Need Even More from Our Delegation and Citizens By Jeff Thomas On the heels of the one of the mostRead more
by Jordan Rock
Let me take this opportunity to talk about the bizarre experience of living during a global pandemic, and about how it relates to work.
I know how silly that sounds; we are literally ALL living through a global pandemic right now, we Know how it feels.
But, well, these types of things can be hard to express, and perhaps the strangeness of this situation hasn’t quite set in for you yet. After all, I didn’t start thinking about all of this in terms of posterity until my job evaporated.
Do you still have a job during this crisis? How does that make you feel?
For the vast majority of Americans, it is our modus operandi to be worked into the ground in order to make ends meet.
When you’re working your fingers to the bone, it’s easy to focus on the aches and pains rather than the society that led you to them.
Even as I write this, it’s amazing to me how badly I want to get back to work.
Not because I liked my job, but because without the anchor of a regular schedule, I can feel my grip on time pulling away from me.
Because I’ve been made to sit still, only venturing out for essential survival materials, my main contact with the rest of the world is being funneled through social media, and the news cycle.
I want to do something, but all I Can do is watch this horror show play out.
For me, this anxiety is familiar ground.
This situation bears a striking resemblance to another major disaster that had a direct effect on my life. That of Hurricane Katrina. Since you’re here, on this website, I assume you’re familiar with it.
Even after my family escaped from New Orleans in the wake of the hurricane, we kept up with the news cycle just to see what had become of our city. We watched along with the rest of America as the devastation played out.
I was twelve years old at the time and let me tell you; that was the first time I experienced true horror. We had heard the warnings, and we had prepared, but nothing can get you ready mentally
Twelve years old is far too early to lose any and all faith in the society you live in, I think. It has been the longest heartbreak of my life.
But, more to the point, that horror was visceral and personal to me. I could look at my streets and see the devastation wrought by the wind and the rain and the failing infrastructure. This virus is different. It doesn’t destroy cities; not directly. It destroys lives. It is at once a distant threat and one that surrounds me at all times. This disaster looks completely different from the last one. I can’t run away from it, because nowhere in America is safe from it.
Today, I stand at the window and think about how oddly beautiful the streets are when they are so damn empty and quiet. I hold back tears when I talk to my friends, who have been given the illustrious title of “Essential Worker” at social gunpoint so that they can risk their lives for someone else’s bottom line. I watch the so-called leadership of America downplay this pandemic and expect us all to play along. This disaster is so much bigger than the one from my youth, and we had so much less warning. This time, the flood waters, as it were, have yet to recede. We’re standing waist deep in this crisis, watching people drown, and still we’re all being told to get back to work.
I explained last time that the United States has proven itself the best at being the worst at handling this world-wide viral pandemic. The death toll climbs by the hour, and even as we hear pyrrhic news about how people that recover from the virus become immune to it, or how a vaccine is in development, they are like fireflies in the void of space. Distant stars, too far to reach.
I’m amazed at how angry I am this time around. Whenever something vile has happened to American people in the last four years of our current administration, its been wrapped up with a neat little bow in the 24 hour news cycle, trotted around for ratings and then tossed under the stampede of fresh horrors running in. There is no solidarity or mourning for this crisis, for the thousands dead and dying. There is only the constant knowledge of it as thousands more shuffle off to risk their lives for a paycheck that doesn’t justify their peril.
I read the other day that the United States is the only country that has not agreed to make the vaccine free and available for its people when it is completed. All I can think when I hear this is that the cure for this plague is going to become a luxury item, and suddenly this virus consuming the world will be written off by the great and the good as a poor person’s disease.
This is growing incoherent. But that’s the thing; our reality makes less and less sense the longer we sit still. We’ve all grown so numb to the horrors of these times, able to stumble through our days as long as we can have a distraction to motivates to slough through all of the nonsense. But now, for so many of us, the constant cycle of work, sleep eat has been disrupted, and all we have is to sit. And those of us that can sit and wait for this to blow over are the lucky ones. And yet, it feels like being held down with our eyes taped open. When you aren’t going to work, you lose track of time. If you don’t set your own schedule, monitor yourself, you lose control. All there is for those stuck inside is to watch as their country mishandles every step of the battle against the virus. From that perspective, it almost makes sense how many people furiously reject the idea of staying inside right now. I can almost sympathize with the desire to ignore the virus and try desperately to live normally.
I understand how hard it is to sit still.
I’m a busy body. My ADHD-addled brain frequently zips through associations and ideas at a breakneck pace, like the world’s least sensical game of synaptic ping-pong, and while that makes me a fantastic idea man, it also means I must be a relentless note-taker with a restless mind.
Add on top of that the trauma of our shared situation, and you get a lot of sleepless nights.
Since this lockdown started, I can’t remember the last time I slept all the way through the night.
And now, with the virus only ramping up, with the death toll climbing higher and higher, with lunatics running around without masks claiming that it is their civil right to put everyone around them at risk of infection, we’re being told that now is the time for shops to reopen, for us to go back out and sweat and bleed for the economy?
I want to be shocked. I really do, but then I think about it.
Americans have been so socialized, so hammered by the idea that the only purpose we have in life is to go to work, consume products, breed and make more consumers that will also go to work, all to line the pockets of the rich and powerful, its almost seductive to wiggle our jobs in front of our faces during a pandemic.
I have a friend in the Bay Area who happens to be an EMT, and listening to the routine he has to go through of undressing on the porch, disinfecting his clothes and then trying to sanitize himself before touching anything inside his house makes my hands shake. When you go through a crisis, you come out on the other side shaken, with the knowledge that your world has changed. You would think that America itself, so rattled by this nightmare would at least acknowledge the horror of it all, that our current administration would be able to pretend for a moment that it cares for its people.
We need work, because a single check from the government is not going to be enough to pay our inflating rents. Hell, for many, it wasn’t enough to pay one month of rent. We need work, because the pittance we received for our previous work has already been spent just trying to survive.
Just what in the world Is an essential worker, anyway?
Far as I can see, it’s someone that has a choice; you can get out there and work, or you can starve. Either feed the beast of the economy with your labor or feed it with your life.
They are the life support plugged into a failed economic experiment; a feed bag strapped to the face of our broken system. A bare neck for our vampiric oligarchy to bite into.
We are as essential as pigs are to a butcher.
