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Early Childhood Education Workers Take a Stand (And Win) After Forced to Clean Classroom Wreckage From Hurricane Ida

On September 9th, early childhood education workers at Leaguers Inc. in Elizabeth returned to prepare their classrooms for the first day of school, and found their worksite flooded and damaged by the remnants of Hurricane Ida.

At their worksite, at least two feet of sewage water flooded the first floor leaving behind mold, water-logged electronics and furniture, and ruined learning materials. Portions of the ceiling hung low exposing wet insulation inside.

“[Management] tried to paint over some of it with plaster to cover up the holes,” Elba Robles, an Assistant Teacher at Leaguers explained. “There was a big hole from the ceiling, and the wood was just hanging there. The water was coming out so much.” 

Workers were not given any supplies or safety equipment to clean the debris and had to purchase their own tools to try salvage their classrooms. As they removed furniture, water was seeping through the floor to which a supervisor retorted that it would just “dry up”. But the conditions posed too big a hazard not just for the staff but for the children expected to return within days on Monday, September 13th.

“How are we going to bring kids here with stuff looking like this?” Elba said.

Child safety was a concern echoed by CWA 1037’s long-time community organizing partner, NJ Communities United, who coordinated with the workers to build pressure on Leaguers management. “The struggle for worker justice is the struggle for much needed community services. When our society underfunds and disregards early childhood workers, we are saying that our children do not matter. ,” said Trina Scordo, director of NJ Communities United. 

Shop Stewards met with members that afternoon to express their concerns and develop a plan of action. That evening all workers sent an email to management en masse, with a unified message that the workplace must be safe for staff and students. The emails made demands of management included hiring professional flood contractors to assess the site, make necessary repairs, and remove the hazardous mold, waste and debris. Workers also demanded to be relieved from the worksite, with pay, until deemed safe to return.

While the workers were prepared to escalate their tactics, their unified voice was heard by management. On Friday morning workers were notified that they were to be sent home with pay and that flood experts would work on the site until repairs were completed.

Members met that afternoon to celebrate their victory. It was the largest attended meeting yet with 25 of the roughly 30 workers in attendance. They shared how this victory has impacted them, some of them in tears, stating how for the first time in their careers they felt powerful. “We felt good cause a lot of us felt like wow finally they’re doing something. We’re really doing it for the children,” Elba recounted. The workers at this site expressed interest in spreading word of their mobilization to all other Leaguers locations to build worker power company wide. “Hopefully my site gave other sites a lot of power. We did this so they could too.”