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Pennsylvania state senate candidate Paul Prescod (right), pictured with AFSCME District Council 33 president Ernest Garrett, built a strong relationship with the union by supporting the fight for hazard pay and PPE at the outset of the Covid-19 pandemic

Pennsylvania state senate candidate Paul Prescod (right), pictured with AFSCME District Council 33 president Ernest Garrett, built a strong relationship with the union by supporting the fight for hazard pay and PPE at the outset of the Covid-19 pandemic. (Photo: Paul Prescod)

'Let's Win This Thing!': Major Philly Union Endorses PA State Senate Candidate Paul Prescod

AFSCME District Council 33 is supporting Paul Prescod for Pennsylvania's 8th Senate District because "we know he will fight for us," said union president Ernest Garrett.

Kenny Stancil

One of Philadelphia's biggest unions has endorsed Paul Prescod, a progressive Democratic candidate for Pennsylvania's 8th Senate District, joining a growing list of working-class advocates backing the campaign of the educator and longtime labor movement organizer.

"I will be willing to take on the wealthy interests that are getting in the way of the future we deserve."

"I'm thrilled to have the endorsement of AFSCME District Council 33!" Prescod told Common Dreams. "This 10,000 member union represents the sanitation workers, water department workers, street cleaners, school crossing guards, and others that keep the city of Philadelphia moving."

"These are the essential workers that have suffered so much during this pandemic, and that this campaign is all about," said Prescod.

The Pennsylvania State Senate candidate—an organizer dating back to his days as a student at Temple University, after which he became a public school educator and member of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers—added that "we need to protect and expand the public sector, while strengthening our public-sector unions."

During a speech last month launching his campaign, Prescod said that "we've all had the feeling that we don't know whether to believe in a candidate running for public office. The most important thing to know about a candidate is what they were doing before running for office."

Prescod told Common Dreams that he built a strong relationship with the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) District Council 33 and other local labor unions by supporting the fight for hazard pay and personal protective equipment that emerged during the early stages of the Covid-19 pandemic.

That effort culminated in the Philadelphia City Council's June 2020 passage of the Essential Worker Protection Act, a first-of-its-kind piece of legislation that prevents employers from retaliating against workers who report violations of Covid-19 safety guidelines.

AFSCME District Council 33 president Ernest Garrett said Monday in a statement that "District Council 33 is supporting Paul Prescod because we believe Paul stands for what we fight for every day; fighting for men and women who catch the early bus to work, fighting for the men and women who struggle when choosing between putting food on the table and paying the light bill, and fighting for men and women who need and deserve decent healthcare for their families."

"We know he will fight for us," Garrett added.

Prescod, a member of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) and a contributing editor at Jacobin magazine, has long argued that tackling racial and economic inequality depends on bolstering the public sector and organized labor, and he has been intimately involved in that effort for years.

As Prescod told Jacobin in an interview published earlier this month, "Most left-leaning insurgent challengers usually don't get much labor support because unions often want to back who they feel is going to win. My campaign is starting in a unique position where we already have four union endorsements, and are seeking and anticipating more."

By supporting Prescod, AFSCME District Council 33 joined the Faculty and Staff Federation at the Community College of Philadelphia; the statewide federation of the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees; International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 623; Temple Association of University Professionals; and Philly DSA. The American Postal Workers Union Local 89 has followed AFSCME District Council 33 in endorsing Prescod, the candidate announced.

"This is crucial—not just on principle because the labor movement is important to me, but as a concrete part of the strategy to mobilize nontraditional voters," Prescod said in early December. "To give one example, I have a strong relationship with Teamsters Local 623, which represents UPS workers. Many of their rank-and-file members in Southwest Philly, which is in my district, do not typically vote. Now they are being mobilized to canvass by the union, and they recognize me from their picket lines and meetings. They see a candidate their leadership is genuinely enthusiastic about."

"This campaign is about shifting to a model of public investment, of putting people before profits."

He added that this is "also going to be a big part of the equation of how we build a progressive labor coalition. We're going to have canvasses with union members, DSA members, and members of other progressive organizations. From there, it's simple: we're going to have in-person conversations over a long period of time to try to galvanize as many people as possible."

