Stand with Workers and Celebrate Homemade Mask Week in MN

The COVID-19 pandemic has made it clear: front line workers are essential, and our communities don’t work without them. But in the face of unprecedented danger, the federal government has largely failed to protect these workers from the risk to themselves, their families, and their communities.

Now months into a global pandemic, the systematic failures of the Trump Administration have been laid bare. Including still not fully implementing the Defense Production Act to make PPE, test kits, ventilators, and other essential, life-saving equipment. But as AFSCME President Lee Saunders said, this isn’t just about the Trump Administration. “We are all now paying the price for shortsighted austerity measures that renege on the promise of government to protect us,” Saunders said. “It is time to reverse course and re-invest aggressively in public services—both to get this outbreak under control, and to make sure we’re properly equipped to prevent another one in the future.”

All of us, including decision-makers in Congress and our state, must continue to step up in the way that public, private, and non-profit sector employees have for their communities. Front line workers need PPE immediately! Our state and all local governments where our members work need immediate and unrestricted grant assistance so they can maintain core services now and in the months to come.

It didn’t have to be like this. Workers shouldn’t be putting themselves in harm’s way while the response stalls. But AFSCME members do our jobs in the real world - and we never give up. So until the federal government steps up to the plate, we have to do our best to protect our families, our union siblings, and our communities.

In the absence of drastic federal action, workers will go without the essential PPE they need - unless Minnesotans pitch in to help. Across the region, Minnesotans are heeding the call to fill the gap left by federal inaction. That’s why Governor Tim Walz has declared this week (April 18-25) Homemade Mask Week in Minnesota. This declaration coincides with a homemade mask drive, asking residents to deliver homemade masks to their local fire department on Saturday, April 25 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

“While homemade masks will not replace certain equipment, they go a long way in preventing the wearer’s germs from infecting others,” said Governor Walz. “I am asking Minnesota’s crafters, sewers, and creatives to step up and help out their community.”

That gives Minnesotans a full week to pull together as much PPE as we can get our hands on. Luckily, AFSCME members were already prepared to answer the call!

Destiny Dusosky, AFSCME Council 5 Treasurer and member of Local 753 at St. Could State University, and Judi Shurson of Local 2474 at HCMC, witness firsthand the desperate need for masks and PPE. After hearing the struggles of Moose Lake Corrections Officers and those of other facilities having issues with their masks and all front line workers needing PPE, Dusosky began to sew masks and use her 3-D printer to create safe and comfortable ear guards for the masks she is making, where the elastic bands do not have to touch the wearer’s ears.

“We thought it would be awesome if we created this distribution network within AFSCME to collect homemade PPE - this is what we as union members are called to do: Act,” Dusosky said. She has created over 150 masks and 400 ear guards so far and plans to continue making more. She has sent over 130 masks to front line workers within our union and beyond. But more help is needed! We as a union have the capacity and tenacity to save lives with this network.

That is where Judi Shurson came in. She said, “These masks are made with love, and is a way of giving a part of yourself to make others safe and healthy. I wanted to be a part of larger union distribution network to get this equipment to front line workers in my clinic and HCMC.” Dusosky, Shurson, and others have broadened the distribution network to include correctional officers and hospital employees. These workers are on the front line and know best how to get homemade PPE into facilities/clinics that need them the most.

The CDC recommends wearing cloth face coverings to reduce the transmission of COVID-19 in our communities. Cloth face masks can help prevent the wearer from infecting others – especially if the wearer does not know they are sick.

Are you ready and able to help with this important project? Fire up your sewing machine! The Governor’s Office has guidelines and tips for making face masks. You can find them here.

Governor Walz’s homemade mask drive is focused on delivering masks to residents of congregate living facilities (nursing homes, assisted facilities, and the like), who are at the highest risk of community transmission. But with our distribution network, we must ensure that any front line worker who needs some level of mask protection receives one. On Saturday, April 25 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Minnesotans can deliver homemade masks to their local fire department. Fire departments will then deliver the masks to various facilities for employees to wear.

AFSCME Council 5 and members created a successful member-to-member distribution network to protect the health and safety of front line workers! Want to keep making masks to benefit your fellow AFSCME siblings and others? Sign up with AFSCME Council 5’s COVID-19 Volunteer Form and keep working to protect your communities and workplaces.

Right now, thousands of public service workers in Minnesota are at great risk of contracting COVID-19 and too often without the health and safety resources they need. We also need you to tell Congress to fund the front lines and expand aid to our state and local governments by signing this petition and we need your hands-on effort to make PPE.

Join us in celebrating Homemade Mask Week by making the PPE our state’s front line workers need! We are a strong union because of our members and we must help one another during this time of great stress and many unknowns.