Always Essential is a campaign of working people, activists, and organizations joining together to transform what’s possible for essential workers — especially those in low-wage sectors who are disproportionately Black and other workers of color. We are working in cities, counties, states, and at the federal level to put essential workers first and build the lasting change we want to see.



Tuesday, February 22nd, 2022 

We Must Protect Undocumented Workers on the Front Lines; Immigrants Are Essential to America’s Recovery


Throughout the pandemic, millions of “essential” workers — disproportionately women, workers of color, and/or undocumented — were required by their employers to come to work, often jeopardizing their health and the health of their families

As many as 74 percent of undocumented immigrants were essential workers, working in meatpacking and poultry processing, agricultural work, health care, construction, child care, and critical retail. 

Notes Andre Perry, author of the book Know Your Price of essential workers in the pandemic, “I was in a conversation with scholars where they debated should they be called ‘heroes’ or ‘hostages,' I think they could be considered both. They deserve our credit and our admiration, but it’s not like they have a choice here. Go to work or starve.”

Undocumented immigrants were thus especially vulnerable both to unemployment and to COVID-19 infection if they did remain employed, because of the sectors that employ them.

Yet, despite the heroic sacrifices and contributions of undocumented immigrants – which make up a critical part of America's essential workforce – they were largely excluded from federal pandemic relief efforts and unable to receive stimulus checks.

Also infuriating is that despite their ineligibility for social safety net programs, undocumented workers continue to pay into them. Undocumented immigrants and their households pay $79.7 billion in federal taxes and $41 billion in state and local taxes annually. 

“The people that are excluded workers, they felt the worst brunt of the pandemic,” says Fahd Ahmed, executive director of Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM), one of the organizations in the Fund Excluded Workers Coalition. “These are folks that are already underpaid, and so they had very minimal savings."

While some municipalities and states, including New York, enacted economic relief programs to fill the gaps for these workers, there were often significantly more applicants than the funds could support. In New York, regions outside New York City did not get their fair share, and policy issues kept thousands of eligible workers from applying.

Essential immigrant workers heroically put their lives on the line to secure urgently needed relief in the Excluded Workers Fund. They pay taxes and into our unemployment insurance by the billions annually, yet they never receive any benefits or services -- all the while they continue to live in fear and uncertainty about their future in the U.S.

Immigrant essential workers stepped up when we needed them the most throughout the past two years of the pandemic. They are a critical part of America's essential workforce and crucial to America’s COVID-19 Recovery.

In 2022, we have a moral obligation to step up for America’s essential but excluded workers!

See below for a rundown of the latest efforts in the fight for improved health and safety standards, better pay, and working conditions for essential workers.

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New York City Laborers and Advocates Interrupt State's Democratic Convention to Demand Governor Hochul Commit to Funding New York's Excluded Workers Fund

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Outside the heavily-scripted New York State Democratic Convention last Wednesday, laborers and advocates demanded Governor Kathy Hochul back funding for the Excluded Workers Fund and a permanent alternative to unemployment insurance. Protesters also interrupted the governor’s speech, insisting that she support new rental protections called Good Cause Eviction. “Will you fight for us?” yelled one protester. “Excluded workers kept this city running!” 

Last year, laborers scored a major win when $2.1 billion went to New York’s Excluded Workers Fund -- the largest of its kind in the nation -- to pay undocumented immigrants and cash-economy workers who lost wages due to COVID-19 but are not eligible for unemployment insurance. But following high demand, cash tapped out quickly, and after two months, the state’s Department of Labor said it could not guarantee that the next batch of applicants would be approved for relief.

For weeks, New York City street vendors, domestic and restaurant workers, and day laborers have held demonstrations across the five boroughs, refusing to be left out of the governor’s $216.3 executive budget for the 2023 fiscal year.

