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A Call to VOTE, from Filipino Frontline Workers

In this segment of So Informed we are joined by Filipina Maria Castaneda who is the highest-ranking Asian American woman #laborleader in the United States. We also find it fitting to feature Maria for being a Pinay Power, this October which marks for #FilipinoAmericanHistoryMonth

MARIA: I migrated to the US in 1984 and settled in New York City where I initially volunteered for the Philippine Center for Immigrant Rights. An organization that assisted Filipinos with immigration issues.

While networking among unions in NY, I met the Political Director of Local 1199, a healthcare union where I was initially hired as an RN organizer. And for the last 36 years I have been representing healthcare workers in hospitals, nursing homes and home care as VP and EVP of Health Systems and currently as Secretary Treasurer.

JSP: And in your decades of experience working in the community – have you seen anything like the situation we are finding ourselves in now – a syndemic of coronavirus pandemic + social unrest because of racial inequality + hotly-contested election?

MARIA: We are in a life or death situation. The covid-19 pandemic is still an uncontrolled public health crisis. I fear for the health and safety of our frontline health care workers and vulnerable communities.

The continuation of systemic racism and racial injustice is also like this virus that we need to address in order to save lives. We have to demand changes in education and institutions like the justice system in order to progress as a truly united and equal opportunity country.

The integrity of the Democratic and electoral processes is under attack. Voter suppression, voter roll purges, defunding the post office, all these tactics are making it difficult for people to fulfill their right to vote.

JSP: Talking about the pandemic is not possible without mention of our brave and hard-working Filipino medical frontliners who sacrifice so much for their patients. What kinds of stories are you hearing from your members? 

MARIA: First I want to salute and honor all our fallen health Care heroes. Many of them are Filipino nurses and other frontline health care workers.

At the onset of the Pandemic our members described their hospitals as being like in war zones, chaotic, very stressful, and frightening. From the first COVID-19 patients to the surge of patients in the ERs and ICUs, in just a few days, entire hospitals in NYC became Covid designated facilities.

All floors became ICU type units. Our frontline members were not prepared for this crisis, there were no adequate training or orientation on how to work safely in those units.

As they were fighting to save lives, our members were also fighting to have the appropriate levels of PPEs needed to protect themselves. They were told they can reuse their masks, no adequate supply of N95s, members working in Nursing Homes struggled to have even the basic mask, gloves and gowns.

Members had to fight for the universal standards for infection prevention. They continued to see how CDC guidelines were downgraded due to lack of availability of PPEs. Short Staffing became an issue when staff were getting sick, or needed to be quarantined. Child Care became an added hardship when schools were closed and remote learning had to be instituted at home.

JSP: You would know… in what ways could the government have done better? And how can we, the public help and do better?

MARIA: The President has the moral burden for the death of Americans, the death of frontliners. The President should have followed the advice of medical professionals and scientists and implemented a decisive and coordinated plan for the entire nation to stop the spread of the virus. He could have invoked the Defense Production Act to mass produce PPEs and ventilators. That could have save front-liners lives.

I salute the public for heading the call for wearing masks, social distancing, washing hands, no big gatherings, no indoor dining, getting tested, quarantining when not feeling well or getting exposed to COVID19. All this Public cooperation helped NY flatten the curve. We need to stay vigilant especially as we enter fall, winter and the flu season.

JSP: Go ahead and share your parting message with our viewers

MARIA: Leadership matters, Election matters.
We, the people were able to flatten the curve of COVID-19,
We the people can bring about the much needed leadership in the country,
Our lives matter!
Our Vote is essential!
Vote with US!
Mga kababayan,
Bumoto tayo in honor of our fallen Filipino front-liners.
Vote for change!
Vote for our future!

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