As we finish a school year like no other, I want to first recognize the efforts of all SEIU Local 99 members who have risen to the challenge of educating our children and serving our communities during this pandemic. The last few months have not been easy, and the future is still uncertain, but together we will continue to move forward to both recover from the health crisis and begin to build a more just and equitable world.

Where do we go next? In the last few weeks, we have been challenged to confront the structural racism that has harmed and endangered the lives of Black people for generations. Much has been said about defunding the police. At SEIU, we firmly support divesting and demilitarizing the police and I am proud of  SEIU’s Resolution in Support of the Movement for Black Lives. But I want to be clear, this does not mean eliminating the police. It means re-imagining what safety and trust and accountability mean in our schools, in our neighborhoods, and in our cities and country. As we move forward, we will be engaging Local 99 members in reviewing how policing works in our communities and how we should spend resources to ensure safety without prejudice or violence.

This pandemic put a spotlight on your essential work.
I know Local 99 members are strong advocates for our communities because you’ve vbn on the frontlines throughout this pandemic. And you’ve made your voices heard for safety and fairness at work.  As soon as schools closed, members led efforts that made sure everyone was paid during the quarantine. Members secured agreements that ensured personal protection equipment, hero pay, equipment and training for remote learning and so much more. Employers continue to propose changes and there is still a lot left to do, but, together, I know we will continue to stand strong to ensure safe and fair working conditions.

What about schools reopening?  
The end of the school year does, of course, make us think about the beginning of next school year. We have been working on this issue on various fronts.

First, SEIU Local 99 was part of the workgroup that joined with California Superintendent Tony Thurmond to create the state Guidebook for the Safe Reopening of California’s Schools. These guidelines will be used by school districts as they make plans to return students to campus.

We are also reaching out to employers now to ensure that we are part of all discussions regarding the re-opening of schools. We expect these talks to continue throughout the summer.

At SEIU Local 99, we have also developed our own set of Principles for Reopening Our Schools that highlight the concerns of classified school employees and our communities. These will guide our discussions with employers, with elected leaders and others making decisions about how and when schools safely re-open.

One key question on everyone’s mind is – how much is it going to cost?
We know that, before COVID-19, schools were already operating with insufficient funding. What this pandemic has taught us is that we cannot go back to business as usual. We can’t address the crisis with budget cuts. And we can’t continue to balance the budget on the backs of Black and Brown students and working families.

Immediately, we are advocating for a state budget that:

  • Adopts and funds minimum standards of school cleanliness, including more staffing and supplies.
  • Ensures more equitable distribution of Special Education resources and increased support for students with moderate to severe disabilities — especially in light of the likelihood of ongoing distance learning
  • Secures funding for the Classified Summer Employment Assistance Program (aka Summer Bridge)

We are also leading efforts at the federal level to pass the Heroes Act to bring more funding to our local governments for education and other public services. I urge you to call (844) 967-2163 and tell your Senator to pass the HEROES Act.

And we are moving forward to pass the Schools & Communities First initiative in November. This initiative will bring $12 billion per year to schools, hospitals, and other critical services in California. I know many of you helped collect signatures to get this initiative on the ballot. We did it. Now, we’re gearing-up to make sure it passes.

The pandemic and the recent protests have given us all time to reflect on the impact of our work and the need to continue to demand bold changes from our elected leaders. As you move into the summer months, I urge you to stay active and informed. Please continue to check our website and join our virtual meetings.

Our unity is our strength.