Next mayor should create department of labor

Unions key to achieving equity in Boston

SEVENTEEN MONTHS into a pandemic that has widened the cracks and brought new and renewed hardship to so many, we can plainly see that the systems that fell short before are now failing — in housinghealth care and child care. The pandemic has heightened the crisis for too many of Boston’s working families, making it harder and harder to climb out as the pandemic has worn on. But our labor movement is meeting this extraordinary moment with hope and determination.

We are Boston, a world renowned city, and we must do better than allowing our families to struggle —  to stay in their homes, to afford care, and to thrive in our communities. Here’s what’s at stake: over 18,000 eviction cases have been filed since October, and things will get even worse after federal COVID-19 eviction and foreclosure protections expire in October. By working together, we can do better than this in Boston.

We know that the economic and social impact of the pandemic was borne mainly by communities of color. Black residents make up a quarter of the city’s population, but they represent 40 percent of the total number of COVID cases. But as workers across Boston, many of whom are people of color, feel the impact of COVID, they continue to show up time and again to heal our city and drive our economy forward.

To truly honor workers’ contributions to Boston, our next mayor should ground the city’s future in equity, opportunity, and stronger communities for our working families. Just like our former mayor and now US Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh did, our next mayor must put the needs of everyday Bostonians ahead of corporate interests and focus on residents in every neighborhood.

Our next mayor must amplify workers’ voices by establishing a cabinet-level department of labor within City Hall. A department of labor would center workers in every discussion, setting standards in the public sector and creating a blueprint for the private sector to lift up all of our communities. This will lift the voice of every worker and by lifting the voice of workers, we’re lifting the standards for our entire city.

Our next mayor can help create much-needed change, grow the middle class, and reduce inequity in Boston. Our movement has the power to transform our society, to bring women and people of color from the margins to the center, and to foster new ideas that will create a fairer economy for all workers. Data tells us that the union advantage is greatest for Black, Latino, women, immigrant, and LGBTQ workers because at the core of a union contract is pay equity, dignity at work, and the benefits necessary to live a healthy life.

So, as we collectively think about shaping our beloved city, and electing a mayor to lead the charge, we must use the example set by unions. Instead of gigging the economy and working in unsafe conditions, let’s prioritize safe and secure workplaces and ensure shared prosperity for workers across every neighborhood in our great city. The next mayor of Boston has a chance to build the city we all deserve, and can get there by continuing to partner with working people.

Meet the Author
This pandemic has provided a clear road map for what the next mayor needs to do to achieve equity for all Bostonians. Together with unions, we as a city can make this vision a reality.

Darlene Lombos is executive secretary-treasurer of the Greater Boston Labor Council and the first woman and person of color to be elected to this top leadership position. The GBLC represents over 100,000 union members and their families within 24 cities and towns in the region