As virus clashes with livelihood, Philly workers demand aid, paid sick leave

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Hundreds of essential Philadelphia workers came together Thursday night for a virtual town hall meeting, voicing how the coronavirus pandemic is adversely affecting their livelihood.

While many businesses are closed, these workers are still laboriously running grocery stores, mass transit, and child care services. One by one, they shared their stories.

“While everyone else can stay home, workers like me are going to work to hold up our end of the deal,” said Laura, a grocery store employee, who did not want to include her last name.

But for Maria Del Carmen Diaz, a house cleaner, said she’s lost all of her work due to the crisis.

“As domestic workers, many of us spend our days closest to people most vulnerable to the illness, like elders,” she said through a translator. “Many of us are also vulnerable ourselves because of the long hours, low wages, and lack of access to health care and paid sick days. Very few of my bosses have offered any type of financial help during this crisis.

“And, I don’t know for how long they’ll help since there is now law that forces them to do so. This is why we are asking the city for assistance.”

Annie Johnson, a nanny, said people like her were the first to lose jobs.

“People like myself who leave our homes and families daily to make all other jobs possible are the first to feel the weight of this pandemic. Many are losing their jobs — some have been told by employers not to report for work because they are scared they will bring into their homes,” she said. “A loss of income leads to many families being unable to meet their families’ needs, like food, clothing, shelter.”

All of their stories are similar — which is why they joined in solidarity to demand two things from local leaders.

No. 1: They want an emergency mayoral fund for workers who do not qualify for other types of assistance, including gig workers, independent contractors and undocumented workers.

No. 2: They’re asking for an emergency expanded sick leave of 14 days for all Philly workers. They want it immediately and accessible for everyone, regardless of their immigration status or whether they’re in a union.

Ten members of Philadelphia City Council listened in on the call. Most said they supported the group’s position. 

As for next steps of action, that wasn’t exactly clear.