Don’t Let a Crisis Go to Waste

Case Study

When COVID hit, the Philadelphia chapter’s labor branch began getting new people involved, including non-members. “It was such a shocking thing, we established contacts we probably wouldn’t have otherwise,” said teacher Paul Prescod. “Leaders wanted any kind of support.” Guests were invited to branch meetings to share what they were doing in their unions.

Labor for Bernie

At the same time, President Trump was attacking the Postal Service. The branch reached out to postal workers they’d known through Labor for Bernie and, in coalition with Postal Workers Local 89 and Communities and Postal Workers United, held two Save the USPS rallies, put on a virtual phone bank, and flyered customers at post offices across the city.

They had heard that some rank-and-file sanitation workers were demanding hazard pay and PPE. A teachers union member cold-called a contact and brought that sanitation worker to a DSA meeting, where he described the situation. The branch assigned two people to work with the sanitation workers on organizing their members, helping them with a plan for outreach and a systematic way to track it. They developed a petition demanding hazard pay and PPE that was signed by hundreds of sanitation workers.

That work culminated in two lively demonstrations, with sanitation workers defying their boss’s threat to fire them if they attended. DSA held virtual phone banks in the summer, targeting the commissioner who controlled PPE.

Reform Slate

The rank-and-filers DSA was working with then decided to topple their do-nothing union officials. They put together a slate and beat the 24-year incumbent. The relationship continues. When the chapter held a phone bank to support Philly teachers fighting for a contract, the new sanitation local VP came to give a pep talk.

“As a labor branch we were doing something timely,” Prescod said. “We were bringing members together from different unions to figure out how to respond to COVID. No one else was doing it. It speaks to having a structure in place, so when something blows up workers have somewhere to go.”

In 2021, the Philly DSA labor branch looked at union contracts that were due to expire that year and reached out to locals in their area. Luckily, many were ones where they already had relationships. They asked DSAers to sign an “I’ll Be There” form pledging to help the locals with phone banking, picket line support, or whatever they needed to win a good contract.

That fall, Prescod announced his run for the state senate and quickly garnered union endorsements. “The labor support is an organic outgrowth of the work our labor branch has done with locals over the years,” he said.