Colorado has been fighting the coronavirus for weeks, with daily horror stories of the toll it’s taking on working people, our families, and the services we provide in our communities. Yet many people whose work went unnoticed and under-appreciated in the past are now front and center: cashiers, home health care workers, janitors, delivery drivers, sanitation employees, and more.
But they are not alone. Combating this crisis also requires those of us who keep our state running to continue providing the essential services Coloradans rely on. People who work for the state of Colorado are processing unemployment insurance claims, administering COVID-19 tests, caring for veterans, providing mental health care in prisons, and ensuring the health and safety of our state’s children.
Public employees are risking their lives every day because we know that the services we provide will help our communities get through this pandemic and we believe the people of Colorado are worth it. I continue my work overseeing programs that help find permanent and loving homes for Colorado’s most vulnerable children who are orphaned, victims of trafficking, and refugees because children’s needs can’t take a backseat while adults figure out how to fight this virus.
Like many other Coloradans, public employees are doing our best to make sure we get through this crisis, but we need federal support to ensure our state can maintain public safety, healthcare, education, and other critical services. While Congress passed the CARES Act earlier this month, it’s nowhere near enough. President Trump and leaders in Washington, including Senators Cory Gardner and Michael Bennett, need to take urgent action to help working families struggling to make ends meet and provide desperately-needed resources for state and local governments to ensure essential services can continue.
If the coronavirus is exposing anything, it’s that protecting everyone’s health requires protecting the health of each of us. All Coloradans—Black, white, Asian, and brown—have been affected by this terrible pandemic and while this virus does not discriminate, we know that African Americans and Native Americans have disproportionately been impacted, revealing deadly gaps in public health. And for those working on the frontlines, often without personal protective equipment, the workplace has become a disaster zone.
We must protect all workers, including frontline state employees, so we can continue to do our jobs supporting Colorado’s communities. I’ve worked in human services for children, youth, and families in Colorado for nearly 20 years and I’ve never seen anything like this. But the outpouring of community support has also been unprecedented. All around me I see Coloradans coming together to make masks, deliver food, and within weeks adapt to continue to provide services in a whole new way.
While we wait on Washington, our state lawmakers must do their part by prioritizing the Colorado Partnership For Quality Jobs And Services Act when they return to the Capitol. State employees working on the frontlines are an incredibly valuable resource and we need the freedom to negotiate a contract with the state so we have a formal way to bring our ingenuity, concerns, and problem-solving to the decision-making table. In every department, division and worksite there are people whose experience and knowledge of day-to-day operations is critical to making the best policy-decisions for our state’s future.
This crisis should serve as a stark reminder that failing to invest in the services we need has dire consequences when disaster strikes. In Colorado, we recognize that in order to protect the things we value we must invest in them, so they are there for all of us, all the time. That means maintaining our infrastructure so everyone has clean water and air, safe and passable roads, and ensuring access to services that improve our communities. It means investing in Colorado’s families and the people who make our state run. And it means creating good union jobs that people can stay in so we have the expertise and consistency we need to keep our communities safe and healthy, especially in times of crisis.
— Cayenna Johnson is a program coordinator at the Division of Child Welfare in the Colorado Department of Human Services