‘We’re Trying to Survive’: Workers Face Cutbacks as US Public Sector Slows to Recover | US News


Mop, sweep, wax floors, remove garbage, disinfect, scrub bathrooms and clean student apartments.

For $ 10.65 an hour, Nelly Nunez and Pamala Greathouse worked as janitors at the University of New Mexico at Albuquerque during the pandemic as essential workers, faced with additional workloads, a lack of staff and security concerns of Covid-19, while struggling to make ends meet at Low Pay.

“We are trying to survive and we are living paycheck to paycheck just to pay our bills and stay on top of the water,” Greathouse said. “Everything has gone up in prices, groceries, gasoline, everything. With the cost of living rising so rapidly, we are still at the same rate of pay.

Nunez and Greathouse are far from alone. Public sector workers in the United States have faced drastic cuts and layoffs, leaving workers even more understaffed, underpaid and overworked during the Covid-19 pandemic than they were previously. About 815,000 jobs have been lost in the US public sector since the start of the pandemic, and the recovery in public sector employment has lagged behind the private sector.

“There is a crisis in the public sector in this country across all public services,” said Margaret Cook, vice president of CWA-PHEW (Communications Workers of America Public, Healthcare and Education Workers).

Local and state governments have made significant cuts in anticipation of budget deficits caused by Covid-19, but even though federal aid has helped offset the deficits, workers are still bearing the brunt of the impact of the pandemic in the form of increased workload, lack of benefits, low wages and a lack of general investment in public services in favor of austerity and privatization.

For many, working in the public sector seems almost untenable.

Nunez, who worked for 16 years at the Public University of New Mexico, is billed for parking and pays for health insurance coverage, leaving her with little to take care of herself and her family . “It’s not enough to make ends meet or support our families,” Nunez said. “Most of the people here have to do two jobs because we can’t do it on our own by working for the university.

Cook said local unions and workers are fighting for a minimum wage of $ 15 an hour and to pressure local and state governments to use federal aid to support and compensate workers in the sector. public who continued to operate utilities during the pandemic.

“Now is the time to make sure they are paid for the kind of care and responsibilities they hold,” Cook said. “No worker should earn less than $ 15 an hour. This is only the minimum threshold that a worker should be able to work full time and not depend on state food stamps if he is working for the state. “

Louise Irizarry, 59, worked for eight years at Kennesaw State University, a public university in Georgia, as an administrative specialist in the Department of Student Affairs. She was among many university workers who were made redundant at the end of 2020 in anticipation of budget deficits, despite the record number of student enrollments at the school and the decision to give bonuses to all university workers shortly. long after the cuts, citing unforeseen funds.

Some of the lowest paid workers in public higher education systems, who are disproportionately women and black workers, have faced the most consistent and drastic layoffs and cuts during the pandemic.

When she was fired, Irizarry was less than two years away from earning her 10-year pension. Even though there have been hundreds of job postings at the university since the layoff, she has struggled to find a comparable position, though laid-off employees are expected to be given priority in new hires. .

“I lost my pension,” said Irizarry, who could only find two part-time jobs with no benefits to replace the full-time job she lost. She is still trying to find a job in college, while her Cobra subsidized health insurance is due to expire soon.

“I have a chronic illness and trying to get health care has just been impossible,” added Irizarry. “The university had opportunities where they were lucky enough to be able to solve this problem and get out of it and they didn’t.”

Other public sector workers who kept their jobs during the pandemic faced a heavier workload, while struggling to care for sick family members and care for children who followed and did not. distance learning, as schools and daycares were closed. down or have periodically closed for quarantines.

Kristen McManis works as a 24/7 distribution center operator for a utility company owned by the city of Gainesville, Florida.

During the pandemic, she worked hundreds of overtime hours, while she and her colleagues struggled to care for their families and children. Family and medical leave was initially offered to employees, but later expired after workers were discouraged from using it. She had to give her own personal time off to colleagues who could not access childcare or had to care for sick family members.

“I gave a lot of my leads to my colleagues who got sick, and they used up all their time off. I constantly receive requests to give them my time. These are people I care about, ”said McManis, who has also struggled to see his family and protect family members at risk from Covid, while working erratic schedules and while on vacation.

Louise Ortiz worked for eight years at the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture, run by the state government of Santa Fe, New Mexico. She earns $ 12.75 an hour and relies on Medicaid for her health coverage because she cannot afford the insurance offered by her employer.

She continued to work during the pandemic during the museum’s closure, but received no additional compensation for the additional duties she took on, including contact tracing, billing support, and setup. a new computer system, although much better paid employees were doing the same work.

Last year Ortiz was diagnosed with breast cancer and is still recovering, while working in person at the museum.

“I can’t make ends meet. I cannot support my child. I cannot find an apartment for me and my daughter. I cannot survive. I’m trying to get a car so I can find another full-time job because I need another full-time job to survive, ”Ortiz said. “I go to work every day, I put in my 40 hours a week, I do what I have to do. I love my work. But it would be nice if I could get paid for it.

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