New York — They are often unseen and unrecognized by the television cameras in the coverage of the devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy. However, unlike the politicians, bureaucrats and agency officials — who give press conferences and gloat about all they’re doing to fix the crisis — it is working people, community members and other progressive activists who are doing the real hard work of cleaning up the damage that was left in the storm’s wake.
Union members from at least 13 major labor unions have formed a strong core of the workforce doing the crucial repairs. They are doing everything from fixing subway lines to patching up homes, and providing and distributing basic necessities. Many of these workers were hit hard by the storm themselves.
The Transport Workers Union blog reports, “Working people up and down the East Cost are pitching in. … Firefighters, public employees, utility workers, letter carriers, nurses, grocery store employees, hotel workers and others continued to work through the storm to make sure everyone is taken care of.”
In devastated areas of New Jersey, public sector workers with Communications Workers of America “are on the job nearly round-the-clock … clearing and repairing roads and bridges” and helping people get medical attention, reported the union’s blog on Nov. 1. CWA members are working 12-hour days, seven days a week to restore phone service, repair downed wires and bridges, reopen airports and more.
Working people who don’t have unionized jobs are often helping in their communities but suffering from a lack of income. Many hourly, part-time or temporary workers could not get to work because there was no operating transportation or no safe route, or because the workplace was closed. For them a day’s pay – or even several days’ salary – is gone.
These workers are only paid when they are at work, even in an all-out emergency. Some workers even walked long distances across bridges to get to their hourly jobs, just so they could pay the rent.
In today’s so-called “recovery,” about 60 percent of jobs offer hourly wages. Many of these are low-wage jobs, and the workers, many of them African-American and Latino/a, have little or no job protections, no paid sick days or personal days – and certainly no compensated days for disasters.
Federal laws have far fewer protections for hourly workers than salaried employees when a catastrophe occurs; they don’t have to be paid if the workplace is closed. That’s why all working people must be given compensation for unpaid days off from work and for damage to their homes and possessions as a result of this crisis.
In keeping with its program to support workers and communities hit by this capitalist-made disaster, the People’s Power Assembly says, “We commend the hard working sisters and brothers of the Transit Workers Union, city workers, AMTRAK workers, nurses and hospital staff who have labored throughout this ‘super storm’ risking life and limb.”
The PPA demands “that the trillions spent on war and occupation abroad be spent on compensating and paying reparations to the thousands of workers who have lost wages, suffered from property damage, and been hurt or injured. This includes small businesses and whole communities.”