No wonder I’m so mad. I’m not mad at the virus, or mad that I’m stuck inside. I’m mad, because when disaster struck me at twelve years old, I got to watch the Bush administration put on a show of caring about my poor, destroyed city. This time, at twenty-seven, I get to watch the Trump administration bail out a bunch of major corporations with one hand and use the other to root around in my pockets for loose change.
President Trump has unveiled Guidelines for Opening Up America Again, a three-phased approach based on the advice of public health experts. These steps will help state and local officials when reopening their economies, getting people back to work, and continuing to protect American lives.
CriteriaThe data-driven conditions each region or state should satisfy before proceeding to a phased opening.PreparednessWhat States should do to meet the challenges ahead.Phase GuidelinesResponsibilities of individuals and employers during all phases, and in each specific phase of the opening.
Satisfy Before Proceeding to Phased Comeback
Downward trajectory of influenza-like illnesses (ILI) reported within a 14-day period
Downward trajectory of covid-like syndromic cases reported within a 14-day period
Downward trajectory of documented cases within a 14-day period
Downward trajectory of positive tests as a percent of total tests within a 14-day period (flat or increasing volume of tests)
Treat all patients without crisis care
Robust testing program in place for at-risk healthcare workers, including emerging antibody testing
State and local officials may need to tailor the application of these criteria to local circumstances (e.g., metropolitan areas that have suffered severe COVID outbreaks, rural and suburban areas where outbreaks have not occurred or have been mild). Additionally, where appropriate, Governors should work on a regional basis to satisfy these criteria and to progress through the phases outlined below.
BASED ON UP-TO-DATE DATA AND READINESS
MITIGATES RISK OF RESURGENCE
PROTECTS THE MOST VULNERABLE
IMPLEMENTABLE ON STATEWIDE OR COUNTY-BY-COUNTY BASIS AT GOVERNORS’ DISCRETION
Continue to adhere to State and local guidance as well as complementary CDC guidance, particularly with respect to face coverings.
Develop and implement appropriate policies, in accordance with Federal, State, and local regulations and guidance, and informed by industry best practices, regarding:
Monitor workforce for indicative symptoms. Do not allow symptomatic people to physically return to work until cleared by a medical provider.
Develop and implement policies and procedures for workforce contact tracing following employee COVID+ test.
For States and Regions that satisfy the gating criteria
ALL VULNERABLE INDIVIDUALS should continue to shelter in place. Members of households with vulnerable residents should be aware that by returning to work or other environments where distancing is not practical, they could carry the virus back home. Precautions should be taken to isolate from vulnerable residents.
All individuals, WHEN IN PUBLIC (e.g., parks, outdoor recreation areas, shopping areas), should maximize physical distance from others. Social settings of more than 10 people, where appropriate distancing may not be practical, should be avoided unless precautionary measures are observed.
Avoid SOCIALIZING in groups of more than 10 people in circumstances that do not readily allow for appropriate physical distancing (e.g., receptions, trade shows)
MINIMIZE NON-ESSENTIAL TRAVEL and adhere to CDC guidelines regarding isolation following travel.
Continue to ENCOURAGE TELEWORK, whenever possible and feasible with business operations.
If possible, RETURN TO WORK IN PHASES.
Close COMMON AREAS where personnel are likely to congregate and interact, or enforce strict social distancing protocols.
Minimize NON-ESSENTIAL TRAVEL and adhere to CDC guidelines regarding isolation following travel.
Strongly consider SPECIAL ACCOMMODATIONS for personnel who are members of a VULNERABLE POPULATION.
SCHOOLS AND ORGANIZED YOUTH ACTIVITIES (e.g., daycare, camp) that are currently closed should remain closed.
VISITS TO SENIOR LIVING FACILITIES AND HOSPITALS should be prohibited. Those who do interact with residents and patients must adhere to strict protocols regarding hygiene.
LARGE VENUES (e.g., sit-down dining, movie theaters, sporting venues, places of worship) can operate under strict physical distancing protocols.
ELECTIVE SURGERIES can resume, as clinically appropriate, on an outpatient basis at facilities that adhere to CMS guidelines.
GYMS can open if they adhere to strict physical distancing and sanitation protocols.
BARS should remain closed.
For States and Regions with no evidence of a rebound and that satisfy the gating criteria a second time
ALL VULNERABLE INDIVIDUALS should continue to shelter in place. Members of households with vulnerable residents should be aware that by returning to work or other environments where distancing is not practical, they could carry the virus back home. Precautions should be taken to isolate from vulnerable residents.
All individuals, WHEN IN PUBLIC (e.g., parks, outdoor recreation areas, shopping areas), should maximize physical distance from others. Social settings of more than 50 people, where appropriate distancing may not be practical, should be avoided unless precautionary measures are observed.
NON-ESSENTIAL TRAVEL can resume.
Continue to ENCOURAGE TELEWORK, whenever possible and feasible with business operations.
Close COMMON AREAS where personnel are likely to congregate and interact, or enforce moderate social distancing protocols.
Strongly consider SPECIAL ACCOMMODATIONS for personnel who are members of a VULNERABLE POPULATION.
SCHOOLS AND ORGANIZED YOUTH ACTIVITIES (e.g., daycare, camp) can reopen.
VISITS TO SENIOR CARE FACILITIES AND HOSPITALS should be prohibited. Those who do interact with residents and patients must adhere to strict protocols regarding hygiene.
LARGE VENUES (e.g., sit-down dining, movie theaters, sporting venues, places of worship) can operate under moderate physical distancing protocols.
ELECTIVE SURGERIES can resume, as clinically appropriate, on an outpatient and in-patient basis at facilities that adhere to CMS guidelines.
GYMS can remain open if they adhere to strict physical distancing and sanitation protocols.
BARS may operate with diminished standing-room occupancy, where applicable and appropriate.
For States and Regions with no evidence of a rebound and that satisfy the gating criteria a third time
VULNERABLE INDIVIDUALS can resume public interactions, but should practice physical distancing, minimizing exposure to social settings where distancing may not be practical, unless precautionary measures are observed.
LOW-RISK POPULATIONS should consider minimizing time spent in crowded environments.
Resume UNRESTRICTED STAFFING of worksites.
VISITS TO SENIOR CARE FACILITIES AND HOSPITALS can resume. Those who interact with residents and patients must be diligent regarding hygiene.
