Tuesday, November 28, 2023
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“No Going Back to Normal” in 2021

I’m sharing the rest of my prepared remarks — which were as much about our collective challenges in 2021 as they were about our accomplishments in 2020 — to follow:
It is a whole new world with COVID-19. Because of that, I truly believe we have an opportunity to change. 
 
I co-chair the inter-American regional committee of Public Services International (PSI). We are starting a campaign called, “No Going Back to Normal.” 
 
Click here to learn more about PSI’s work in our hemisphere.
 
That may sound strange, especially when everyone is saying, “I can’t wait to get back to normal.” I think what people are really saying is, “I want to see my friends and family without worrying about getting sick – or getting them sick. I want to be able to do my job without worrying about safety or getting criticized for being afraid and stressed.” 
 
Those things are real. 
 
Consider this – this pandemic has made our national health crisis, social crisis, and economic crisis all impossible to ignore. We have the power to fix these crises instead of going back to “normal.” 
 
Think about healthcare – this pandemic has opened our eyes and hearts to worker safety. I think of all our amazing nurses and healthcare workers who have been going to work day after day. They had no opportunity to stay at home or work from home. They put their lives – and the lives of their families – on the line every day. We cannot go back to normal and take these workers for granted. 
 
Click here for recent reporting on the pandemic’s impact on health professionals featuring one of our members.
 
We must continue forward with the war against the corporatization of healthcare. Large health networks are still making our nurses and healthcare workers use (and re-use) an N95 mask for a week or until its soiled. N95s are designed to be used one-time. Nurses and healthcare workers continue to get sick – and die – because they are not provided enough proper personal protective equipment (PPE). These chains also refuse to hire enough staff and nurses for safe patient limits and members face physical and psychological dangers because of it.
 
We also see the damage the disease has created for people without access to affordable healthcare; especially people of color. COVID has made clear what has always been true: healthcare is – unfortunately — a benefit for the entitled, not a right for everyone. 
 
This has to change. We must have a healthcare system that removes profit so we can ensure the delivery of care is based on the needs of the patients and community, not shareholders.
 
Click here for our national union’s 2014 resolution demanding “patients before profits.”
 
I also spend a lot of time worrying about our public schools and our public workers. We are going to have a fight on our hands when the legislature is back in session and developing the new budget.
 
We have lived through austerity budgets and they do not work.
 
I read about a woman who is living in her car. She takes a shower at a shelter and goes to work every day. She has not received a raise in years and is now paying a large portion of her health coverage. When she got sick with COVID she had to take unpaid leave — and cover the large deductible on her insurance. She cut every unnecessary bill she had but still could not pay her rent.
 
That is what austerity budgets do. We cannot go back to that normal. 
 
Click here for the Economic Policy Institute (EPI)’s recent statement on the failure to provide relief to state and local governments.
 
How about instead we ask those large non-profits with huge endowments pay their fair share of taxes? How about we ask those corporations that are socking money away in offshore bank accounts to pay their fair share of taxes? How about asking to return to a tax structure where the lowest-paid workers are not keeping the economy of Connecticut going? 
 
Not to be too politically partisan, but we have seen unprecedented federal attacks on environmental regulations. Even as we speak (in mid December), an administration that has been voted out of office is gutting safeguards that have existed since the 1970s. Undoing these damaging regulations put in place the last four years is a necessary first step, but that’s not enough – more has to be done. 
 
We are told that if we do not make significant changes, the earth will not be able to recover. We cannot go back to that old normal. Think about the youngest person in your life, the youngest person you love. What are you willing to sacrifice so they have a planet to live on? We need to make that perspective the new normal. 
 
The way things used to be were not good enough.
 
Click here to learn about the efforts of the Labor Network for Sustainability coalition.
 
This is the Amistad Awards, so I would be remiss if I didn’t say that America’s relationship with race is another area where “back to normal” is unacceptable.
 
The murders of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Eric Garner and countless others are not just the way things are; sadly, they are the way they have always been. Tens of thousands of disenfranchised voters of color are not just the way things are; it is the way they have always been. Government structures are in place to perpetuate poverty for people of color, but that is the way it has always been.
 
For people of color, there are no “good old days.” We must commit to building an ideal society for everyone. We must resolve to ensure that the good times are shared equally by everyone, not hoarded by one percent of the population. To quote Teddy Roosevelt, “the welfare of each of us is dependent fundamentally upon the welfare of all of us.”
 
Click here for our national union’s position paper on COVID-19 and racial equity.
 
Friends, we have not only the opportunity to make changes; we have the responsibility to make changes. The time is now. 
 
Please ask yourself, “are you willing to just go back to normal?” Or would you like to be part of a social movement that refuses that normal?” Our communities and our citizens require a movement that demands change and justice – “united for the world we want.” 
 
I look forward to joining you in that fight. I believe, today more than ever, that we can win.
 
Jan Hochadel
President, AFT Connecticut
 
Click here to watch the introduction and Hochdel’s full acceptance speech at the December 12 event.
 

 

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