What does the labor movement creation, dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers, mean to you? It’s supposed to be a time to honor the contributions workers have made to the prosperity of a nation. But let’s be honest, for many it has become the signal for the end of summer or just another day off.
This week, Women AdvaNCe launched #thevalueoflabor campaign as a tribute and acknowledgment regarding unchecked labor issues. From unequal pay to poor working conditions, the Value of Labor 2020 is Women AdvaNCe’s campaign to highlight stories of women in the workforce with an emphasis on uplifting the voices of women storytellers.
We launched this labor storytelling initiative after working with women who felt they didn’t have a place to share their stories. Last year, we partnered with the NC Justice Center for storytelling training. The event was organized in collaboration with a host of workers in Salisbury, North Carolina who wanted to learn more about speaking before public officials, writing letters to the editors, op-eds and joining the Women AdvaNCe writers’ collective.
Some of the stories shared included one by Charnelle, a young factory worker, who was wearing over-sized clothing to hide a pregnancy from her employer. She explained, “The last time I told the guy I work for that I was pregnant, they fired me.” Thankfully, a representative from the Justice Center was a part of the conversation to lend Charnelle support. Her story reminds us of why our Know Your Education on social media remains important.
We also heard from Gloria, an older woman who worked as a security guard in a building with toxic mold. After years of complaints, the relatively-healthy employee began having trouble breathing. She has notes from her physician linking her lung issues to mold exposure. When she complained at work, not only was her job threatened, she said she was physically threatened. Years later, the building was closed permanently due to mold. Gloria was right all along, and as you can imagine, she wants the community to know it.
We were unable to gather for in-person training this year, but we are still helping to elevate the voices of laborers. With COVID-19, there is a growing concern for the safety of essential workers like the 20-year veteran CNA “Alicia,” so named for privacy purposes.
During this COVID-19 pandemic, some have referred to Certified Nursing Assistants (CNAs) as unsung heroes of the nursing field. But is that reflected in their treatment? These, often Black and Brown and underpaid, caregivers spend the most time with patients every day, helping them to bathe, eat, dress and complete many other intimate daily tasks.
Alicia shared her story with Women AdvaNCe that included a shocking lack of transparency and disregard for the safety of workers in one of North Carolina’s long-term care facilities. Days after Alicia left, the facility admitted to an outbreak of COVID that led to several deaths. Alicia is speaking out, in hopes that people realize that essential workers risk their lives to care for our needs. She says that COVID exposes the worst aspects of a field that treats CNAs like they are disposable. Alicia is currently unemployed and living on $227 a week due to the risk of exposing her daughter who has sickle cell anemia.
A piece reported by Stephanie Carson highlights the challenges of mothers who have lost jobs or taken pay cuts during COVID. Stephanie writes, “Recent information from the Census also indicates it’s women feeling the impact above their male counterparts. Of those not working, women ages 25-44 are almost three times as likely as men to not be working due to childcare demands. About one in three (30.9%) of these women are not working because of childcare, compared to 11.6% of men in the same age group.”
Join us this Labor Day by reading, liking, sharing, commenting on these important perspectives. Not to rain on your cookout, but spreading the word is the least we can do knowing that many will spend this Labor Day unemployed, underemployed and worrying about childcare.
#TheValueofLabor is a Women AdvaNCe project funded by NC Families Care Coalition. As members of the coalition, Women AdvaNCe works to improve paid family medical leave, pregnant worker accommodations, and living wages.
Antionette Kerr is a syndicated columnist, lover of poetry and a nonprofit consultant.