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Workers and Faith and Civic Leaders Participated in Colorado’s 2nd Annual Interfaith Labor Seder

This year’s Honorees were Amie Baca-Oehlert, President of the Colorado Education Association & David Seligman, Executive Director of Towards Justice, for their Work as Local Champions of the Labor Movement

 DENVER – Tonight, March 20th, at Colorado’s 2nd Annual Interfaith Labor Seder, local workers and leaders came together for the event to weave in the stories of organized labor’s current struggles and celebrations with the Biblical Exodus story of the Israelites struggle to free themselves from bondage.

The event, hosted by Coloradans for the Common Good (CCG) at Congregation Rodef Shalom in Denver, brought together over 225 participants from the Jewish community, multiple faith traditions, elected officials, nonprofit organizations, and labor leaders. This year’s honorees were two local champions of the labor movement, Amie Baca-Oehlert, President of the Colorado Education Association, and David Seligman, Executive Director of Towards Justice.

Featured speakers were Jorge Montiel, Lead Organizer, Coloradans for the Common Good; Rabbi Katie Mizrahi, B’nai Havurah; Rabbi Rachel Kobrin, Congregation Rodef Shalom; and Dr. Joyce Brooks and Marilyn Winokur, Co-Chairs for Coloradans for the Common Good; and worker storytellers from local unions participated in the event. Elected officials included: Attorney General Phil Weiser; Representative Jason Crow (CO-6), Representative Brittany Pettersen (CO-7), State Senator and Democratic Majority Whip Julie Gonzales (SD-34), State Representatives Emily Sirota (HD-9), Stephanie Vigil (HD-16), Steven Woodrow (HD-2), Mary Young (HD-50), Elizabeth Epps (HD-6), Sheila Lieder (HD-28), Junie Joseph (HD-10) and Jennifer Bacon (HD-7); and Colorado State Treasurer Dave Young. Also in attendance was Scott Moss, Director, Division of Labor and Statistics, Colorado Department of Labor and Employment.

The Labor Seder Co-Chairs Marilyn Winokur and Elizabeth Reder explained that the genesis for the Labor Seder began when CCG noticed that for decades there has been a strong affinity between Jewish organizations and organized Labor in large metropolitan centers such as Boston, NYC, Philadelphia, Chicago, and LA.  With faith congregations and unions at the heart of its membership base, Coloradans for the Common Good presented the First Interfaith Labor Seder to Denver last year.

“We come together again this year for CCG’s Second Interfaith Labor Seder to celebrate our shared belief that workers should be treated equitably with dignity and respect, earn livable wages, work in healthy environments, and be able to exercise rights,” said Marilyn Winokur, CCG and Labor Seder Co-Chair. “With a sell-out crowd participating in this year’s Labor Seder, it’s personally heartwarming to see Jewish and other faith-based communities affirm and expand their alliance with organized labor in Colorado.”

“Within the context of significant polarization in our communities, The Second Annual Interfaith Labor Seder presented by Coloradans for the Common Good, proves that diverse organizations and individuals can come together to address mutual concerns that affect all of us,” said Elizabeth Reder, Labor Seder Co-Chair. “The overwhelming support of Labor Unions, community organizations, Jews and many other religious faiths united to address injustice, racism, inequality and worker struggles demonstrate that The Labor Seder strikes a chord across diverse populations that recognize a significant problem that together can be solved.”

Every year during Passover, Jews all over the world come together to celebrate freedom from slavery. The Passover Labor Seder tradition discusses modern day labor issues, weaving in stories of organized labor and workers’ current struggles and celebrations in Colorado.

“Our society is plagued by injustices and unfairness. Corporations have too much power and money, and workers don’t have enough. Far too many struggle to meet increasingly unaffordable costs for basic needs like childcare and housing, even as corporations reap record profits,” said honoree David Seligman, Executive Director of Towards Justice. “This narrative is far too familiar, and the Passover story also tells a story of plagues, injustice and exploitation. However, the Passover Seder is also fundamentally a story about liberation— a story about how if we come together, in solidarity, we can unshackle not only ourselves, but all of those around us.”

“The stories told at this Labor Seder recognize that freedom has not been won for all of us. There still exists unfair labor practices, harassment and racism, union busting, and fear for health and safety,” said Amie Baca-Oehlert, President of the Colorado Education Association. “Colorado’s workers and leaders came together for this Seder to weave in the stories of organized labor’s current struggles and celebrations with the Biblical Exodus story of the Israelites struggle to free themselves from bondage.”

Featured Local Workers’ testimony at the event included:

Becky Sassaman, Kaiser RN, United Food & Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 7:

“I grew up in a union home but still saw my mom fired for being pregnant. When the pandemic started, I worked for weeks without PPE (personal protective equipment) because of our limited supply.”

“As nurses, we need to be able to challenge our superiors when our safety or the safety of our patients is at risk. Knowing that I am protected by a union helped give me courage to speak up to a doctor, or I would have put that patient in harm’s way.”

