A few weeks after being laid off from his job as a cook, Anthony Steward contracted coronavirus. Now recovered, Anthony reflects on how unions can provide support during COVID layoffs and furloughs.
“March 11th. That’s when they told us we’re not going back to work until further notice.” Anthony was working as a cook at a multi-purpose arena in downtown Milwaukee, Wisconsin when the news of COVID-19 hit.
“It was just crazy,” Anthony recalled. “It was like, oh my god, there’s no work. Everyone wants to know when we are going to get our refund, when is unemployment going to kick in, are we going to get unemployment? There’s just so many questions.”
Amidst the uncertainty of being laid off in a disrupted economy, Anthony relies heavily on the support of the Milwaukee Area Service & Hospitality (MASH) union, where he serves as a steward.
“The good thing was we had a good team and a nice support system with our union,” Anthony said. “They got us set up with unemployment as soon as possible. It made everyone feel comfortable and gave them all the information they needed.”
The union also took measures to ensure that it’s members maintained a sense of community during a time of intense social isolation. MASH set up weekly conference calls to address concerns and keep members connected.
“They made it so easy for me and the rest of the stewards and the employees that are under the union. They’re making everybody feel at peace right now.” Anthony said of MASH’s efforts to keep their members informed, uplifted, and connected to the resources they most need. This support system was critically important for Anthony when he contracted coronavirus a few weeks after being laid off.
Anthony recalled that the symptoms he experienced–backaches, night sweats, muscle soreness, pain behind his eyes, and physical exhaustion. None of these were what Anthony expected coronavirus to feel like. To be safe, he decided to get tested anyway.
“We ended up going to get tested as a family. Come to find out, I came back positive. My oldest son came back positive. My youngest son came back negative and my girl came back negative,” Anthony said. “When they told me, I actually felt different. You know when somebody says something so devastating to you?”
Anthony and his oldest son spend the next 17 days in isolation. During his recovery, he spent time working on art projects and learning activities with his son. He also considered the momentum of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement and its impacts for Black employment after COVID-19.
“Within the Black community I’m thinking, okay, how are we as far as jobs? How are we going to be looked at now as far as getting jobs?” Anthony said. “That’s what goes through my head right now.”
Anthony is hopeful that this is a moment for mobilization and positive social change. Anthony has not only been involved in peaceful protests with BLM, but with the aid of MASH, has also been in touch with Senator Tammy Baldwin about enacting universal healthcare for Wisconsin.
“There’s a lot going on right now,” Anthony said. “We need to stick together, stay strong, and work as a team. Laws could be made right now.”