For organizers serving immigrant community, pandemic means a pivot back to the basics

Well before the pandemic arrived, community organizer Natalie Hernandez faced challenges that left a mark on her life.

“I grew up knowing that my parents weren’t citizens, that they couldn’t travel outside of the country, and that they couldn’t vote,” Hernandez said in a Spanish interview with the Cafecito con Luz y Michelle podcast. “But I never exactly understood what that meant.”

In 2011, when Hernandez was 19 and a student at UNLV, she got word that her parents had been apprehended by immigration officials. Her father was deported and her mother was allowed to stay in the U.S. through the end of the month.

In the middle of the ordeal, her mother had a stroke that left her in the hospital long-term. The delay to deportation brought about by the hospitalization turned out to be something of a blessing in disguise — by the time Hernandez turned 21, she was able to petition for her mother to have permanent residency, and in November, her mother was able to become a U.S. citizen.

But the heartbreak has permanently changed her life trajectory. 

Natalie Hernandez, Co-Deputy Political Director at Make the Road NV. (Photo courtesy of Make The Road Nevada.)

“This opened my eyes to the injustices that were happening daily in my community,” she said. “I told myself, ‘I never want to feel this way again. If I educate myself and get involved, at least I can help more. Then I’m going to fight so this doesn’t happen to anybody else.’”

Hernandez has since found her place at Make the Road Nevada, a progressive advocacy organization where she’s worked for the last three years. She now serves as the co-deputy political director, where she advocates for policy changes such as affordable housing and immigration reform.

“I never expected a career in politics,” she said. “I couldn’t imagine being on the other side.”

The pandemic has brought all new challenges. Although the group is still fighting for its policy goals, it has sharpened its focus to meeting more basic and immediate needs — making sure people have food and shelter at a time when many immigrants are left out of government aid packages. 

“The fight now looks a little different. The fight now is to ensure our community has what it needs to survive,” she said.

That effort has included helping administer grants from the Esperanza Fund, which serves undocumented immigrants who are ineligible for stimulus checks, unemployment and other government aid that has been a lifeline for many Nevadans during the economic downturn. Make the Road is one of several groups distributing $300 grants to families through the privately funded program. 

The pandemic has also changed the way the group maintains connections to those it serves. When shutdowns prompted members of the organization to work from home, one of the biggest concerns was ensuring that Make the Road didn’t lose communication with members of the community.

Before the pandemic, the group’s office was bustling with meetings and information forums, and young people gathered to take part in after-school activities.

With the closures, the organization began to help members who didn’t know how to use a computer or the Zoom videoconferencing platform.

Make the Road also got creative in order to ensure members of the community stayed up-to-date during a year marked by coronavirus, major changes to immigration policy, an election and the census.

“We had a program called ‘Census and Supper.’ We sent a free dinner to families and a link so they could join on Zoom,” Hernandez said. “We explained the importance of the census and that they should feel safe to participate, although they weren’t U.S. citizens.”

Although 2020 has brought challenges and lessons, Hernandez knows that next year the organization will also have to pick up the pieces left by the pandemic. This includes advocating in the Legislature for the community they serve and closely following any changes brought about by the administration of President-elect Joe Biden.

“We are hoping that Biden’s team passes immigration reform,” she said. “Not just for DACA recipients, but for millions of other immigrants that don’t have any other way to become U.S. citizens.”

Poll: Paid sick leave popular among all demographic groups amid legislative push

Nevada voters overwhelmingly support requiring businesses to offer paid time off to their employees, according to a new poll released by a progressive group backing the concept in the Legislature.

The poll, conducted by Anzalone Liszt Grove Research on behalf of progressive collective Time to Care Nevada, found an estimated 82 percent of Nevada voters support legislators passing a law requiring employers give earned paid sick leave to their employees. The poll was conducted between January 22 and 27 of 601 registered voters in the state in both English and Spanish, with 53 percent of interviews conducted over cell phones and with a 4 percent margin of error.

In a press call accompanying the release of the poll, Anzalone pollster Molly Murphy said the measure was broadly popular among all demographic groups (including 69 percent of registered Republicans surveyed) and that the concept retained high support even when voters were informed of concerns or additional details about the policy during the poll.

“There is a true appetite for voters to see something happen on this issue,” she said. “Virtually every single demographic group in the state supports this.”

The poll is likely to boost the chances of SB312, a compromise paid sick leave bill that would require employers with more than 50 employees to offer 40 hours of paid leave per year to their employees, with some restrictions on how the leave can be used and how much can be accumulated year-over-year. The measure won support from business groups and left-leaning organizations during a hearing in April and has been declared exempt from legislative deadlines.

