by Shannon Carr, firstname.lastname@example.org
In just the first week of President Biden taking office, senior staff from the White House held a meeting with around 25 larger unions, from across a broad spectrum of different sectors, including CSEA.
Cedric Richmond, Senior Advisor to the President and director of the White House Office of Public Engagement, kicked off the call by sharing the Biden administration’s desire to be engaged with the labor community, including our union. Under the previous administration, there was very little, if any, communication between labor and the White House.
“That says a lot about their willingness to be engaged with us in the years to come and to make sure our voices are heard, and our issues are considered by the administration,” said David Schapira, CSEA Director of Governmental Relations, who represented CSEA on the call along with CSEA Legislative Advocate Xong Lor.
The conversation covered a wide span of topics, from the upcoming stimulus package to vaccinations, safe school reopening and school funding.
“Because of the relatively limited number of unions on the call, it definitely gave us an opportunity to really raise some critical issues,” said Schapira, who was the first among the labor representatives to have the chance to ask questions and have a conversation with Director Richmond and his staff.
“I made sure to introduce CSEA, talk about who we are, who we represent, that we are the largest classified school employee union in the country, the importance of the work that our members do and the work they have been doing since the beginning of the pandemic,” he said.
Schapira shared the importance of ensuring the federal government prioritizes resources to help us continue to secure PPE, funding for testing, and improving vaccine distribution so as many of our members as possible have the opportunity to get the vaccine. He also made points about the stimulus package, expressing hope that there will be money specifically for emergency relief for schools. Additionally, Schapira reminded the administration not to forget about the federal government’s promise to provide special education funding, which is supposed to supply 40 percent of state costs but currently stands at 13 percent in California.
“It’s important to remind them of the federal government’s commitments to our members and the students we serve,” Schapira said. “We are optimistic that the Biden administration will be the first administration in many years to actually meet the commitment to students with disabilities and to staff.”
He also raised the issue of COVID leave. The CARES Act provided funding and requires employers to provide leave to employees who contract COVID-19 or must quarantine from exposure without deducting from their leave banks. That expired at the end of the year and was not renewed in the December stimulus package. Schapira encouraged the White House to ensure that the next package addresses this issue.
The call was just the beginning of CSEA relations with the Biden administration, and our Governmental Relations office continues to be engaged with the White House.
“Our goal in Governmental Relations is always to move the ball for our members,” Schapira said. “It’s great to have access and to have communication with the administration, but our ultimate goal is always to utilize that access to make our members’ lives better.”