LARGE VENUES (e.g., sit-down dining, movie theaters, sporting venues, places of worship) can operate under limited physical distancing protocols.
GYMS can remain open if they adhere to standard sanitation protocols.
BARS may operate with increased standing room occupancy, where applicable.
1. Elderly individuals.
2. Individuals with serious underlying health conditions, including high blood pressure, chronic lung disease, diabetes, obesity, asthma, and those whose immune system is compromised such as by chemotherapy for cancer and other conditions requiring such therapy.
All the proceeds of this fundraiser go directly to students who now more than ever need gap tuition financing. These are academically high performing students who need financial help. And you get some delicious crawfish and sides.
You can purchase right here online at:
By C.C. Campbell-Rock
On his second trip to Memphis to support striking sanitation workers, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. lost his life on the frontlines in the fight for fair wages, better work conditions, and the respect and dignity demanded by the workers on the signs they carried: “I Am a Man.”
Fifty-two years later, sanitation workers in New Orleans are carrying the same signs, demanding the same benefits, with several caveats. In addition to a living wage and better working conditions, striking sanitation workers employed by PeopleReady, a subcontractor with the Metro Service Group, are also calling for $15 per hour, inclusive of hazard pay and the personal protective equipment (PPE) necessary to avoid contracting the coronavirus.
Entering the second week of their strike, at least 16 hoppers are on the picket line. “We gotten no hazard pay, no health insurance. We’re sure that’s not right,” Shone Gray, a 15-year sanitation worker, told members of Justice and Beyond during a Zoom Conference. “I guess Metro is helping the drivers, not the hoppers. We don’t have any type of benefits or insurance, none of that.”
Ironically, the sanitation workers’ dispute is pitting a black owned company against some of their black workers.
Metro Services Group (MSG) is a black-owned corporation co-founded by brothers Jimmie M. Woods and Glenn H. Woods. Headquartered in New Orleans, the company directly employs 250 people and 76 contract laborers. The firm provides sanitation, construction/demolition, disaster recovery and industrial and environmental services to municipalities in Georgia, South Carolina, Mississippi, Texas, Tennessee, Florida, and Philadelphia. MSG also have contracts with federal agencies. The firm generates $19.9 million in sales annually, according to Dun & Bradstreet.
A press release MSG’s website disputes what it calls “scurrilous and baseless claims” by contracted hoppers who allege that Metro hasn’t provided the personal protective equipment needed for the hoppers’ safety.
“When COVID-19 unfolded, prior to the protest, Metro bought 15,000 KN95 masks, surgical masks, bandanas, 2000 pairs of various gloves and hand sanitizer.” Metro also routinely sanitizes its vehicles, facilities and equipment and the company denies allegations that their vehicles are prone to breakdowns. Its current fleet is comprised of 2017 vehicles, which undergo regularly scheduled maintenance.
“I only got a mask one time. A week or two after corona, they only us a pair of gloves, once a week. If you don’t show up between 34:00 am and 3:30 am, you don’t get the PPE,” Gray adds. Sanitation trucks roll out at 3:45 am, says Gray.
However, Metro’s publicist Virginia Miller says the PPE shortage allegation is false.
“The hoppers are direct employees of PeopleReady. PeopleReady also provides their own PPE to employees they assign to work for Metro,” and “Metro has been assured by all its contractors that no one working on behalf of Metro is being paid less than the current living wage of $11.19/hour,” the current Living Wage under the City’s Living Wage Ordinance.,” according to a Metro Fact Sheet.
“They’re paying us $10.25 an hour and we’re asking for $15 per hour. The temp service has come in here and pay us what they want to pay us,” Gray told Justice & Beyond members.
Pay dispute aside, $11.19 per hour is still below the federal poverty threshold for a family of four.
The hoppers want a benefit package that includes hazard pay, health insurance, a living wage, and sick leave. To that end, the striking workers have joined the City Waste Union.
“We have no workers comp, no health insurance, no benefits,” says Gray, who says he works at least 12 hours a day. The hopper says workers can easily get hurt on what he calls a dangerous job. “I broke my leg on the job, but I have to pay for it out my pocket. I had to go to the hospital on my own.” When asked if Metro is testing employees for the coronavirus, Gray says, “They said they would start test but they (tests) still haven’t come in yet.”
“He (Jimmy Woods) should see the world through the view of his workers; pay a living wage, hazard pay and benefits. These young men know what they’re fighting for. If you can afford to pay PeopleReady $16.75 an hour for each hopper, why not do your own in-house human resources?” Malcolm Suber, an organizer with the NOLA Workers Group, which is helping to garner support for the hoppers, asks.
“The Metro Service Group fully supports hazard pay for sanitation workers and others on the front line in this challenging Covid-19 environment. As our letter of May 1st to Congressman Richmond demonstrates, our position in this regard has been clear since before this demand was made by some of our contract “hoppers”. Without any doubt, our employees and contractors and others in the sanitation field deserve hazard pay.
“Metro has welcomed an opportunity for a dialog with the strikers presented by Councilman Jason Williams. While there are existing differences of opinion, these are very real and complex issues that deserve to be addressed in fact based, solution-driven dialog,” according to the company’s fact sheet.
In a May 12 press release, Metro denied any contact or conversations with the strikers prior to the labor stoppage on May 5. “Rather than address any concerns in a meaningful and productive way, they chose to make news with the ongoing and active support of a national group, the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA).”
The DSA is indeed supporting the striking hoppers. The organization has posted a Go Fund Me link for the sanitation workers and some DSA members are on the picket line with them.
However, Justice & Beyond, a multi-group coalition of civil rights and social justice advocates, and Loyola Law Professor Bill Quigley are also standing up for the hoppers. The executive director of the Gillis Long Poverty Law Center, Quigley has authored numerous legal analyses about fair wages, the need for minimum wage increases and workers’ rights. He also teaches social justice law at Loyola, among other subjects.
“That’s Senator Bernie Sanders people,” Quigley says of the DSA. “He has millions of followers, they’re here in New Orleans and nationwide.”
“The city, Metro, PeopleReady, every one of those contractors should do the right thing. It’s a question of fairness and justice. It’s a common tactic for business to avoid accountability,” Quigley explains regarding Metro’s insistence that PeopleReady is the employer of the striking hoppers. “The city hired Metro and Metro hired PeopleReady. You can’t avoid your responsibility by subcontracting it out.”
