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 as fast as it is, 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 U.S. public sector since the onset of the pandemic and the resumption of public sector employment has staggered 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 aid to compensate for shortages, workers still bear the brunt of the impact of the pandemic in the form of increased workloads, lack of benefits, low wages and general lack of 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 New Mexico Public University, 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 work 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’re getting 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 at which we believe 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 one of the many university workers who were punish end of 2020 in anticipation of budget shortfalls, despite save enrolling students in school and deciding to provide bonus to all university workers shortly after the cuts, citing unforeseen funds.
Some of the lowest paid workers in public higher education systems, who are disproportionate black women and workers, were faced with the the most consistent and the most drastic layoffs and cuts throughout the pandemic.
When she was laid off, 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 supposed 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 has had opportunities where they have had a chance to be able to solve this problem and get out of it and they haven’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 removed the 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 hours of overtime, while she and her colleagues struggled to care for their families and children. Family and medical leave was first 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, operated 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.