WMD 2021: Eight Amazing Organizations that Strengthened Communities During the Pandemic
By Jora Trang
This Workers Memorial Day, 2021, Worksafe would like to amplify the dedicated work of eight extraordinary organizations that have been rising through challenges to ensure that the communities that they served are supported and uplifted through the pandemic.
From providing food and personal protective equipment to vulnerable populations to fighting for the passage of protective laws, these organizations have been pounding the pavement, their passion clear as they roll up their sleeves to lean into the work of ensuring that their communities continue to thrive. We are extremely proud of these allies and partners. Visit them on their platforms to learn more about their work and to support them.
Here they are in alphabetical order:
Bay Rising builds the power of communities of color to create a just world for everyone. Through their civic engagement network of over thirty grassroots organizations in the Bay Area, they are building a world where all people have community control and political power, and where everyone has a home and can live without fear of deportation or criminalization. They are creating a world where everyone can earn a living wage, receive quality healthcare and education, and live in neighborhoods with clean air, public parks, and water. They believe in environmental justice and just transition to a regenerative, life-giving economy.
Bay Rising knows that communities get through crises like COVID-19 when they pull together with community power and political power. Towards this end, Bay Rising created a searchable Covid Resource Guide to make it easy to find and get help as we protect, recover, and heal our communities. This amazing guide is available in English, Spanish, and Chinese, spanning across the whole Bay Area, with 11 categories including the recently added vaccine resource category.
Conceived in 2014, the Black Cultural Zone addresses the disparate impact that decades of disinvestment in East Oakland and more recent displacement of Black People and Black Businesses from their legacy communities here in Oakland by centering Black Arts and Culture within a community development framework.
The East Oakland Black Cultural Zone Collaborative was formed by the Eastside Arts Alliance and several non-profit organizations located in East Oakland to develop the East Oakland Black Cultural Zone. The Collaborative designated the East Oakland Black Cultural Zone as the 50 square blocks from High Street to the San Leandro Border and focused on implementing arts and cultural strategies and engaging artists and community members in art activism.
To address the disparity caused by the pandemic, the Black Cultural Zone launched a Neighborhood Messenger Program that connects residents on over 100 Blocks throughout Oakland. Messengers are trusted voices on their block that are supplied with information and resources on topics ranging from COVID 19 Workers Rights and Emergency Housing to Personal Protective Equipment and Non-Perishable foods. Outreach at the community level with neighbors helping neighbors is an effective method to address chronic and acute social, health and quality of life challenges faced in the most vulnerable neighborhoods. Messengers receive a $500 monthly stipend for building healthy relationships in their community.
The California Domestic Workers Coalition (CDWC), founded in 2006, has been a steady force in fighting for stronger protections and recognition for the more than 300,000 domestic workers in California.. In California, more than 2 million private households rely on the labor and services of domestic workers, such as house-cleaners, nannies, and in-home attendants to seniors and people with disabilities. This workforce is made up primarily of immigrant women of color, and many are the primary breadwinners for their families.
CDWC is a domestic worker led, statewide alliance of community-based organizations, domestic employers, worker centers, labor unions, faith groups, students, and policy advocates. Together, they advance a movement for the rights and dignity of immigrant women workers by building power through legislative advocacy, grassroots organizing, and leadership development. They are working hard to confront a history of exclusion to basic labor protections and to advance the rights and dignity of domestic workers and their communities across the state.
For the past year, and now moving into 2021, CDWC is advancing a protective bill, The Health and Safety for All Workers Act, that removes the historical exclusion of domestic workers, so that domestic workers can have the legal right to health and safety training and protective equipment, and be protected against retaliation when they try to protect their own health and safety at work.
The COVID-19 pandemic and recent devastating wildfires in California has exacerbated the dangers that domestic workers and day laborers face on a daily basis because they are excluded from CAL/OSHA protections and regulations.
