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Uncovering the Truth: Our COVID Stories

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The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed longstanding inequities that have systematically challenged the physical, social, economic, and emotional health of racial and ethnic minorities and other equity-seeking groups that are bearing a disproportionate burden of COVID-19.

Join OPSEU/SEFPO’s Equity Committees and Caucuses as they launch ‘Uncovering the Truth: Our COVID Stories’ – a series of stories/statements discussing the impact of COVID-19 on the health and wellbeing of various equity-seeking groups, and displaying how immediate action is critical to reduce growing COVID-19 inequalities among the people known to be at a disproportionate risk.

CoRW Covid-19 Impact Statement

The reality of COVID-19 has made this year one of the most difficult for everyone around the world.  It has been even more difficult for racialized people. The movement for racial equality started even before the pandemic. Across the globe and here at home, there is a renewed sense of vigor – reminiscent of the civil rights movement. This is due in large part to the continued violence against Black people at the hands of law enforcement. Turning a blind eye to their cries for justice has only fueled demands for change.

The organization Black Lives Matter has been speaking out against the injustices towards Black people for years, without the acknowledgment or respect that was needed. It helped to create the framework from within which we operate. It all started back in the summer of 2016 when they staged a 30-minute sit-in during the annual Toronto Pride Parade. It generated national attention but not for the reasons that you would think. Many decried their actions as anti-equity. And yet their unapologetic chants denouncing the marginalization of Black people, of Black queer and trans people, remains incredibly relevant and profound today. Their demands for racial justice four years ago helped to set the stage for all to recognize that the needs and rights of Black communities everywhere, must be recognized. More importantly, these wrongs must be corrected and the fight is all of ours to take on. People from all races, ethnicities, and all walks of life must all strive towards racial equality.

The death of Regis Korchinski-Paquet in May, prompted leaders like Justin Trudeau and Doug Ford to finally and openly acknowledge that systemic racism exists in Canada. Korchinski-Paquet was a 29-year-old Indigenous-Ukrainian-Black Canadian woman from Toronto, who died in the presence of Toronto Police. It was also on the heels of George Floyd’s death in the United States. Even though the Special Investigations Unit (SIU) cleared police of any wrongdoing, calls for systemic change have not gone away. In fact, they have only become louder especially during COVID-19. Black communities deserve equal and fair access to services such as healthcare, education, and employment.

This is all happening in the midst of the scariest pandemic of our time. Black and racialized communities faced an uphill battle due to this pandemic with job and food insecurity leading the way as two of the most challenging realities. The highest numbers of positive tests for the virus continue to be registered in our communities – many of which are low income. Precarious work and workers have become part of the essential list, with a high number of racialized people making up the majority. Furthermore, frontline workers, many of whom are also racialized, are more susceptible to exposure from the virus. While these workers are providing essential services, many of them remain unable to access support for their families. They work multiple jobs, work at different sites, are often under-housed, live in multi-generational families, and have inadequate access to food. All of these factors put them at higher risk of contracting the virus.

For many racialized communities, the virus has become another added stress. In addition to challenges of job instability and food insecurity, structural and systemic inequalities are also directly linked to poorer health outcomes, especially among the Black community. Access to healthcare in the absence of a pandemic is already a challenge. They avoid using the system because of issues of mistrust and victimization. Many have to contend with anti-Black racism and existing biases just to get medical care. In the midst of a pandemic, the challenge is even greater. The absence of race-based data collection in Canada makes things even more problematic. Without this information, we won’t be able to truly understand the inequities and disparities with regards to accessing healthcare services. It’s important to measure whether or not everyone in the country is receiving equitable care. This data needs to be collected but more importantly, it must be done in collaboration with racialized communities. COVID-19 infections and deaths have become the norm because of limited access to testing and adequate time to recover from the virus. Testing centres aren’t readily accessible when their hours of operation cannot meet the needs of those who have to work multiple jobs. Getting the time off necessary can be challenging and losing up to a day’s worth of pay proves to be a challenge when you are already struggling to make ends meet. In addition, the absence of workplace benefits often forces them to go back to work sooner and without having fully recovered from their symptoms.

Over the summer months, members from OPSEU/SEFPO’s Coalition of Racialized Workers (CoRW)  worked to assist struggling communities faced with job loss and illnesses. By working in conjunction with local communities such as Black Food TO, they were able to provide basic food supplies. Thankfully, many families were supported and felt that the union had their back.

CoRW members in Region 1, because of their long-standing working relationship with the organization Justicia for Migrant Workers, continued to advocate on behalf of migrant workers in Windsor and Leamington. Even though they (migrant workers) are considered essential workers during the pandemic, they don’t have the same protections as other frontline workers or even as other Canadians because of their status. What is more, some also do not have access to basic protections such a face masks and most do not have the ability to refuse unsafe work. Not only did these communities, some of which included OPSEU/SEFPO members, benefit from this support, but we were also able to provide migrant workers with supplies of PPE and culturally appropriate food items. This was thanks in part to the generous support from the OPSEU/SEFPO Executive Board.

There are people who continue to struggle with putting food on the table or maintaining a roof over their heads.  Let’s not forget about the many other untold stories of Black and racialized people throughout Ontario for whom this pandemic is simply another chapter in a life filled with daily struggles. These stories have not been told, and for many this is nothing new, just another peril to overcome.

Black Lives Matter has shown us that in our revolution, it is important to play the role of a background strategist. We work in tandem with frontline marchers in order to convey the message that everyone deserves to be treated with dignity and respect.

OPSEU/SEFPO has shown us commitment and support. They have affirmed their willingness to stand with us for change. So we continue to move forward through this pandemic. CoRW believes that we have the support from our union to continue the work that must be done. We continue to have hopes for the future, we continue to distance socially, in order to come together stronger tomorrow. Thanks to OPSEU/SEFPO and everyone involved for creating this space to have our voices heard.

In Solidarity,
Peter Thompson
Chair, OPSEU/SEFPO Coalition of Racialized Workers