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Introducing the Chicago Workers' Collaborative Blog

My name is Elena Gormley, and I joined Chicago Workers’ Collaborative as the Social Work intern this fall. I am a Masters of Social Work student at the University of Illinois at Chicago Jane Addams College of Social Work, specializing in Organizational and Community Practice.


I came to social work after spending 10 years as a community organizer and client at multiple social service agencies in Michigan. These experiences revealed how much our current social welfare systems are designed to be nonfunctional, because many people in charge of administering programs and developing social welfare policies have never experienced what it is like to navigate these systems and attempt to receive services themselves.


While the contemporary social work profession has roots in the work of Jane Addams, Florence Kelley, and other women who created Hull House on Chicago’s Near West Side, there have always been people in communities throughout recorded history who have resolved disputes, connected people to resources, organized, and advocated for justice and liberation. My goal as a social worker is to create a better world and a better social work that is rooted in collective liberation, in order to improve services and service delivery systems for social service workers, clients and communities. Much of contemporary social work frames social workers and clients as being inherently at odds with each other, and sees social workers as tool of social control, instead of active partners in collaboration with others. Much of my current work at CWC is spent supporting the mission of the organization through building more connections with other groups and organizations, advocating for greater protections for temp workers, and sharing the experiences and stories of temp workers on the organization's social media.


One thing that frequently gets overlooked in the history of social work is how Hull House became a hub for labor organizing, including researching workplace conditions, hosting meetings of labor unions, and providing support for striking workers.. While labor laws have improved since Florence Kelley’s days as a socialist organizer and state Factory Inspector, exploitation of temp workers is a major issue, especially since COVID-19 has laid bare the cruelties of modern capitalism and the US’s failure to create and maintain a robust and functional social safety net.


With that in mind, the survey results from the CWC’s recent report on the impact of COVID-19 on Chicago’s temp workers are nothing short of horrifying. Temp workers surveyed describe unsafe working conditions, inadequate PPE, being harassed by supervisors for wearing PPE, and being disciplined and fired for cleaning surfaces and biometric keypads themselves. Temp workers impacted by unsafe conditions have shared their stories with WBEZ. As we discuss the "second wave" of COVID-19, we can't forget that for temp workers, the "first wave" never really ended.


In the discussions I've had with Tim Bell, CWC's Executive Director, I discussed how there is a tremendous need for people most impacted by worker issues to have a greater platform to share these stories with a broader audience. I bring a professional writing background to my work as a social worker, including bylines in Vox Media and Talk Poverty, and am looking forward to sharing more insights on how policies and attitudes impact working conditions for temp workers, and amplifying the voices of temp workers on CWC's new blog.


I would love to hear from any temp worker, organization, or stakeholders who are impacted by COVID-19 at their place of work. If you have any questions, feel free to contact me at elena@chicagoworkerscollaborative.org or 773-340-3494.


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