Right now domestic workers are right at the frontline of the COVID-19 pandemic. They work with people most vulnerable to the illness, like the elderly and people with compromised immune systems, often without adequate protective equipment or training. And they themselves don’t have a safety net to lean on in times of crisis, like affordable health care, unemployment benefits, and paid sick days.
During the wildfires that devastated California, we saw a similar phenomenon. Domestic workers and other household workers, like day laborers, were asked to stay behind to fight fires, guard homes or pets, work in smoky conditions, and clean up toxic ash, all without protective equipment. Workers were further put at risk when employers failed to warn them that the homes they work in were under mandatory evacuation.
Domestic workers often have to make the impossible choice between working in unsafe conditions or going without any income, especially during these kinds of crises. But domestic workers face risks every day- the risk of injury, exposure to infectious disease and household cleaning chemicals, and the very real threat of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse by employers or clients, because of their often isolated and informal work environment. SB 321 goes a long way to protect domestic workers.
Founded in 2005, the California Healthy Nail Salon Collaborative is a statewide grassroots organization that addresses health, environmental, reproductive justice, and other social issues faced by its low-income, female, Vietnamese immigrant and refugee workforce.
Using a multi-tiered approach that blends community organizing, grassroots policy advocacy, and community-based research, the Collaborative builds power of the nail salon community to develop solutions that benefit the nail salon workforce, their families, small immigrant and refugee owned businesses, and their communities.
Throughout the pandemic, the Collaborative has been extremely active in engaging the nail salon industry and workers to ensure their safety and health and to support them in reopening safely. They have provided information in English and Vietnamese to salon workers and they have spent countless hours directly meeting with, training, and encouraging salon workers as they struggle to understand technological and language barriers, the various phases of the pandemic.
Their social media presence has increased exponentially as they have held facebook live engagements and trainings and posted information to the community on COVID-19 such as Myths and Facts, the vaccinations’ effect on various populations such as pregnant women, and double masking to increase protections.
PAWIS was formed in 2002 to fight against social and economic injustice faced by Filipino workers and Im/migrants in Santa Clara County. PAWIS supports Filipinos in Santa Clara County, the bay area, in the U.S and around the world on workplace rights issues. They are Filipino workers and im/migrants who have come together because they realized the need to support and strengthen their community against abuse and exploitation. They provide support to Filipino workers in industries such as health care, retail/sales, and electronic manufacturing.
During the pandemic, they have uplifted issues facing Filipino caregivers and frontline workers including hosting the online webinar, “Conversations on the Issues and Concerns of Caregivers.” The webinar provided critical information about the struggles faced by caregivers in the United States and detailing the lack of protective regulations in the caregiving industry. Stories about the pandemic’s effects on the dangerous working conditions of caregivers were shared and participants discussed how feudal culture from the Philippines contributes to the present day exploitation of caregivers.
They have also been amplifying and urging solidarity to address the rise in anti-Asian sentiment that has affected their members. In their issued statement, they said, “Most of our members are essential workers who continue going to work despite and inspite, of COVID 19…However, the anti-Asian sentiment that has long plagued this nation and has escalated to violence and attacks against Asians in these past weeks sowed added fears and worries to our community that has been through so much already in the past year. Filipinos and our Asian brothers and sisters are subjected to horrific physical attacks, racial slurs and other forms of harassment…We urge our community to stand strong and in solidarity with our Asian sisters and brothers. We denounce the type of scapegoating that we Asians and Asian Americans have been subjected to in the wake of the pandemic. We deserve to live, breathe and work in this country. We must continue to advocate and fight for our rights and welfare because every person in this world deserves to live their lives with safety, dignity and respect.”
More recently, they have joined Step Forward in providing critical PPE and workers rights information to workers in Santa Clara County.
