As hotels, restaurants and venues stand empty across our state, more than 634,000 workers reported losing their jobs in recent weeks. Many of whom are union workers who’ve been laid off as conferences have been cancelled, construction jobs halted and other businesses closed.
This alone is a tragedy. But the reality is many of these workers were already living paycheck to paycheck. According to a new United Way of Illinois report, more than 1.2 million households (36%) in the Prairie State walk a financial tightrope, working multiple jobs to cover basic living necessities.
Now, many of them are without any pay, with little assurance their employers will open their doors in the coming weeks.
To help workers in Chicago weather this storm, the Chicago Federation of Labor (CFL) is providing $500 cash payments to union members who may not qualify for unemployment insurance or other support programs. To date, CFL has sent out a total of $250,000 to more than 500 individuals.
This was made possible with a grant from the Chicago Community COVID-19 Response Fund, launched by United Way of Metro Chicago and The Chicago Community Trust, in partnership with the City of Chicago. Every dollar from the fund, which currently totals more than $23 million, is being directed to local nonprofits and community organizations on the front lines of the crisis.
CFL is one of more than 140 grantees that have received aid from the Response Fund, which has distributed $9 million as of April 15. More funding will be allocated to additional agencies in the coming weeks.
With these grants, nonprofits and community organizations like CFL are providing food, housing and financial assistance to neighbors like Clarence Jackson.
Clarence was recently laid off from his job as a bar porter at the Drake Hotel.
“[The assistance] helps with food and bills while waiting for unemployment. It’s truly, truly a blessing,” Clarence said. “I’m so stressed and nervous about my sisters and daughter being medical and essential employees. This allows me to worry about their health, not my bills.”
It’s also helping Catrinia Dailey, a phone operator at a Holiday Inn, make ends meet.
“Light bills, gas bills, staying on top of a car note – I was the only one working in a family of 4 before I got laid off,” Catrinia said. “This helps with the essentials. I had food but was struggling with the essentials, so this money is going to be a bit to everything.”
And despite these dire circumstances, the solidarity of their community has lifted workers’ spirits, too.
“This is amazing,” said Gladis Bustos, a housekeeper at Northwestern University. “ It feels so good to have the union behind me and all the generous people in Chicago who want to support us.”