“Nursing is a spiritual job, a calling. As we gather together for the Labor Seder, I’m proud to honor all the nurses who have answered the call to care for our communities.”

Hamouda Ahmed, Driver, Colorado Independent Drivers United (CIDU)

“As Uber and Lyft continue cutting the percentage of ride revenue that goes to the driver, we have to up our hours, no vacation, no days off. Just driving 7 days a week to make ends meet.

If a rider leaves us a bad review, we can have our accounts deactivated without any explanation. I have no ability to challenge a deactivation if I think I’ve been the victim of aggression or discrimination.”

“Through my work with CIDU, I’m fighting for the SB23-098, the Gig Work Transparency Bill, to require tech companies to show exactly how much we are earning and how much they are taking from each trip and also give us the ability to challenge deactivations and terminations.”

Melissa Benjamin, Campaign Coordinator, Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 105:

“I was a home healthcare worker for 20 years, caring for families all along the Front Range, but struggling to support my own two children. Wages were low, benefits were bad and there was no dignity in the work. I was often manipulated into working for free with several clients—three hours on average every time I went to work.”

“Now, as a campaign coordinator with SEIU Local 5, I support a team of organizers who are pulling home care workers together to raise up our industry in Colorado. People in need of home care should have better access to it, and those providing this essential care work should be able to cover their basic needs.”

Jacob Oldefest, Denver Paramedic, Communications Workers of America (CWA) 779

“Though we have always been the most overlooked contributors in healthcare, paramedics save lives all the time. While I’m honored to belong to this motley crew of public servants, I’m also sad to say that our rich culture and sense of community is fading away. Low pay and unrealistic workloads are forcing many longtime paramedics out of Denver.”

“My co-workers are realizing that they could go to the suburbs to make twice as much money while running half as many calls per day. Meanwhile, newer paramedics are getting hired at a higher hourly rate than what the city pays to those of us who are training them.”

“As a union paramedic, I’m fighting for Senate Bill 111, which would provide increased protection for public servants who are trying to organize. My colleagues and I should be able to organize without fear as we seek better wages for the work we do to save the lives of the underserved.”

“It’s no wonder that Denver keeps losing paramedics to the suburbs. If I were working in Littleton, I’d make twice the money and answer half as many calls. For those of you who live, work and worship in Denver, I’m sure you want a trained, experienced paramedic workforce.”

 Carolina Galvan, Paraprofessional in Early Childhood Education

“As a paraprofessional in early childhood education, I belong to a group of essential workers called Educational Support Professionals (ESPs). Alongside bus drivers and monitors, nutrition service workers and other support staff, we do essential labor in schools for very little pay.”

“During the summer of 2022, with support from Coloradan for the Common Good (CCG), I helped organize Denver ESPs to fight for an end to poverty wages in our district. It was a story of victory. However, this year, Denver Public School (DPS) is attempting to cut a half day per week from our schedules. These lowered hours undo the recent raises we fought so hard for. We got the district to pay us more, now they want us to work less.”

“ESPs create safe, stable schools for our students to be on time, cared for and encouraged to learn. In return, we’re asking for safe stable jobs that allow us to support our own children.”

Sheila Traister, Member, Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA):

“As a member of SAG-AFTRA since 1988 and through my volunteer service in national leadership roles, I’ve worked tirelessly to make the entertainment industry more inclusive toward women and people of color.”

“As a young actor early in my career, I was devastated after an audition by the suggestion that I was un-relatable as a human being because of how I looked, because my parents dared to love each other and have a mixed-race daughter.”

“SAG-AFTRA is on the forefront of pursuing diversity and inclusion in the workplace, both in front of the camera and behind the camera, and on the radio. I spend more time as unionist than I do on camera, because after forty years in the industry I’m getting 10% or less of the opportunities that go to my white male counterparts.”

“Though I often feel discouraged, I’ve never been defeated. And I’m going to keep fighting so you can see this face on screen.”

Oscar Calderón, Member of Centro Humanitario and Immigrant Worker

“I was a victim of wage theft. The company BIC Painting LLC asked me for a project where I would bring 12 workers with me. Everything was fine at first but then they started withholding payments and we still kept working.”

“When they owed us $40,000, they began to mistreat us. We worked at night, on holidays, until the moment came when I stopped working. The owner warned me: ‘Either you finish the job, or I am going to sue you.’ I left that abusive job on September 30, 2022.”

“I filed the complaint with the Colorado Department of Labor in October, and they didn’t respond to me until January. I also started a lawsuit in civil court. That abuse left me bankrupt, having to pay my workers close to $70,000 out of my own pocket, and leaving my family without basic necessities.”

“This company stole my money, but also my dignity and even my mental health. I know many other immigrants who have been victims like me. It is time that we speak out about this injustice to free ourselves from the pharaoh.”

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