|This week Todd Vachon, Rutgers, Learn, Debra Coyle McFadden, Executive Director, WEC, and
Cecelia Gilligan Leto, Program Director, WEC reflected on the 42nd webinar episodes they have developed and
hosted over the past year. Through those webinars, they were joined by 97 guest speakers and more than 4,000 attendees tuned in.Speakers included:
- Barry Kushnir, President, IFPTE Local 194 who spoke about how terrifying the start of the pandemic was because of all of the unknowns. Barry stated that “the webinars provided a hub of free resources which was very helpful.” Kushiner also expressed how wonderful it was to be able to collaborate with other organizations on this issue.
- Marcia Kleinz, UniServ Field Rep. Region 29, NJEA, works with higher education locals and spoke about how she was able to use the tools and ideas from the weekly webinars to support solidarity among members. She felt that “regardless of the topic, there was something I could take back.” Moving forward, Marcia said that she feels that stronger health and safety language is needed in contracts and that the information she received from the webinars
will help her “advocate better for members and to negotiate for it.”
- Nancy Miller, Membership Assistant Program Coordinator, UFCW Local 1262 provides resources for 25,000 members. She spoke about how on March 16, 2020, her job changed instantly from in-office to remote with new programs, safety issues, and lack of PPE for members with no guidance. She said the webinars helped her focus
and get “clear” on each issue and have a broader view of the issues, such as the Hazard Pay Campaign. Nancy
stated that she has utilized many resources from the episodes.
Sadly, in that time there have been 117 million cases globally, 800,000 in NJ where we lost over 23,500 lives. After a moment of silence, Debra Coyle McFadden shared that she “hoped that the work done here will contribute to strengthening the labor movement and workplace safety and health.” She also shared she was grateful and encouraged about how people and organizations connected through this series which led to collaborations.
Cecelia Gilligan Leto also shared her thoughts and started by taking us back to March 2020, and the calls she received from front-line workers who were scared and didn’t know where to turn. She described the origin of the weekly webinar series, where together with Debra Coyle McFadden, Todd Vachon, and Mike Merrill, they saw a need, and between them, they had the connections to policymakers, health & safety professionals, unions, workers, and even scientists from other
countries. Workers and their representatives needed answers and through the webinar series, they found a way to bridge the gap.
As we move forward, hope is growing with vaccines reaching the arms of more and more NJ residents each day. However, we must proceed with caution as we are not out of the woods yet. Mask wearing and social distancing are still critical as well as getting information from reputable sources. And, we must remember, even once the virus is finally gone, we will still be left to organize and pick up the pieces. It will take a long time for those who lost loved ones, jobs, are in financial crisis, still suffering the lasting effects of COVID-19 to recover from this devastating pandemic –and, it will take all of us to make that happen. More than 60 people participated in this webinar.