Natalie Hernandez, the campaign manager for Time to Care Nevada, said the delay between the poll being conducted and published was to give the coalition time to inform state lawmakers and not “blindside” them by releasing the poll. She said the organization was still discussing the bill — currently sitting in the Senate Finance Committee — and said the poll results should be evidence for legislators to lower the 50 employee exemption down to a lower level.

Murphy also noted that the poll asked respondents to rank the importance of certain issues and that allowing people to earn paid sick days was the second highest issue polled behind “investing in education,” eclipsing other issues such as affordable child care, raising the minimum wage and cutting taxes.

“This is an issue that doesn’t require a lot of persuasion,” she said. “The public is already there.”

The poll also found President Donald Trump’s favorability rating is still underwater in the state, with 44 percent of voters approving of the president and 53 percent disapproving. Voters surveyed in the poll still retain a favorable opinion of Gov. Steve Sisolak, with 47 percent of voters favoring the Democrat, 29 percent disapproving and 23 percent not rating the governor.

Baseline NV Statewide Jan 2019 by Riley Snyder on Scribd

Compromise paid sick leave bill draws support from business interests, left-leaning groups

A broad amendment requiring private employers to offer paid leave for their workers is winning guarded support from business interest and progressive groups.

In a quickly-arranged hearing on SB312 on Thursday evening in the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee, bill sponsor Democratic Sen. Joyce Woodhouse was joined by both left-leaning and business groups in support of the bill, which saw no opposition and was voted out of committee unanimously.

Although some progressive advocates chafed at a 40-hour per year limit of paid time off offered under the bill, Woodhouse and other supporters lauded the measure as a hard-won compromise that would result in a necessary benefit for private workers.

“Across the board, policies that give workers paid time off have not been job killers,” she said.

As amended, the bill would allow employees to earn up to 40 hours of paid leave per year, with the amount of compensation equivalent to either an individual’s hourly rate or at the amount a salaried employee would earn if they worked 40 hours a week, not including any discretionary bonuses or overtime. It also changes “paid sick leave” in the original bill to just paid time off, meaning employees do not have to give a reason for the time off.

The bill allows employers to choose whether to offer the paid leave upfront or accrued over time throughout the year and requires employees to take the paid time off in 4-hour chunks. It also allows employers to decide whether or not unused paid leave carries over to subsequent years, while setting a 40-hour cap per year on any hours of paid time off carried over from a previous year.

Employees can start using paid time off within 90 days of being hired, and the bill requires any employee fired and rehired within 90 days have their accrued time off reinstated. The bill also prohibits employers from denying the use of accrued paid leave, requiring an employee to find a replacement or retaliating against them for using leave.

But the bill would only apply to employers with more than 50 employees, and exempts any newly formed small business from following the provisions until 2022. It also exempts all temporary or seasonal workers, or workers who have 40 hours of paid leave from a collective bargaining agreement or if that amount of paid leave is offered by the employer.

Those limits drew some complaints from advocates from Time to Care Nevada, a collective of 23 progressive organizations pushing for a paid sick leave bill in the Legislature. Natalie Hernandez, the group’s campaign manager, told lawmakers that moving the employee limit from 25 to 50 would exclude an estimated 192,000 workers from the provisions in the bill.

“Although this is a very big step in the right direction for Nevadans and working families, we ask that this committee reduce the number of employees from 50 to 25,” she said. “Families should not be forced to make the choice of taking care of themselves or their families to provide for their households.”

But the bill drew support and guarded neutral testimony from some of the state’s most prominent business organizations, who thanked Woodhouse and Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro for amending the bill to a place they could support. Ann Silver, the CEO of the Reno-Sparks Chamber of Commerce, said 75 percent of her members had 50 or fewer employees and said the change from paid sick leave to paid time off provided flexibility and avoided the difficulty of having to document paid sick time off.

“Our chamber understands the needs for employees to have paid time off, whether it is to care for an ill family member or to have time off to personally recharge,” she said.

Bob Ostrovsky, a longtime lobbyist for the Nevada Resort Association, said the casino industry group was neutral and wanted to see the actual language of the bill prior to publicly supporting it but that it was largely content with the bill.

“None of those things are insurmountable,” he said. “As recently as this afternoon, I’ve had an opportunity to speak with the sponsors, and I believe we’ll get there very shortly.”

In 2017, Democratic lawmakers approved a similar paid sick leave bill with amendments designed to garner support from the business community — but the bill passed on party-lines and was vetoed by Gov. Brian Sandoval. At least eleven states and Washington D.C. have a mandated paid sick time off for private employers, and four states — Rhode Island, Maryland, New Jersey and Michigan — have adopted their policies since 2017, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Gov. Steve Sisolak signaled support for the policy in his January State of the State address, calling on lawmakers to “find a consensus on paid leave for Nevada’s workers.”