At last month's launch event, Prescod said that "I believe in building a movement of working people above all else." He added that "this campaign is about taking the movement we've been building all these years to the halls of power in Harrisburg."

"I believe we need more educators running for public office," Prescod said, "because we have a full view of all the problems we face in our city and our state. As teachers we know our students don't come to us in a vacuum. We know they come to the classroom bringing with them the problems going on all around them."

"But you don't have to be an educator to see that we're in a deep crisis, this city is in a deep crisis," he added. "I know we all feel it. And the only way we're going to get out of this crisis is with a bold change in direction. A bold new attitude that says we are not going to accept these conditions any longer."

Prescod elaborated: "We are not going to accept that our public schools are crumbling. We are not going to accept that our school buildings are infested with asbestos, mold, and lead. That children are dying in schools because full-time nurses aren't there. That class sizes are 35-40 kids per class. That our after-school programs are being cut."

Notably, Prescod stressed that "we can't run to the free market to solve this problem."

Instead, he said, "we have to make a public commitment to our schools. As a legislator, I will not rest until every single school in Pennsylvania is fully funded. I will not rest until every single school has beautiful new buildings, has small class sizes, has enough support staff, and has all the after-school programs a kid could dream of."

Prescod's campaign has emphasized the need for a Green New Deal that can unify struggles for economic and environmental justice.

"Our movement says we're not going to sit here and accept that runaway climate change will destroy our lives," said Prescod. "What do we expect will happen in the future if we continue to do nothing?"

"We have an immense opportunity here," he added. "We can create tens of thousands of quality union jobs in the fight against climate change. Think about how many jobs we could create if we retrofitted every public school building to be energy efficient. How many jobs could we create if we massively expanded public transit and created a high-speed rail system to be proud of. How many jobs could we create if we built broadband internet access to all rural and urban communities in the Commonwealth."

Prescod argued that "the 8th district can be a leader in the state when it comes to infrastructure. And as a legislator, I will insist that as we move to a renewable energy future we're creating family-sustaining union jobs, not low-wage jobs."

"At its heart," said Prescod, "this campaign is about shifting to a model of public investment, of putting people before profits. A model that says healthcare is a human right, and we can create a healthcare system that guarantees quality healthcare to all Pennsylvanians. A model of public investment that says quality housing is a human right, and we can create housing that is beautiful and affordable. A model that says a living wage job is a human right and it's time to immediately raise the minimum wage to at least $15 per hour."

Prescod told Jacobin that he was inspired by Sen. Bernie Sanders' (I-Vt.) 2016 and 2020 campaigns for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination, especially the idea of him being an "organizer-in-chief" who uses his power as an elected official to support progressive movements on the ground.

The Pennsylvania State Senate candidate told his audience last month that "my role in public office will not be just about writing legislation. It's also about how I can use that office to help grow the movements that we're going to need in the future. When the Teamsters are fighting UPS, doing everything in my power to tip the scales in favor of the workers. When... educators are fighting to save [a] school, doing everything in my power to make sure they win."

"This campaign is about taking the movement we've been building all these years to the halls of power in Harrisburg."

"I will be willing to take on the wealthy interests that are getting in the way of the future we deserve," said Prescod.

"But these same wealthy and powerful interests will be backing my opponent," he added. "We're starting on a journey that some people think is impossible. They think there's no way that some public school teacher can take on a political dynasty, there's no way we can defeat all the corporate money they'll spend to defeat us."

Prescod acknowledged that "I'm not just up against the incumbent, I'm up against his funders as well. People like Jeffrey Yass, a billionaire that pours money into school privatization, that pours money into far-right wing projects across the state, a person who is loved by the Betsy DeVosses of the world."

"They're gonna rely on money to buy this election, but we're gonna rely on people," he said. "We're going to win by organizing, we're gonna win by talking to our neighbors, we're gonna win by knocking doors, we're gonna win by volunteering. The engine of this campaign is ordinary working-class and middle-class people like you."

"I've witnessed firsthand the deep inequality that affects our state and cities," Prescod, a longtime resident of West Philadelphia, says on his campaign website, which includes more information about his platform and ways to get involved. "Working people need more, and I'm running for Pennsylvania State Senate to fight for the future we deserve."

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