Today marks a big move for an organizing campaign that has been slowly building over the past few years. Today, Second Staff, a solidarity union for workers at the Faison Center in Richmond announces its existence to the world, also known as “going public”! The workers of Second Staff (2S) under our guidance did not intend on going public anytime soon, but their hand was forced by the reckless planning (or lack thereof) of the leadership at Faison which recently informed workers they should prepare to be back at work mid-June, a plan that was to include their students.

The workers of 2S sent the letter below to all of the staff at Faison. Despite the thoughtful and reasonable demands, the management at Faison opted to write a reply that argued that Faison was doing everything necessary to keep the staff and students safe (with scant details as to what that actually means). Interestingly, Faison leadership DID grant the workers of 2S their most central demand to some extent – the response to these demands made clear to the workers at Faison for the first time that they were unlikely to be opening in mid-June – something that would not have been said without the wonderful organizing and action of the workers of the 2S union.

Despite this result, Faison leadership either did not speak to the other demands on this list or insisted they were not legitimate concerns, all while implying 2S is just one worker spreading lies. We’re here to tell the administrators at Faison and the rest of Richmond and the world that 2S is far more than any one worker and they have a strong team of labor warriors at their back – the IWW – meaning these workers are also protected by the full breadth of federal labor laws.

To the general public of Richmond – please consider showing your support for the workers of the 2S organizing committee by following them on Facebook and Instagram – watch out for more ways to help support this education union in Richmond!

To workers of Faison who have yet to join 2S – please send a message to us via email (richmond@iww.org) or to the 2S Facebook page for more info on the union and how to get involved!

All media inquiries please contact the Richmond IWW at richmond@iww.org.

Please spread this letter far and wide (especially with any parents of students you may know) at the request of the Second Staff Organizing Committee!

Dear coworkers,

Every day, all of us strive to do our best for our students and clients because we care deeply for them and their well-being. We also care about each other; our jobs would be impossible without the mutual support of our fellow coworkers. Because we, the authors of this email, care for the safety and well-being of the Faison community, we are sending this email to all of you and asking you to join us in calling for Faison’s administration to postpone reopening the campus on June 15.

Due to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, Virginia’s public schools are closed until at least early August. Faison’s administration continues to push to reopen by June 15, amid a rising number of COVID-19 cases in Virginia and an impending second wave of infections. Yesterday, May 25, 2020, was the single largest one-day increase in infections and deaths in our state since the start of the pandemic. This clearly illustrates the severity of the situation. Faison’s plan to reopen so soon means we cannot protect our students or ourselves. Our jobs necessitate close contact between students and staff, despite local and national guidelines.

We all want to go back to work. We miss our clients and our teams. But we work with a sensitive and vulnerable population. What worked in a world before COVID-19 is not feasible or safe for students and staff alike in the middle of the pandemic.

SAFETY CONCERNS

Staff and students at Faison are regularly exposed to body fluids which can transmit COVID-19; faces being touched, spit contacting skin. Extra precaution and correct use of personal protective equipment will not prevent this from happening.

Crisis situations occur every day and they require multiple people to work in close proximity. Thus, maintaining the recommended six-foot distancing to help prevent respiratory transmission of COVID-19 becomes impossible. Crisis situations occur with little time to prepare. No one will have time to wash their hands for 20 seconds before using them to guide, block, or restrain students.

The Faison administration has already reopened the Early Education Center, despite Governor Ralph Northam’s executive order for Virginia private and public schools to remain closed for the rest of the school year. The Faison Center faces the same, if not increased, health risks as K-12 schools and should not apply looser restrictions.

Staff:

If you have concerns about the Faison Center reopening, now is the time to speak out. We wrote this email as a group of staff concerned with the health and safety of our students, our loved ones, and ourselves. Please contact us to help push for the changes we need!

Email SecondStaff2S@gmail.com . Please use a non-work email to contact us.

Administration:

We, a collection of Faison staff members, request that the administration review and respond in good faith to the following demands by 4pm on Friday, May 29. If a response in good faith is not received by that time, we will raise our concerns publicly. We believe this issue is too important to ignore.

Our demands are:

1) Faison will not physically reopen earlier than September 1.

2) After reopening, staff with high-risk health  conditions—including, but not limited to: compromised immune systems, asthma, diabetes—for COVID-19 complications will be  permitted to work remotely until December 2020.

3) After reopening, clients with high-risk health conditions (same as above) for COVID-19 complications will be permitted to learn remotely until December 2020.

4) Costs associated with staff testing for COVID-19 which are not covered by healthcare will be covered in full by the Faison Center.

5) If anyone that has recently entered Faison’s premises is known to have tested positive or is assumed positive for COVID-19 after medical assessment, administrators will inform staff by email that day.

6) Faison will provide abundant access to PPE for both students and staff. The following personal protection equipment will be available at all times:  A minimum of 10 pairs properly sized disposable gloves per person, per shift.  Sterile masks distributed onsite as often as needed.  A minimum of one pair of safety goggles per staff.

The current pandemic is unlike anything we’ve ever experienced. We understand the desire to reopen and return to our normal lives, but the reality is that we do not have that option. We must put our concerns for the health of our students and fellow workers at the forefront of everything we do as an organization. There is no existing research that indicates June will be a safe time to reopen the school. It is up to us to protect our school, our students, and each other.

If some of our demands are already a part of Faison’s reopening strategy, we need to know as soon as possible. We would like to make explicit that these demands are not written with the intention of negatively impacting the Faison Center. Our work is extremely important to us and has instilled in us humility, gratitude, and compassion. We deeply value the Faison families and acknowledge the impact that our programs make in their lives. We look forward to hearing our administration’s response.

Sincerely,

The Second Staff Organizing Committee

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