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Screenshot of NLLI Online Convening

NLLI Online Convening: Labor's Response to the Coronavirus Pandemic


Labor's Response to the Coronavirus Pandemic: Leading in a Time of Crisis


"This is a moment for us to think about what the new normal is, because I frankly don't want to get back to the old normal. It wasn't working for most of us," said Erica Smiley, Executive Director of Jobs with Justice during her remarks at "Labor's Response to the Coronavirus Pandemic: Leading in the Time of Crisis."


On Tuesday, March 31, the Worker Institute convened 70+ alumni of the National Labor Leadership Initiative, leaders from across the labor movement, in an online convening to explore responses to the COVID-19 crisis. The speakers helped frame up the global, national, state and local implications of the pandemic and showcased how labor leaders are simultaneously stretching to react to immediate needs and demands, while also developing proactive strategies to amplify the voices of working people. 


Participants included leaders from national unions, state federations and central labor councils, the global labor movement, and community organizing networks that support unions. They talked about the challenges of being a leader in this moment, with members on the front lines, and reminded us how workers from across the movement are being impacted. 


Seven TWU members who work in the NYC public transit system have died from the virus, while their co-workers still go to work every day to keep the system running, without adequate assurances that they will be kept healthy and safe. The IATSE members whose work powers the entertainment and festival scene including Austin's South by Southwest, one of the first major cancellations of the pandemic, are now out of work indefinitely. Teachers and paraprofessionals have rushed to transition their curricula to online formats, even while coping with the emotional impact of missing their students and the school environment. Nurses are on the frontlines and tending to patients without adequate PPE. It was clear that in this moment leaders need support and a space to think big. 


The challenges of reacting to provide for immediate needs could eclipse space and energy for developing the transformative vision and agenda that will elevate working peoples' needs and voices as we build a new economy in the aftermath of this crisis. NLLI plans to create a regular meeting space to support leaders through this process. 


As a benefit, the NLLI team enjoyed using Zoom to create opportunities for small group discussion and relationship building across the NLLI community, and we look forward to expanding our skills to build the community online until we're able to meet in person again.



Screenshot of NLLI Online Convening

ILR Dean Alex Colvin addresses the NLLI Virtual Convening: Labor’s Response to the Coronavirus Pandemic.




  • Dean Alex Colvin (ILR School)
  •  Shawna Bader-Blau (Solidarity Center)
  • Vinny Alvarez (New York Central Labor Council
  • April Sims (Washington State Labor Council)
  • Montserrat Garibay (Texas AFL-CIO)
  • John Samuelson (Transport Workers Union)
  • Richard Lanigan (OPEIU)
  • Lily Eskelson Garcia (National Education Association)
  • Erica Smiley (Jobs With Justice)