“I mean, there’s $3 billion going here, $2 billion is going to these folks, but we’re probably one of the most vulnerable working population of people, and we’re once again being shafted,” said Diana Rosales, a domestic worker. “We’re struggling, and we’ve made our voice heard since we were on the front lines of the pandemic. The American dream isn’t a dream for you if you’re undocumented, don’t work a white-collar job, or trying to get by.”

Excluded Essential Workers Urge Davenport, Scott County Direct Pandemic Money Their Way

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Earlier this month in Iowa, Members of Quad Cities Interfaith held signs at Davenport City Council meeting with messages stating "No more stalling" and "We need relief now."

The group of roughly ten immigrant workers urged Davenport aldermen to provide pandemic relief funds for undocumented workers excluded from federal stimulus checks. The group recently made a similar request of the Scott County Board of Supervisors to assist low-wage essential workers excluded from previous relief programs.

"As essential workers, we risk our health and safety every day to keep society running and to make sure everyone receives the things they need to survive — like food, shelter, education, transportation, and health care," the group wrote in a letter delivered to the Davenport City Council. "But in the last two years, too many value-producing front-line workers have been excluded from" federal assistance, slowing down economic recovery.

Among those front-line workers excluded from stimulus checks are Davenport resident Gilberto Torres. Torres, who works in construction, contracted COVID-19 but was told to continue working.

"For four weeks, I was sick to the point where I couldn't even get out of bed," he said during the meeting, speaking in Spanish with an interpreter. "Even though my health was compromised, I still managed to make it out."

Laura Monica Castel of Davenport works as a house cleaner. She said she got COVID-19 and had to be hospitalized. Once out of the hospital, while not still fully recovered, she went back to work to pay rent and bills.

Emil Santiago, who lives in Rock Island and works in Bettendorf, stressed many people working jobs deemed essential during the COVID-19 pandemic have varying immigration statuses. And while they may not be U.S. citizens, they still suffer financially, emotionally, and physically from the pandemic. 

"I pay taxes like any American citizen ... but was excluded and not eligible to receive the federal pandemic relief stimulus checks," despite working in person throughout the entire pandemic, Santiago said in Spanish through an interpreter.

The group requested Davenport aldermen allocate $11 million in COVID-19 relief money to assist workers ineligible for previous relief programs, including undocumented workers.

Workers At Starbucks Store In Seattle To Vote On Union, Labor Board Orders

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Workers at a Starbucks store in Seattle will hold a unionization vote, giving the labor group that recently won landmark New York elections a chance to expand its new foothold to the coffee giant’s hometown.

Employees at the Starbucks at 101 Broadway E. will be mailed ballots on Feb. 25, the National Labor Relations Board’s Seattle regional director ordered Friday, joining counterparts in New York and Arizona rejecting the company’s arguments that store-by-store unionization votes are inappropriate. 

The union, Workers United, is now petitioning to represent workers at around 100 locations across the United States, meaning the company could face a wave of union elections in the coming months. Workers United, an affiliate of the Service Employees International Union, won in two of the three Starbucks elections held in New York’s Buffalo region late last year. 

“We are organizing a union because we believe the best way to uphold our end of the partnership is by creating a voice for ourselves so that we can work alongside one another as true partners,” employees at the Seattle store wrote to Starbucks’ CEO in December. 

On Capitol Hill, A Push To Unionize House Aides Gains Traction


House Democrats introduced a resolution in recent days that would allow staffers to unionize after a group of congressional employees announced their plan to organize a union for aides on Capitol Hill. The resolution, which has 130 sponsors, would give House staffers the protection to organize and bargain collectively as a union.

The Democratic-controlled chamber could pass it without Republican support. Rep. Andy Levin, D-Mich., who is leading the effort, said, "Congressional staff must enjoy the same fundamental rights of freedom of association at work, to organize and bargain collectively for better conditions, that all workers deserve."

The resolution has support from President Biden, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and Senator Chuck Schumer.

