The message was crystal clear on Tuesday as Gov. Tom Wolf, Sen. Bob Casey, labor leaders, community activists and frontline workers gathered virtually for the #SaferAtHomePA rally.
Specifically, local officials and activists collaborated to encourage Pennsylvanians to vote by mail-in ballot for the Pennsylvania 2020 presidential primary election, to be held on Tuesday, June 2. Applications for mail-in and absentee ballots must be received by Tuesday, May 26.
“This pandemic has crumbled so many of us and shown us that the stakes are indeed higher than ever,” said Amanda Green Hawkins, Organizing Together 2020 Pennsylvania Chair. “Vote by mail. This will keep us safer and keep our frontline workers safer.”
Tuesday’s virtual event was hosted by Organizing Together 2020, as well as SEIU PA State Council, UFCW 1776KS, NextGen Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania Health Action Fund, Planned Parenthood Pennsylvania Advocates, Commonwealth Communications and OT2020 national partner Supermajority.
In addition to encouraging people to vote via mail-in ballots, the organizers and participants also honored frontline workers who are putting their safety at risk everyday. Throughout the state of Pennsylvania, there have been 63,666 confirmed cases of coronavirus, resulting in 4,624 deaths.
“This is a war against this virus. The soldiers on the battlefield fighting this war have been the frontline workers,” said Sen. Bob Casey. “We need to pass a heroes fund to make sure that we provide pandemic premium pay for essential workers. We have to do it by way of legislation, to help frontline workers transition to the next part of their lives and also help their families. It is critically important that we do that.”
Debra Wieloch, a grocery store worker in Pittsburgh and a member of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, explained how on any given day working in her store’s produce section, she comes in contact with approximately 300 customers. She said her employer has put procedures in place to help protect their employees, but some people are not practicing social distancing and even physically bump into her as she does her job.
“COVID-19 has been very challenging for grocery store workers like me. We do love our customers, but because of the pandemic, I am under an incredible risk of contracting this virus,” said Wieloch. “I continue to ask the general public to be mindful of the danger my coworkers and I do face everyday.”
Another essential worker, Francis Adams of the SEIU (Service Employees of International Union) Home Health Care Workers, has been in the homecare industry for more than 30 years. He is willingly putting himself at great risk daily to help others, but stressed the importance of adequate personal protective equipment and how it is more vital now than ever before.
“There is great risk everyday, but people need care and they depend on me,” he said. “As a caregiver, we need to make sure we’re voting for healthcare champions who will fight for the things we need like PPE, higher wages and better benefits. Essential workers deserve essential pay.”
Gov. Tom Wolf echoed that sentiment, calling for better protection for frontline workers. He also highly encouraged Pennsylvania voters to participate in the upcoming election. On Oct. 31, 2019, Wolf signed Act 77 into law, allowing voters to vote by mail-in ballots and also providing voters with additional time to register to vote.
“Let me just say how grateful I am, and every Pennsylvanian is, to the frontline workers who have done so much to make our lives better and protect us and keep us safe. I am just in awe of everything you’ve done,” said Wolf. “The only way that Pennsylvanians can thank you is to vote by mail and vote in both June and November.
“We’ve been attacked by this virus. You’ve been there for us and now we must make sure that we’re all working together to repay that kindness and that heroism on your part by voting by mail,” he continued. “We can get a lot of great things done. We can change the course of this nation. And we can make up for the mistakes that were made over the past four years. November is our chance. Vote by mail is the means to do that. It’s the best way I can think of to say thanks to the great people, the frontline workers, who have done so much to make our lives what they are through this whole pandemic.”
To request an absentee or mail-in ballot, visit pavoterservices.pa.gov/OnlineAbsenteeApplication/#/OnlineAbsenteeBegin.
For information, visit pa.gov/guides/voting-and-elections.
To help your community sign up to vote by mail, visit bit.ly/vbmpledge or text VBMPA to 484848.