Thursday evening, a coalition of Twin Cities community organizations and labor unions hosted the digital Minnesota Forum on COVID-19, Frontline Workers, and Racial Justice.
A panel of frontline workers implored state officials to take leadership in protecting worker health and safety as the state begins to open back up.
The forum began with opening remarks from Attorney General Keith Ellison, stating his support for essential workers.
“We are committed to worker safety, fair pay and fair working conditions, and we want to ally with you,” he said. Ellison listed various resources workers can turn to if their workplaces are not following COVID-19 guidelines.
Workers from all over the economy, including child-care, nursing, catering, construction, cleaning, conveyed the shared experience of being forced to risk their health and safety while on the job. Several workers stated that these jobs are all that they have to provide for themselves and their families. Various workers called out the contradictions of essential workers getting paid the least.
“They call us heroes. But behind the curtain, it’s more like the workers of this pandemic are sacrificial lambs. Too often, saving money is prioritized over safe care,” said Brittany Livaccari, an ER nurse and member of the Minnesota Nurses Association.
Ernesto Garnica, a janitor and member of SEIU Local 26 who survived COVID-19, said, “It feels even more dangerous now as our state begins to re-open…we haven’t seen the needed action by employers, so we need the government to step up.”
Construction worker and member with CTUL Abel Sandoval Olivares stressed the pandemic’s racial implications, stating that Latino workers are disproportionately on the pandemic’s frontlines with some of the lowest pay.
Across industries, the workers’ demands included hazard pay for frontline workers, more PPE, training, and more vigorous enforcement of existing guidelines, among other demands to ensure workers’ health and safety.
The forum also included announcements on new union organizing in the foodservice industry, including Tattersall, Spyhouse, Fair State, Surly Brewing.
The forum concluded with workers, politicians, and community members splitting into break out rooms where workers spoke directly with elected officials. Elected officials digitally present at the forum included AG Keith Ellison, Senator Patricia Torres Ray, Rep. Aisha Gomez, Rep. Todd Lippert, and Rep. Anne Claflin.
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