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After braving the pandemic, Miami-Dade school employees brace for the fall

Photo credit: Getty
After braving the pandemic, Miami-Dade school employees brace for the fall
After braving the pandemic, Miami-Dade school employees brace for the fall
Phyllis Leflore. Member-provided photo.

For Phyllis Leflore, being president of Local 1184 (AFSCME Florida) as the pandemic wreaked havoc in Miami’s schools meant that she had to wear a game face for members, even though she was frightened herself.

“Our membership had to go right back to work and deal with the unknown. They didn’t know what would happen – whether they would they get sick or their families would get sick,” recalled Leflore, who leads the school custodians, food service workers, bus drivers, maintenance staff and others of Local 1184.

“I had to get out and go walk the grounds of the worksites to show that I was with them,” said Leflore.

Then she admitted, “It was tough to try and reassure them. I didn’t have someone to assure me. I would break down. When I went out to the school district and school sites, there were members who were passing away.”

Yet despite their fears, the brave Miami-Dade public school employees of Local 1184 weathered the pandemic to keep serving their communities. Food service workers pivoted from feeding students to feeding the entire community, arriving as early as 6 a.m. and leaving as late as 7 p.m. so they could do “drive-by” deliveries to seniors, school employees and others.

Custodians, who were not permitted inside the schools at first, made sure that the school’s exteriors were kept in shape, continuing to cut grass and paint. Maintenance workers installed new water fountains and reconfigured the schools to meet COVID-19 guidelines.

On Tuesday, Leflore shared her members’ stories with Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, who held a virtual roundtable to hear from school personnel from across the country.

Now, as schools plan to reopen, Leflore and others are making the transition from the harrowing past 15 months to what they hope will be a close-to-normal fall. Despite the persistent fear, Leflore has also been able to reflect on the experience with some pride.

“When they wanted to lay off workers,” she said. “I wouldn’t allow them to.”

Her goal throughout was “to make sure everyone was comfortable and safe,” which required constant vigilance, with no days off.  She also used the power of her union to distribute “thousands and thousands of bags with masks, gloves, hand sanitizer and gowns.”

That sense of vigilance remains, even as signs of normalcy are appearing.

“Life has to start again,” says Leflore. Yet, she adds, “We always have to make sure folks are safe.”

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