Reverend Gregory Manning, the co-coordinator of Justice and Beyond and Pastor of the Broadmoor Community Church, affirmed J&B’s support for the hoppers in a recent letter to Mayor LaToya Cantrell. He first expressed the group’s gratitude for Metro’s 38-year history as a highly reputable black-owned company in the city of New Orleans.
”Indeed, they have a set an example of success that many should strive for. I would like to personally thank Mr. Jimmy Woods for his employment of young African-American men and women throughout the city.”
“With that said, I would also like to make it clear that Justice and Beyond stands in solidarity with the striking workers of the City Waste Union. We believe that these workers should be supplied with proper PPE so that they may be protected from COVID-19 . This should be a standard distribution of new PPE daily for each worker. This PPE should be from head to toe. We also believe that each worker should be given hazard pay, sick leave, insurance and at least $19 an hour; the housing wage for New Orleans.”
Metro documents indicate that there are ongoing conversations to find a resolution to the workers’ demands. U.S. Representative Cedric Richmond is being asked to include sanitation workers in the House’s Hero Act and Mayor Cantrell and Councilperson-at-Large Jason Williams are being consulted. Metro Attorney David Davillier told a news reporter that one option could be an increase the city’s sanitation fees.
The hoppers are not alone in their fight for hazard pay and $15 per hour, and benefits. Essential workers nationwide, who continue to risk their lives to work during the coronavirus pandemic, are demanding the same benefits as unionized workers. Health experts say the coronavirus will continue to circulate for months.
Sanitation workers are essential to maintaining public health. Without them, the exposure to a plethora of illnesses caused by bacteria and other life-threatening organisms would make the coronavirus threat a walk in the park.
“Everybody needs to change. The world has changed,” Quigley adds, regarding the need for justice, fairness, better pay and a higher quality of life for everyone.
The best companies adapt and change too.
by Rebecca J. Lester Ph.D., MSW, LCSW
It goes without saying that the last few months have been an incredibly difficult time. Our worlds have changed, perhaps forever. The safety and security we once took for granted has been upended, and we are all still trying to find our footing.
This situation has led me to reflect not on deprivation, but on privilege. Because it occurs to me that the very things that are grinding many of us down at the moment: uncertainty, instability, feeling out of control of our circumstances, feeling hopeless, despairing that things won’t get better, having trouble concentrating or being motivated–all of these things are indicators of privilege that has been disrupted. This is not to suggest that these feelings aren’t real or valid. They absolutely are. But we are feeling them precisely because they mark such radical departures from our usual everyday lives.
As an anthropologist, I spend a great deal of time learning and thinking about cultures and societies other than my own. And one thing that quickly becomes clear when we take a global perspective is that expectations of an orderly, predictable, world where we have agency and the ability to affect the circumstances in which we live is a distinctly unusual state of affairs. These are properties of what social scientists and psychologists call WEIRD societies (Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, Democratic). WEIRD societies make up only a tiny sliver of the world’s population (Henrich, Heine, and Norenzayan 2010). The ways most Americans experience the world, then, puts them in a distinct minority.
Not only this, but not all Americans have access to the same kinds of resources and opportunities. We know from public health research, for example, that African Americans and other people of color are disproportionately affected by a variety of health concerns coupled with reduced access to healthcare, which is further compounded by the everyday micro- and macroagressions of racism and socioeconomic disadvantage. This leads to a weathering effect (Geronimus 1992) that has profound effects on outcomes, including in the current pandemic (Sanford and Carter 2020). And people of all races and ethnicities living in poverty contend daily with uncertainty, instability, and feeling out of control of their circumstances, which can lead to a sense of foreshortened future and hopelessness as well as difficulties making decisions or taking proactive steps (Mani et al., 2013).
When disadvantaged groups in our own country or people in other societies can’t somehow muster the wherewithal to “pull themselves up by their bootstraps,” they are often blamed for not trying hard enough, for not taking advantage of all the opportunities on offer, for somehow “deserving” their beleaguered state. Yet when we privileged folks get but a taste of similar conditions, we find it hard to cope and our worlds fall apart, leaving us to wonder how we will ever get back on track.
I want to be clear that I am not engaging in a “whose suffering is worse?” exercise. It is not a competition–suffering is suffering, and the current situation has produced very real and very dire consequences for millions and millions of people. What I do want to do, however, is to invite us all to reflect upon what that suffering can teach us about broader scale structures that frame our collective human lives and the kinds of challenges people less fortunate than us deal with every single day–not to minimize our own struggles, but to mobilize them toward a different end. Can my difficulties feeling motivated to do regular work in the midst of this crisis give me more compassion for the person who lives in insecurity every day, yet rides three busses to get to a minimum wage job? Can my challenges concentrating during the pandemic help me understand a bit better why some kids struggle at school when they don’t know what might be waiting for them out on the street or at home? Can this experience lead me to ask different questions or pay attention to different information before making judgements about people in another society or a country’s level of “development” or “progress”? article continues after advertisement
This is, indeed, an unprecedented time. Let’s use it to gain some unprecedented insights about ourselves, about others, and about the world we live in.
By Khalil Abdullah
(Ethnic Media Services) — Dr. Melva Thompson-Robinson knows the data on the disparate impact of the corona virus and COVID-19 on African Americans and other minorities. Her key concern is how racism and unconscious bias continue to act as an accelerant of the pandemic.
“Stories are starting to come out where African Americans are presenting themselves to emergency rooms and having COVID symptoms and are not being seen,” Thompson-Robinson asserts. “In some cases, it’s taking multiple trips, but by the time they do get tested they are so sick they can’t recover.”
Thompson-Robinson could have had Ms. Deborah Gatewood in mind. Gatewood repeatedly sought to be tested in mid-March for COVID-19 symptoms at the hospital in Michigan where she had been employed as a healthcare worker for over 30 years, according to Fox News 2 in Detroit. She was turned away – four times – and advised to go home and take a mild palliative, like cough syrup. Gatewood finally became so ill she had to be transported by ambulance. She died in late March at age 63 in a different hospital. She tested positive there for COVID-19, but too late for a lifesaving intervention.
