Labor and the census
The New York City labor movement knows that numbers matter, and the 2020 Census is a once-in-a-decade chance to get as close to an accurate count of the population as possible. Data from the census helps draw congressional and state district lines, determines a state’s number of congressional representatives and helps determine allocation of hundreds of billions of dollars of federal funding for school lunch programs, highway construction, fire departments, Medicaid and more.
“Every single one of our industries [where we organize] is impacted by the numbers that are the final outcome of the census,” said Lucia Gomez, political director of the New York City Central Labor Council (NYCCLC), the regional labor federation of which the PSC is a member. For more than a year, the council through its Labor Counts! initiative has been coordinating efforts with its member unions to mobilize for the census. “Everything about the census is about power; it is about bringing resources into our neighborhoods. If people don’t fill it out, we jump-start a decade on the wrong foot.”
Beginning March 12, people living in the United States can respond to the census by phone, mail or online at my2020census.gov. The census asks basic questions, including for a count of everyone living in each household, as well as the name, gender, race, and ethnicity of each and whether an individual owns their home, rents or has some other arrangement for their place of residence. There is no citizenship question on the 2020 Census.
Unions in the NYCCLC that are part of Labor Counts! have been communicating with their members about the importance of the 2020 Census. At their borough-wide meetings, locals in AFSCME DC 37 have been training organizers on how to communicate to members the importance of participating in the census. The United Federation of Teachers has trained the union’s district representatives on how to engage neighborhood residents where their schools are located. Other unions have sent mailings, newsletters and organized union field staff around the issue.
The PSC has hosted trainings for census volunteers. PSC Treasurer Sharon Persinger, who has been active in the Labor Counts! coalition, said it is important for members to be informed, especially because census numbers help determine funding for so many education programs, including the allocation of Pell Grants.
“PSC members are concerned about the quality of education generally in the city because it impacts how students are prepared when they get to CUNY,” Persinger said. “We need to be out there supporting getting a complete count. [We should tell] our students that their families should fill out the form and fill it out fully and make sure everybody is included.”
Persinger, who is also a professor in the math and computer science department at Bronx Community College, wants members to know there are good teaching resources on the census website at census.gov/schools, and that students, especially ones who speak multiple languages, can apply for well-paid, temporary part-time work with the census.
Gomez stresses the importance of the CUNY community involvement in the effort because there are CUNY campuses citywide, CUNY colleges are focal points in many densely populated and diverse neighborhoods.
“For me it’s a no brainer that every organization, every institution [in the city should] be engaged in something as basic as the census,” said Gomez. “It helps our communities to know that these institutions are part of the process, so they can trust it.”
To get involved with Labor Counts!, call the New York City Central Labor Council office at (212) 604-9552.