Disasters lay bare the inequities already existing in our society. While the latest COVID-19 economic news is mind-boggling—the highest unemployment since the Great Depression with one in four Washington residents out of work—we know this devastation hits those at the bottom rungs of the economic ladder the hardest.
At Legal Voice, we are focusing our economic justice efforts on these workers at the bottom: women of color and immigrant women in low wage work. These workers face a perfect storm right now:
They are overrepresented among the unemployed because they often work in service jobs where workers have been laid off in droves due to social distancing, including positions at hotels, restaurants, and in domestic work.
They have the least access to worker benefits and supports that protect their health and provide a safety net in times of crisis like health insurance, paid sick leave, child care, and unemployment insurance.
A troubling picture has emerged in the wake of the implementation of the stay at home orders that compounds issues for these workers: the government has enacted strict rules to protect the public health and save lives, but has not created an adequate support system through emergency policies to help the most vulnerable withstand the devastating impacts of those rules. This failure has stark racial and gender justice consequences given the makeup of low wage workers.
While the federal government is gridlocked on delivering better immediate policy responses for workers, our state and local policymakers can AND must do more to creatively solve the debilitating effects of the stay at home rules on the most vulnerable. Legal Voice is working toward such solutions in these ways:
Help for undocumented workers
Undocumented workers, who are ineligible for unemployment or federal stimulus checks, include significant numbers of women working in low wage service jobs like hotel housekeepers, house cleaners, and nannies. Legal Voice is part of a community coalition with partners such as Casa Latina calling upon Governor Inslee to provide both immediate relief and a parallel system of unemployment insurance.
Emergency paid leave and other benefits
Women bear a disproportionate share of family caregiving responsibilities, which is exacerbated by the virus and school closures. They need emergency paid sick and paid family leave similar to laws passed in San Francisco and New York State. Domestic workers need portable benefits that are attached to the worker and not the job, as Seattle is exploring.
Essential workers health and safety
Employers of low wage essential workers are often failing to provide basic health and safety measures like masks, handwashing stations and social distancing in workplaces ranging from farms to grocery stores. We are exploring strategies with allies to push the state to utilize its enforcement powers to ensure employers keep all Washington workers safe.
As we move forward with these multiple strategies for a better emergency support system for vulnerable workers, your support has been essential. Please also check out our Covid-19 Guide for gender equity and racial justice resources.