Street Level Health Project (SLHP) is an Oakland-based community center dedicated to improving the wellbeing of underinsured, uninsured, and recently arrived immigrants in Alameda County. SLHP promotes self-sufficiency for marginalized people of color by creating equitable and dignified access to health and employment regardless of socioeconomic or immigration status. SLHP engages the community in constructing collective power and leadership in order to advance a more just, inclusive, and empathetic society. They provide safety net services for immigrant communities to ensure equitable health access for the uninsured. They tackle institutional and systemic barriers to create an inclusive society that honors the historical contributions of immigrant communities.They address income security to empower low-income contingent workers and reduce health disparities associated with unemployment and underemployment.
During the pandemic, SLHP has been instrumental in engaging hard to reach populations. Every week SLHP has been committed to hit the streets whether it was at day laborer stops, during their food distribution, or literally just walking the streets of Fruitvale and East Oakland to reach the Latino and Maya Mam community. Their COVID outreach team provides resources, food, PPE, and critical COVID and vaccination updates. They have provided 1:1 assistance to day laborers and their families at the different vaccine sites in the Fruitvale area to address linguistic, literacy, and technological barriers. SLHP is very proud of their team for all their hard work in making sure the communities they serve have what they need to make informed decisions.
Temp Worker Justice is a nonprofit that supports temporary workers and workers’ organizations seeking justice and fairness in the workplace. They are led by temp workers, advocates, organizers, researchers, and labor educators. Temp Worker Justice is led by Dave DeSario, one of the Founding Members, who has been a temporary worker many times over. His experiences led him to become an advocate for others. While working as a temp in 2009 he created the leading website for information on temp staffing issues, connecting with hundreds of temps across the country to provide resources and referrals. The goal of Temp Worker Justice (TWJ) is to reverse the trend of temping-out America’s workplaces, to help empower temp workers and their organizations so they may obtain the full pay and benefits, safe working conditions, and complete respect that “temp” workers deserve and are entitled to.
Temp and contingency workers found their jobs most at risk during the pandemic with many being the first to lose jobs. With the critical work advocacy of Mike Foley, lead researcher at Washington State’s Safety and Health Assessment and Research for Prevention (SHARP) Program, Temp Worker Justice has made Washington State the third state in the nation to pass protective laws for temporary workers with far reaching implications.
The new law, SHB 1206, which takes effect July 25, 2021, was enacted after a request by Washington State’s Department of Labor and Industries and provides an important barrier to temporary worker schemes which provide cost cutting incentives for companies to use temporary agencies.
Laws such as this go a long way to ensuring a baseline of protections for workers when they are faced with emergency situations such as the COVID-19 pandemic. Read more about this bill at Counterpunch and in our article: “Washington State Has a New Temp Worker Law — How Do California Laws Compare?”
Trabajadores Unidos Workers United (TUWU) was formed in 2002 as Young Workers United, and is a multi-racial and bilingual membership organization dedicated to improving the quality of jobs for workers in San Francisco. They raise standards in the low-wage service sectors in San Francisco through worker organizing, know your rights outreach, leadership development, and base-building.
They believe in the power of organizing whole people at the intersection of their identities, political leanings, and geographies. With their members leading, they are building a world where low-wage service workers have dignity and respect at their jobs and where they shape the political priorities that most deeply impact Latine working class communities.
TUWU engaged in a vital Essential Workers Survey over the summer of 2020 where they surveyed 295 immigrant workers who work or live in San Francisco to assess current conditions and working experiences for the working class Latinx community in San Francisco during the COVID-19 pandemic and through the reopening of businesses. The majority of whom were restaurant and domestic workers.
The report concludes: “low-wage workers were being overworked and treated as if they were disposable. A restaurant worker stated, ‘My family and I tested positive for COVID-19 in early August. We have been quarantining because the entire family tested positive. I had a job lined up and had started working for two days, but then I lost the job after being in quarantine for two weeks.’ Workers deserve to be treated with respect and dignity and the needs of employees should be priori-tized over the needs of businesses. Employers should not take advantage of their employees, especially as we are amid a pandemic and low-wage workers are in a vulnerable position. It is not enough to pass labor laws to ensure workers’ rights are protected. These laws also need to be enforced to put an end to the exploitation of low-wage immigrant workers.”