The Journal Gazette
Sunday, November 22, 2020 1:00 am

2 women joining fight to improve worker rights

SHERRY SLATER | The Journal Gazette

Holly Holland and Kitty Harlo are the next generation of workers' rights advocates.

“I want employers to do better because I know they can

do better,” Holland said, referring to the coronavirus pandemic response.

Holland, who works part time for a retail chain, asked that her employer's name not be published because she doesn't want anyone to think her comments are a critique of that company. Harlo, who works two part-time food service jobs, had the same concern.

Economic insecurity keeps many employees from speaking out about safety, pay and other concerns, said Tom Lewan­dow­ski, director of the Workers' Project.

Holland, 26, met Lew­andow­ski while putting an order in his car's back seat during a curbside pickup. During a quick chat, she discovered the Workers' Project is addressing issues she cares about. The nonprofit focuses on educating workers about their legal protections.

Harlo, 26, has always been interested in workers' rights, especially after seeing her father sweat through a series of relatively low-paid positions that included janitorial, dishwasher and factory work.

“Things weren't great,” she said.

Harlo's passion also was ignited at a previous job in health care. She didn't like how some of her Black and Hispanic co-workers were treated by workers with more prestigious positions.

“Things seemed a bit off,” she said of the workplace atmosphere.

Their commitment to giving workers a voice and power prompted the women to create and distribute a survey to gather feedback.

The Workers' Project is supporting their efforts to help participating workers find solutions to workplace issues.

Holland, who earned a secondary education degree in May, didn't seek a teaching job this year because she wasn't sure enough was being done to protect teachers in the classroom. She sees herself as an educator first and welcomes the opportunity to teach other workers about their rights.

Lewandowski welcomes the youth and energy the women bring to the organization.

“They've grown up in the age of disinformation and aren't afraid to question any authority,” he said. “They see things the way they are.”

Harlo said Lewandowski has a lot of great ideas for what the women could tackle next.

The challenge now?

“It's just trying to allocate the time to do it,” she said.

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