The Gatewood story is a horrific but not atypical reminder of the fatal outcomes that Dr. Thompson-Robinson attributes to a long history of sub-optimal health care experienced by African Americans and the inherent bias that bleeds into all aspects of American life, from education to housing to employment opportunities. “This is something that has been centuries in the making – in the inequality, in the racism that African Americans in particular have experienced, but also other black and brown populations as well,” Thompson-Robinson contends.
Thompson-Robinson is the Director of the Center for Health Disparities Research at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. She spoke on a May 1 video conference for ethnic media journalists hosted by Ethnic Media Services. By way of example, in Louisiana, African Americans comprise about 30 percent of the population and over 70 percent of the COVID-19 patients, Thompson-Robinson noted, while in Georgia, they constitute 32 percent of the population but 52 percent of the cases. She said in many communities, low wage occupations – now categorized as essential – are filled by minority workers who often have no health insurance even as data on their underlying health conditions goes uncollected.
“We don’t get cancer at a higher rate, but we die at a higher rate. We don’t go to the physician. We aren’t getting things checked out until it’s too late.” Even when presenting to a physician or medical staff in a timely manner, as Ms. Gatewood attempted to do in Michigan, unconscious bias or stereotypes can weigh in on what may ultimately be an ill-formed medical diagnosis or supposition.
Thompson-Robinson spoke of her own experience of having to forcefully advocate for a family member. She recommends that a prospective patient bring someone along to the emergency room to serve as an advocate when he or she isn’t feeling well. Individuals from minority groups aren’t taken seriously when they say they’re in pain or when they are unable to articulate their symptoms to the satisfaction of medical personnel.
As for bias, it can manifest in simple ways. “Oh, I’m not racist,” Thompson-Robinson says mimicking a casual interaction, “but yet their actions treat people a little bit differently based on the biases they have. In the field of medicine, delays in being seen or treated typically yield poorer health outcomes.” David Hayes-Bautista, director of the Center for the Study of Latino Health and Culture at UCLA, concurred that minorities staff the front lines of essential service professions. “Feeding the nation and subject to deportation,” is how he described many of the undocumented or legally tenuous workers putting their lives at risk as farmworkers, meat packers, truck drivers, shelf stockers, check-out clerks, auto mechanics, bus drivers, nursing home attendants and other occupations heavily staffed by Latinos and people of color. They are also twice as likely not to have health insurance, Hayes-Bautista said.
In the public discourse about the effects of COVID-19, Mayra Alvarez, president of the Children’s Partnership, expressed dismay at the scant attention paid to children. Federal relief efforts have excluded immigrants and, by default, their children.
At least 55 million students have been cast adrift by school closings in 43 states and the District of Columbia. Food insecurity is a paramount concern, as is the dearth of access to distance learning. Nor is there much discussion about the long-term consequences of the trauma to which children are being exposed. Children are residing in food-insecure homes where their parents sacrifice their own meals to feed them, Alvarez said, citing a survey of 500 families in California by Children’s Partnership and Ed Trust. Some 72 percent of respondents said they “are worried about their family’s mental health.”
Offering one reason for hope, Alvarez said, “I truly believe that COVID-19 is shifting the conversation when it comes to greater understanding of historical inequities in health, in economic opportunity, in overall well-being – historical inequities that many of us have known have existed forever.” It is a sentiment shared by Thompson-Robinson. “I hope that once we come out of this pandemic, these conversations will continue – and that people will realize the health of our communities, our workforce, our country is only as strong as its weakest link.”
This article originally published in the May 18, 2020 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.
A NEW ORLEANS TRIBUNE ANALYSIS
by Tribune Staff
By now, everyone likely knows that African Americans, who comprise only 32 percent of the state’s population, have made up 70 percent of Louisiana’s COVID-related deaths so far.
When Gov. John Bel Edwards made that statistic public during one of his daily press briefings earlier this month, he also said the “trend” was worthy of further study. Not surprisingly, Louisiana is not alone. Across the nation, the virus similarly impacts Black communities. For example, in Chicago, Blacks comprise 70 percent of COVID-19 deaths there as well, while making up only about 30 percent of the city’s population.
The reason is racism— historic, systemic and institutional racism, the good old-fashioned kind. With all due respect to Gov. Edwards, 400 years of racism is not a trend.
That we are 70 percent of the COVID-19 related deaths in the state should come as no surprise. Black Americans, including those of us who live in Louisiana, are more defenseless against every societal ill America has to offer. It starts the minute we enter the world—literally, from birth. In 1968, Black infants were about 1.9 times as likely to die as White infants. Today, the rate is 2.3 times higher for African Americans.
We already know the stats. We have repeated them incessantly in the pages of The New Orleans Tribune for 35 years to be exact. But we are always happy to remind.
African Americans are 2.5 times as likely to be in poverty as Whites. Even with the ACA (Obamacare) and the Medicaid expansion, we are still uninsured at higher rates than White Americans and more likely to work jobs where health insurance is not offered, while earning too much to qualify for Medicaid and not enough to afford private insurance. In 2017 the Black unemployment rate was 7.5 percent, up from 6.7 percent in 1968, but it is still roughly twice the White unemployment rate. The typical Black family had only $2,467 in wealth in 1963. And while today that figure is about six times larger ($17,409), wealth for White families dwarfs it. In 2016, the median African American family had only 10.2 percent of the wealth of the median White family ($17,409 versus $171,000).
All of those statistics and others point to the reason COVID-19 has hit our communities so hard. Yes, chronic illnesses that African Americans often suffer from at a disproportionate rate should and must be addressed by individuals and their doctors. But we simply cannot stop there, because structural racism is at the root of it all.
Glenn Ellis, a medical ethicist, researcher, lecturer and president of Strategies for Well-Being, a global consultancy that specializes in health equity and advocacy, says the fallout from COVID-19 and its disproportionate impact on Black people offers an opportunity to determine how we will prevent this from happening again.
“What this virus is doing is clearly demonstrating how institutional racism has affected Black lives in America,” Ellis told The New Orleans Tribune. “And it is singling out the healthcare system to show how we are at a disadvantage. We can start with the method used to tell people to seek diagnosis and testing for COVID-19. They said to contact your primary care physician. Don’t go to the hospital. Don’t go to the emergency room. Many Black people don’t have primary care physicians. Even with Medicaid and Obamacare, they go to community clinics or community medical centers, where they see rotating physicians.”