“Like all Americans, our tireless Congressional staff have the right to organize their workplace and join together in a union. If and when staffers choose to exercise that right, they would have Speaker Pelosi’s full support,” spokesperson Drew Hammill tweeted.

The Congressional Workers Union formally announced its intent to unionize “the personal offices and committees of Congress” following the emergence of “Dear White Staffers,” a viral Instagram account that has pulled the curtain back on toxic workplace culture on Capitol Hill. 

Construction Union Leaders Hail Biden’s Pro-Union Executive Order

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Construction union leaders hailed President Joe Biden’s Feb. 7 executive order requiring that federally funded construction projects worth at least $35 million be built by unionists using Project Labor Agreements.

‘Just remember, it ain’t labor—it’s unions’ that built the country and will do so again, Biden declared to a union crowd at the Ironworkers Local 5 hall in Upper Marlboro, Md. 


Sean McGarvey, president of North America’s Building Trades Unions, spoke for the others—including Local 5 members at Biden’s signing ceremony—in declaring how Biden’s order would improve workers’ wages, working conditions, and health and safety. ‘Project labor agreements are often effective in preventing problems from developing’ on construction sites ‘because they provide structure and stability to large-scale construction projects,’ Biden’s order explains. That’s ‘welcome news for all workers, union and nonunion,’ McGarvey pointed out. ‘Project Labor Agreements address labor supply, secure workers’ classification, set good wages, promote strong health and safety standards, and ensure large-scale projects are completed on time, with the highest degree of quality, efficiency, and safety.’”

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House Republicans and Democrats Agree On $57 Billion USPS Overhaul

On February 8th, the House voted to pass the bipartisan Postal Service Reform Act of 2022, 342-92. This critical development follows 15 years of fighting for comprehensive Postal Reform. It puts us one step closer to sending this crucial legislation to the President’s desk to be signed into law.  

“We need to take steps to make our post office stronger,” Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, the bill’s sponsor and chair of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, told The Washington Post. “This bill helps and it will help in every way. It’s a reform bill that will save taxpayers’ dollars while at the same time making the operations of the post office more financially stable and sustainable, and making postal jobs and employee health benefits more secure.”

“Americans rely on the Postal Service for medicines, essential goods, voting, correspondence, and their livelihoods,” tweeted Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. “With the overwhelming House vote for postal reform—I intend for the Senate to quickly take up and pass the bill!”

Walmart Is Sued For Gender And Race Discrimination By EEOC

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The federal government is suing Walmart over allegations of "inexcusable and unlawful" discrimination at a southeast Iowa store. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) alleges in its lawsuit that a Walmart store in Iowa violated federal law when it gave a Black female employee an unsanitary lactation space based upon her race and failed to promote her based on sex stereotypes about mothers with small children.

The EEOC said it is seeking back pay, compensatory damages and punitive damages for the former employee, and injunctive relief to prevent future discrimination.

“It is inexcusable and unlawful that qualified women are still facing these kinds of discrimin­atory barriers to career advancement in the workplace,” said Gregory Gochanour, regional attorney for the EEOC’s Chicago District Office. “Federal law clearly prohibits employers from making discrim­inatory promotion decisions based on sex stereotypes and requires employers to provide equal working conditions for their employees regardless of race.” 

According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, there were more than 21,000 filed charges of sex discrimination in fiscal year 2020, up 31% from 2019. Race discrimination lawsuits increased by almost 32% over the same period. 

Nicole Porter, a University of Toledo law professor, said, “Employers hoping to avoid the negative effects of discrimination, which includes possible legal liability as well as damage to their reputation, should scrutinize their entire management structure and culture." 

Added Attorney Nirupa Netram, “Leaders must ensure their company has anti-discrimination policies, which comply with applicable federal, state, and local laws." Additionally, as part of those policies, the organization should have a written mechanism for employees to internally report instances of suspected discrimination. The organization should regularly (at least annually) communicate its policies and reporting methods to its employees. 


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