As Members of House Finalized Bailout Legislation this Weekend, Essential Workers Plead That They Not Be Forgotten
NEWARK – As the April jobs report brings to light the sheer magnitude of the unemployment crisis, property service worker on the frontlines of the Covid-19 pandemic are demanding urgent action from Congress.
“Congress should do all it can to protect essential workers so they have full access to emergency relief like layoff protection, essential pay and personal protective equipment to avoid infection,” said Kevin Brown, Vice President of 32BJ SEIU and head of the union’s New Jersey division. “32BJ members are united in demanding that Congress take action and have sent 100,000 messages to Congress in the last few weeks.”
Janitors, security officers, porters & other property service workers on the frontlines of Covid-19 have taken their fight to Congress for essential pay, PPE and layoff protection in economic relief and recovery package. They have received an outpouring of support from elected officials at the state, local and federal level.
More than 354 state and local office holders throughout the northeast, including New Jersey state and city leaders – State Senate President Stephen Sweeney, General Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, Paterson Mayor Andre Sayegh, Hoboken Mayor Ravinder Bahlla, and 59 others — sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader McConnell and House Speaker Pelosi, urging them to adopt measures to protect property service workers who are vital to keeping the region running during the COVID-19 crisis.
“It is not possible for property service workers to perform their duties remotely and they brave long commutes to fulfill their responsibilities –often without essential personal protective equipment, such as gloves and masks,” the letter reads. “At some locations, where operations have ceased or business has slowed, the property service workers are being laid off. These layoffs are devastating to these workers: they face losing their health insurance and their connection to employment.”
“The layoffs will also have a disastrous effect on our ability to get buildings up and running as smoothly and efficiently as possible once the pandemic has passed.”
The letter comes as essential building service workers strengthen their demand for protection in the next bailout. To date, building service workers desperate for protection in the next bailout have generated more than 100,000 messages to Congress and thousands of calls.
Two weeks ago, Rep. Shalala led 92 Members of Congress in writing a letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy urging them include protections for property service workers in any future legislation in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Many essential workers are immigrants and people of color who are disproportionately affected by COVID-19. Most workers who perform essential property service functions live in low-income neighborhoods and must commute to commercial centers, airports, or more affluent neighborhoods to get to work, further risking exposure to the Covid-19 virus on public transportation. While essential workers are keeping others safe, they and those close to them risk getting sick and dying. And after they have risked themselves to keep others safe, many are being laid off, left without paycheck or health care.
To prevent further layoffs that could slow the re-opening of key sectors of the economy, elected officials at the state, local and federal level are calling for the next bailout to include provisions to keep contracted property service workers on payroll, and maintain any health benefits they normally are provided, and provide essential pay and PPE. They noted that this will also alleviate the strain on overburdened state unemployment insurance programs.
“I was at work until the end of March, when I found out I had COVID-19 and was very sick for a few weeks. My company closed soon after, on April 1st and we were all laid off,” said José Ramírez, who has worked as a cleaner at the Verizon building in Basking Ridge since 2018. “I am the head of household. My wife was also laid off from her job due to the closure of her building. We’ve had to resort to the few savings we have, in order to pay rent, buy groceries, and for our medical expenses. My money is running out, I fear soon not to be able to provide for my family. My co-workers and I ask Congress to get resources to New Jersey so that we can return to our jobs and get our incomes back, and get up from this nightmare.”
With over 175,000 members in eleven states, including 13,000 in New Jersey, 32BJ SEIU is the largest property service workers union in the country.