The fact that African Americans are less likely to visit primary care physicians as their source of healthcare is not an obscure bit of information. According to a 2016 study published in a National Institute of Health study—whether the reason is mistrust, lack of access or socio-economic status/ability—Black Americans go to private physicians office for care at only two-thirds the rate of White Americans. Now if the National Institute of Health already knows this, someone somewhere had to have known that directing Americans to call their primary care physicians if they were experiencing COVID-19 symptoms would leave many Black Americans with no one to call.
As Ellis contends, the very fact that this reality was not considered when crafting and delivering the message that primary care physicians were the frontline for COVID-19 care at the very least indicated a lack of understanding for what it means to be Black in America. At worst, it was a blatant disregard for Blacks in America and a sign of institutional racism.
Ellis continues, “So if you are telling people not to go to the hospital, not to go to the emergency room, but to call their primary care physician, who are you talking to? They are not even talking to me because they don’t understand the realities of my culture. And that allows a viral infection to continue to spread. We were allowed to go much longer without taking precautions. Without any way to deny it, you have to look at what racism does to the wellbeing of Blacks in America.”
To be sure, even the drive-thru method of testing employed earlier in Louisiana and across the nation was innately biased against the poor and disenfranchised. It presumed that anyone and everyone experiencing symptoms of the disease also had a personal vehicle. In New Orleans, about 20 percent of the population lacks access to a personal vehicle, more than twice the national average. A lack of reliable transportation was a primary reason many New Orleanians, especially poor, Black New Orleanians were unable to evacuate before Hurricane Katrina.
It would be one thing if COVID-19 was the first time the impact of racism in America was exposed in such a raw and jarring manner. But it’s not.
Didn’t we learn this lesson nearly 15 years ago in the aftermath Hurricane Katrina? Didn’t the storm shine a light on how the deep socio-economic disparities fueled by systemic racism created two New Orleans—one that was overwhelmingly Black and unable to respond to the storm’s threat. Haven’t we been here before? Then, why do we find ourselves in this disgustingly familiar place? Better still, what are we going to do about it?”
Ellis has a thought.
“Now for the second time in recent years, this country has been given a chance to decide who it wants to be. We have a chance to say, ‘No, we don’t want to be a nation where an entire segment of our population is disenfranchised because of racism’. But if the nation won’t do it, as a whole, then Black folk need to get serious. We have to look at our consumption patterns,” he says, specifically referencing how and where Black Americans receive news and information.”
He continues, “We have to get strict and do it across the board in all areas—how we spend our money and how we vote. We really have to put more scrutiny on and demand more accountability from the people we vote for. Either we are going to do it together as a country or we have to come together as Black people and say ‘we’re not going to allow our communities and our people to die like this again’. We don’t have the luxury to be sitting around, waiting on somebody to save us.”
There is probably no individual or organization that encourages personal responsibility and the need for those of us in the Black community to save ourselves more than we do here at The New Orleans Tribune. Our mantra: “We must come together to save ourselves because no one else will.”
Of course, Black Americans . . . all Americans for that matter, should watch what we eat. We should not smoke or drink too much. We should exercise more. We should take seriously and, with the help of healthcare professionals, better manage chronic illnesses. We should make regular doctor visits.
We must do better as individuals, families, and communities when it comes to taking care of our bodies. The disparate vulnerability of Black Louisianans to the coronavirus has made that clear. We comprise 70 percent of COVID-19 related deaths in a state where we are only a little more than 32 percent of the population. And with that fact, perhaps it is a natural inclination to look at the Black community, point a finger and say that we must be doing something wrong, something that makes us more susceptible to the disease. And it is true. There are things we have done (or have not done) that have resulted in this uneven impact. It’s okay to talk about those things, especially if everyone else, especially our leaders and policymakers, are ready to talk about the things that have been done to Black people in America over the last 400 years, how those things have undermined our community and left us vulnerable to COVID-19 and so much more.
More importantly, we need leaders to develop a plan to address the issues that harm our communities from a policy standpoint.
That is why it was disappointing to hear Gov. John Edwards (and others, including Black leaders, elected officials and influencers) go on and on about the lifestyle behaviors that contribute to Black folk being disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 without the proper context. The reason Black people are dying from coronavirus at a disproportionate rate does not begin and end with bad habits or existing chronic illnesses that afflict our community at higher rates than others. It begins with structural racism.
It is true, coronavirus does not see race or class. But our nation and its healthcare system do. And that is the problem we need our leaders addressing substantially more than we need to be lectured by any of them about the amount of salt someone shakes on their meal.
It is disrespectful to go on and on about how Black people need to do a better job of seeking care from primary care doctors without talking about the institutional racism that helps explain why they don’t.
According to studies, Black Americans seek their healthcare from primary care physicians at a rate of about two-thirds that of White Americans. And unless we are ready to talk about a lack of cultural competency among many healthcare professionals, the lack of access and resources that keeps many Black Americans from seeking the medical care they need, the understandable and inherent distrust many Black Americans have for the established medical system, or the fact that only four percent of the nation’s practicing physicians are Black, then we are wasting our time. The “Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in Black Males” went on for 40 years until as recently as 1972; and dark events like it, along with similar issues with this country’s medical establishment, are major reasons Black Americans don’t trust the established medical system. It’s true many Black people don’t go to the doctor as often as they should. Can you blame them? Better still, what can you do to change this reality?
Of course, we know there are things individuals must do to improve his or her own quality of life. But let’s put this thing in perspective. Historic and even current government-sanctioned policies that were and are racist at their core have shaped what it means to be Black in America in every way possible. So as our leaders try desperately to unpack the data, we believe too much energy has been spent pointing fingers at Black people for the decisions they make or don’t make while not nearly enough attention is given to circumstances that have driven those decisions for 400 years.
The way some folks talk about the disparate impact of the virus on the Black community, including U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams whose “do it for your Abuela . . . do it for Big Mama” plea to Black and brown Americans to not drink and to not smoke, is pejorative, superficial and utterly ignores the fact that 400 years of structural racism have manifested into every negative social determinant that impacts Black America. And if the nation’s surgeon general, who also happens to be a Black man, can’t dig any deeper than that to talk about not only habits that need to change, but government policies and healthcare industry practices that need to be transformed as well, then we are in trouble.
