL-CIO, in partnership with Margie’s House mobile food pantry and the city of Fairburn, Georgia, to help 300 union families who are now struggling to put food on their tables. It was one of a series of volunteer events that the labor council has coordinated to support union members and the wider community during the pandemic.

In March, as classrooms were closing and fear of the coronavirus was increasing, members of the Atlanta-North Georgia Labor Council volunteered their time to help AFSCME school support workers in the Atlanta public schools prepare breakfast and lunch for students forced to learn from home. “Union members have been coming out. We’re trying to not only help our members, but also help the community,” said Sandra Williams (RWDSU), the labor council’s executive director. Union members were also on hand in conjunction with Atlanta Jobs with Justice, to deliver lunch to faculty, residents and students of the Morehouse School of Medicine working at Grady Hospital earlier this month.

In other ways, the labor federation is working to assist those who now find themselves without a job or are experiencing financial hardship because of this crisis. Many members attended a Zoom town hall hosted by state Sen. Zahra Karinshak that included a panel on unemployment insurance with James Williams (IBEW), president of the Atlanta-North Georgia Labor Council, and Denise Beckwith, the unemployment division director of the Georgia State Department of Labor. The council also has worked with Jobs with Justice and many other community partners to provide community support. “We hope that members see our support, look at it with pride and they know they can rely on their union to come through for them,” Sandra Williams said. “People are very thankful, but they’re also fearful for their health.”

With some businesses allowed to reopen in the coming days, James Williams expressed concerns that Gov. Brian Kemp is putting money ahead of people’s safety and health. “Georgia is likely to run out of unemployment funds in the next few months, and this is a way to keep contractors employed,” he explained. If these workers are forced out of work a second time a few weeks from now, their unemployment claims are likely to be denied.

“Last year, we celebrated the 100-year anniversary of my local, Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 613, and we’ll be around for another hundred years,” James Williams said, looking toward a bright future for the labor movement in the north Georgia region. With volunteering events planned every other week for as long as they are needed, the members of the Atlanta-North Georgia Labor Council will be there to lift up their union family and their community."

The path to the presidency runs through the labor movement.

Thousands of working people across the country joined together on June 17 in a national day of action. We called for the Senate to pass the HEROES Act and for Congress to take actions to address structural racism. The HEROES Act is grounded in America’s Five Economic Essentials that are desperately needed to keep working people safe and financially secure. This day of action was just the beginning. Today and every day that follows, working people will mobilize like never before to make the HEROES Act the law of the land and rid our institutions of systemic racism.

Support for the labor movement is the highest in nearly half a century, yet only one in 10 workers are members of unions today. How can both be true?

More than three years after taking office, the administration has never filled the job running the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which is charged with enforcing workplace safety laws. The $560 million-a-year agency, whose estimated 2,000 inspectors performed 32,020 on-site inspections in 2018, spent months not doing any in-person inspections related to coronavirus, other than in hospitals, said Rebecca Reindel, director of occupational safety and health for the AFL-CIO.

Working people are bearing the brunt of this global pandemic and economic crisis. The physical toll, death, pain, and suffering that Oregon’s frontline and essential workers have experienced is unprecedented.

Coupled with the economic collapse that has exacerbated long-term inequities for low wage workers and BIPOC communities, workers are hurting and they need protections.

Daniel DiSalvo asks: “Will Unions Let Schools Reopen?” (op-ed, June 30). Of course! The AFT published our school reopening plan in April. We said it isn’t a question of whether to reopen, but how to do it safely. We need the infrastructure and investment to physically distance, stagger classes, provide personal protective equipment and test, trace and isolate new cases.

Racial disparities in who contracts the virus have played out in big cities like Milwaukee and New York, but also in smaller metropolitan areas like Grand Rapids, Mich., where the Bradleys live. Those inequities became painfully apparent when Ms. Bradley, who is Black, was wheeled through the emergency room. Early numbers had shown that Black and Latino people were being harmed by the virus at higher rates.

This month’s historic Supreme Court ruling that LGBTQ employees are protected in the workplace by the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was another step forward in the march for equality. While there is much to celebrate, this ruling comes as our nation is suffering from centuries-old systemic racism and grieving its latest victims. George Floyd and Breonna Taylor were killed by police officers. Twenty-five-year-old Ahmaud Arbery was gunned down on a run by two white men. We need to say their names, know their stories, and recognize why they were deprived of a full life.

Race-neutral policies simply will not address the depth of disadvantage faced by people this country once believed were chattel. Financial restitution cannot end racism, of course, but it can certainly mitigate racism’s most devastating effects. If we do nothing, black Americans may never recover from this pandemic, and they will certainly never know the equality the nation has promised.

Read the full article in The New York Times Magazine.