Lancaster residents call for workers’ rights on May Day

The event was ‘a launching point for a larger arc of action to demand a fair deal for everyday working people in Lancaster County,’ organizers said

By: - May 2, 2022 12:40 pm
Brittany Mitchell [L] and David DeVries [R], both residents of Lancaster city at a May Day rally in downtown Lancaster Pa., on Sunday 5/1/22

Brittany Mitchell [L] and David DeVries [R], both residents of Lancaster city at a May Day rally in downtown Lancaster Pa., on Sunday 5/1/22 (Capital-Star photo by Lauren Manelius).

LANCASTER, Pa. – Stagnant wages paired with skyrocketing costs of living are among the issues that require immediate action by local policymakers, two state House candidates said as they joined advocates, citizens and others, at a workers’ rights rally in downtown Lancaster on Sunday.

And with the 2022 Pennsylvania primary election just two weeks away, Dana Hamp Gulick, a Democratic candidate for the 96th House District, and Lancaster City Council member Ismail “Izzy” Smith-Wade-El, a Democratic candidate for the 49th House District, focused their remarks on what they described as persisting inequities that burden the working class.

Gulick, who introduced herself as a “single working mother,” said families in Lancaster have “some pretty desperate needs,” listing higher wages, affordable places to live, and better access to healthcare. 

She also called for better “support for families having children,” citing universal Pre-K and better childcare options for working parents, as well as family leave policies that “don’t force mothers back into the workforce while they’re literally recovering from childbirth.”

Gulick faces long-serving Rep. Mike Sturla, D-Lancaster, who has rarely faced opposition in the primary since he was first elected in 1991. Without mentioning him by name, she spoke about his track record.

“Where has my opponent been? The only local elected Democrat in state office for decades. Where was his support? Where was his money? Where was his shoe leather, when Manheim Township commissioners were losing their races by 60 votes? In 2021, according to his finance report, he spent more on wine than he did on donations to other candidates,” Gulick said.

“Izzy and I would love to go to Harrisburg together. And I would love to be the first Democratic woman ever to represent Lancaster County in the state House,” she later said. 

Ismail Smith-Wade-El
Democratic state House hopeful Ismail Smith-Wade-El speaks during a May Day rally in Lancaster, Pa., on Sunday, 5/1/22 (Capital-Star photo by Lauren Manelius).

Both candidates spoke of recent union wins across the country, including the new contract won by local Kellogg’s union workers after their strike in October 2021. 

“Unions are why I’m standing here today. My mother was the daughter of an illiterate northern Georgia sharecropper,” Smith-Wade-El said. “Today, her name is on a school. And that is because of organized labor. It is because of organized labor in the ‘60s … it was the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, America’s largest labor rally.”

Smith-Wade-El also recalled when the Pennsylvania Legislature voted to cut education funding in 2008, including the salary and benefits of teachers at the 14 state-run universities. 

His mother, Dr. Rita Smith-Wade-El, then a professor at Millersville University, was diagnosed that year with an aggressive form of breast cancer found primarily in Latina and Black women, he said. 

He attributed her survival to the care she received from a specialist she was able to see because her union, the Association of Pennsylvania State College & University Faculties (APSCUF) “stood their ground” and fought for her care to be covered by her employee health insurance.

“I got 10 years with my family that I would not have had were it not for APSCUF,” Smith-Wade-El said, “and I am running this campaign because I want for every family what my family got.”

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In a statement, event organizer Pennsylvania Stands Up said it held the rally on International Workers’ Day, as “a launching point for a larger arc of action to demand a fair deal for everyday working people in Lancaster County.”

“We know that our county commissioners are sitting on tens of millions of dollars of COVID relief money that was allocated … to the working people of Lancaster County,” Suzy Wurtz, a community organizer with Lancaster Stands Up, said. 

“The federal funding was to be used to get us back on our feet after two years of struggling through a pandemic,” Wurtz continued.” It was supposed to keep people housed. It was supposed to pay for wages for people who worked day and night to get us through this pandemic.”

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