We were unnerved by Gov. Edwards, when, during his 1 p.m. address Friday (April 10), he
castigated the very community being hit hardest by this disease; then, almost as if it were an afterthought, he briefly mentioned something about “figuring out” the social determinants that play a role in the disparate impact COVID-19 is having on Black people in Louisiana and “see what we can do to address them.”
What is there to figure out?
Slavery. Domestic Terrorism. Jim Crow. Segregation. Redlining. Economic Exclusion. Historically Inequitable Treatment in the Education, Healthcare, Housing, and Criminal Justice systems. Are those enough social determinants for y’all?
And let’s be abundantly clear, we are not talking about ancient history. We are talking about a relatively young nation’s recent past that continues and current problems that exist because every one of this nation’s systems and institutions are built on a foundation of racism.
Yes, we must talk about poor diets, but let’s dare do that without mentioning that our city is littered with communities that are in fact food deserts forcing people to travel miles from home for fresh offerings or settle for the unhealthy options that are just up the block. How could anyone with even an ounce of decency talk about poor eating habits of a community and not talk about how areas in cities such as New Orleans and others like it across the country are void of healthy choices TODAY because of redlining policies that date back to the 40s, 50s, and 60s—an actual program created and sanctioned by the federal government to keep banks from backing loans to developers to build and sell homes in Black neighborhoods, which in turn kept Blacks from building wealth and kept business interests from opening groceries or other viable institutions to serve people they intentionally left trapped there. Today, groceries, banks, healthcare facilities, restaurants and the like won’t even consider many of these areas of our communities unless they are being gentrified.
Just look to New Orleans East for an example close to home. Large national grocery store and retail chains abandoned New Orleans East after African-Americans began to move there and white folks fled.
Now as the state turns it’s attention to residents in the River Parishes, we have to talk about environmental racism. We hope that our leaders are not surprised because St. John, St. James and parishes that stretch along the Mississippi River, are getting hit hard now by coronavirus. As the number of cases in these areas grows, our leaders should not talk about the rate of diabetes or hypertension in these communities without mentioning the inequitable manner in which Black people in these communities suffer from cancer and respiratory illnesses because of the chemical plants that have been allowed to grow unchecked in their backyards.
We know it will be easier to talk about how residents along Cancer Alley need to exercise more. That way you don’t have to explain why the petrochemical plants are still allowed to flourish there despite their proximity to and detrimental impact on the communities of color. But we didn’t elect you to take the easy way out. Greed and environmental racism were already killing the people of these communities. COVID-19 is not helping. And neither will a brisk walk.
We could go on and on about every social determinant and point to historical or current policies and practices that directly impact the state of Black America today. We have been writing about this stuff for 35 years.
But right now, we just need y’all (including Black leaders) to stop it. Stop victim-blaming and do something.
For our part, we encourage our brothers and sisters to step up to the challenge and take as much control over their lives as they possibly can. We often dedicate the monthly “To Your Health” column of the this very newspaper to examining many of the illnesses that impact our community disparately, offering useful information and encouraging our readers to make healthier choices. Gov. Edwards is right about one thing—everyone needs to do his part. Everyone needs to do what they are supposed to do.
So, let us pray.
God grant us the courage to change the things we can and to accept personal responsibility for our individual lives.
Grant us the boldness to demand that our leaders fix the things they are supposed to fix, deliver services and create policies that close education, healthcare, housing, income and wealth gaps because that is what we elected them to do. And grant them the humility to either do their jobs or go home and be quiet.
Oh yeah, God, also grant them the wisdom not to blame the victims of 400 years of racism in America for not being able to handle this deadly virus as well as others who have enjoyed a 250-year head start in wealth, access, equity and opportunity in every way.
By Jeff Thomas
Brothers Jimmie and Glenn Woods started Metro Disposal (a/k/a Metro Service Group, Inc.) with vision, grit and determination. “It was just us. We had an old truck and we handmade our containers ourselves,” said Jimmie as he closed his eyes, leaned back in his chair and held his head back. “Around 8 at night I would drive and Glenn would be the hopper, and we would pick up the trash that had accumulated that day.”
“And the next morning we would put on a shirt and tie and knock on doors to get more customers,” added Glenn. “But I was the wheel man for the containers. If one of them broke, I would jack it up and fix it right there on the spot.”
“One day our truck broke down and I was under it laying in a rancid pool of maggots and feces infested water,” said Jimmie as the brothers teased about who worked the hardest. “You were good at anticipating the tool I would need next though.”
Metro has grown significantly over the last 38 years into a multi-state operation that is much more than two men and a truck. In New Orleans, Metro is one of the two African-American owned companies responsible for collecting the trash across our city. The two brothers parlayed their quick wardrobe changes and penchant to work long hard hours into being one of the largest companies in New Orleans. They now operate in 9 states and provide residential, commercial, industrial, construction and consulting services.
As the brothers joyfully reminisced inside their office, their happy mood switched to angst about the small crowd of protestors just outside the fence of their sprawling New Orleans East complex.
Across the country during this COVID-19 pandemic, union organizing has gained steam and momentum. Businesses are being identified by their size, scope and industry and organizers are contacting their employees and helping them gain better pay and protection during these life-threating work conditions. Our front-line workers deserve a living wage and proper protection.
Businesses are facing intense pressure during the COVID-19 pandemic and must adjust on the fly. Multiple unforeseen forces are simultaneously attempting to leverage business owners, while they struggle to even make a profit as their markets shrink or disappear. Additionally, workers who are fortunate enough to earn a living see their value as significantly higher and press for higher paychecks.
Smart business owners are balancing workers’ needs and rights within their own strained balance sheets and providing the resources we all desperately need during this pandemic. The best companies are transforming their business models—think Twitter allowing workers to permanently work from home. Workers will continue to organize. And this national resurgence in union organizing gives workers more ability to pressure companies.
Sitting inside their offices, the Woods brothers see this local attack through a different lens. The brothers not only currently pay, but have always paid a living wage, and they have been out in front of all the trendy hiring concepts that promulgate the latest social consciousness.
“We are the original second chance givers. We have always hired and paid a good salary to men who nobody else would even look at! Men who work with us can afford a good life in New Orleans.” “Our core beliefs are paying our people a living wage,” said Jimmie. “We always have,” echoed Glenn.
The men who Metro have hired are considered by some as castaways. Criminal records searches are used by 93% of employers that conduct pre-hiring screening, according to Sterling Talent Solutions in 2017. 70 million Americans have a criminal record, and often can’t find work because of it. The Woods’ brothers hiring practices get pass that discrimination and help formerly incarcerated persons get back on their feet. They routinely hire people who otherwise would not have a chance at earning a living wage and are proud of their support of the First 72+ program—a program that helps formerly incarcerated individuals to integrate back into society in a meaningful way.
Now, suddenly every morning young white liberals intermingle with the protestors, helping them to make signs, speak to the media and recruit others. Union organizers use laptops and smartphones to collect data from the group of largely African American men who normally start their shifts in the wee hours of the morning. These young organizers circulate information about unions and workers’ rights to the group of hoppers who normally assemble inside the gate. Hoppers are now demanding higher wages, PPE and safe working conditions.
The Woods brothers are most discouraged by the fake news being pushed by these organizers. Having been in the business for nearly 40 years, they have seen union organizers before. In fact, several years ago Metro workers voted overwhelmingly not to unionize; but now organizers are using the COVID-19 crisis to get another opportunity. Metro insists that it has treated all of their employees and subcontracted hoppers with the respect and dignity they deserve. They maintain that they pay $16.75 per hour per hopper to PeopleReady, the direct employer of the hoppers; that they have always had and made PPE available, and that their trucks are amongst the best maintained in the industry.
PeopleReady, the direct employer of the protesting hoppers, is a part of TrueBlue, Inc., a global workforce solutions leader connecting clients with over 840,000 associates across 70 countries. They recruit, hire and directly pay the hoppers. The PeopleReady profit per hour per employee is the difference between the living wage that Metro pays for the hoppers as compared to the multi-national company whose global focus is on their own profit. PeopleReady confirms that it currently pays the hoppers at least $11.19 per hour, which is the current Living Wage under the City’s Living Wage Ordinance.
Metro has always, not only had enough PPE for their employees and sub-contractors, but have even loaned supplies to other companies that were expecting delayed deliveries. They are committed to doing everything they can to protect the citizens of the city and every person associated with Metro, whether direct employees or indirect employees. The Woods brothers live in New Orleans and shiver at the thought of them being a source of community spread. Back in February, they sourced enough PPE for each team member and plan to continue to provide them protective gear as long as there is a need. In fact, they have invoices that prove this point.
Even though PeopleReady is responsible for providing all protective gear to the hoppers, Metro has stocked enough for the hoppers. Metro has communicated in no uncertain terms to PeopleReady that it should properly protect the workers. Viewing themselves as a front-line and an essential service, Woods says, “Metro will continue to lead the way in ensuring everybody in New Orleans is safe.” In fact, Metro is researching several products that can be sprayed on cans and give them long term resistance to germs, bacteria and viruses. Though not contractually required, Metro has always been an innovative company that protects our community.
The union claimed that Metro used prisoners from Livingston Parish to collect the trash in New Orleans. Metro does not refute this, but clarifies that when the hoppers decided not to work on May 5th, and stated that no truck would move and no trash would be collected in the City on that date, it had to act quickly to protect the citizens of New Orleans from the environmental effects waste build-up, along with honoring its contractual obligations to the City. During this pandemic, more people are home and creating and putting out more trash than normal, and Metro is committed to collecting the trash.
Faced with a reduced workforce, Metro reached out to industry competitors. None could help because they are also collecting more trash than normal. In a jam, the brothers took drastic measures. Referred to Livingston Parish by someone in the business, Metro hired trustees, who are at the end of their confinement, and are eligible to work. And New Orleans remains safe and clean. They only worked for 4 days. Metro paid a living wage to every man who worked during that 4-day period. Metro’s quick decision protected the people of New Orleans and helped some men who needed and were eligible to work.
The company has invested over $3 million dollars in their fleet of trucks, and in constructing a Compressed Natural Gas plant. If you used to listen for the garbage man and run out in your PJ’s to pull out the can, you might be out of luck if Metro services your neighborhood. They use Compressed Natural Gas trucks. The trucks are super quiet, virtually eliminating noise and air pollution, but making last minute can pullers job tough.
In their sprawling NOLA East complex, Metro employs certified mechanics, who in addition to servicing the trucks replace their own tires and paint the trucks themselves. Environmentally conscious and focused on cleanliness, Metro removes the trash in late-model, well-maintained, quiet trucks. They operate the mechanic shop 24-hours a day to keep clean running compressed natural gas-powered vehicles available.
Union organizers repeatedly question hoppers about problems. One day one hose broke on one truck. Suddenly a list of demands included stopping hydraulic fluid from pouring onto hoppers. The truck was serviced the same day and back on the road with a newly repaired hose that did not leak. Jimmie and Glenn pride themselves on keeping their vehicles in tip top shape.
Municipalities like to contract local because their partners are truly invested in the community. Lifelong residents of the greater New Orleans area, Jimmie and Glenn are well known contributors to important causes that benefit us all. Churches and community groups have leaned on the businessmen over the years, so much that they had to pull back and are forming a philanthropic nonprofit that will help raise funds and be responsible for aid distribution going forward.
Metro is a family-owned business that is the American success story. Metro is an African- American owned business that is growing. Metro hires African-American men, many who would have no other work opportunity, and pays them a living wage. The company is run by native New Orleanians who live in the city. Their children attend local schools. They go to local churches and shop in local stores. They are here to protect and serve our community.
But during these strange COVID-19 times, they are being branded as a something else. A national movement to increase union membership is active and real in New Orleans. Sometimes union organizers use local people as their pawns. Instead of speaking themselves, local union organizers got three local people to be their spokesmen. Sadly, they made false claims. Most hoppers have returned to work through PeopleReady, and Metro has welcomed them back.
Let’s protect workers’ rights. Unionize when necessary. But we should not smear the good names of a local family that runs a great business and treats its people the way they would like to be treated themselves.
Strong unions are good for America. They protect our workers and safeguard working conditions and pay. Our economy is stronger when our workers have enough money to live productive lives. But national unions hurt themselves and create mistrust when they make false claims and attempt to smear the good name of a local community asset like Metro Disposal. During COVID-19, unions are growing. Workers’ rights are important. We need to do everything we can to support our people. And we need strong companies from our communities who hire our people and treat them right