Virginia Delegate Wendy Gooditis discussed COVID relief legislation in the Commonwealth, paying teachers a fair wage, and why we have to protect the Democratic majority to increase the minimum wage. Delegate begins at 10:03. Interview by Sister District Co-Founder Lyzz Schwegler.
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Lyzz Schwegler: Welcome, Delegate Wendy Gooditis. We’re so excited to have you here on Instagram Live.
Wendy Gooditis: Thank you so much, and thank you to Sister District for all the minor miracles you perform for people all over the United States. We are very, very grateful.
Lyzz Schwegler: Well, we appreciate that very much. We’re so excited to be supporting you again this year in 2021, can’t believe that we’re already here. Let’s go ahead and jump right in. Like I mentioned a little bit earlier, 70% of adults in Virginia have been vaccinated, I think that’s at least one shot of the vaccination.
Wendy Gooditis: Yay!
Lyzz Schwegler: Yes. Which is awesome, yay, which is great. That’s in part, I would like to think, because of the amazing democratic trifecta leadership that you all have been providing. Can you just talk a little bit about what you and your colleagues have done to be able to reach that milestone and just a little bit about your experience with getting to 70% first dose vaccinated?
Wendy Gooditis: Well, yeah. All this hit at the very end of our winter session, so some of the last things … Well, I guess it was actually in April, we came back and we passed some special measures that just really allowed us to expand. It was emergency legislation to make sure that Virginia could distribute the vaccine really, really quickly, as fast as it received the supply from the federal government. That was emergency legislation that we passed, and we made the system capacity greater so that we could distribute it as fast as we received it, as they increased the supply. The supply started out slow from the federal government, it got bigger and bigger.
Wendy Gooditis: But also, in the year since, I have … Well, it hasn’t been a year since the vaccine, it seems like it has, but ever since we started getting the vaccine.
Lyzz Schwegler: It feels like a decade.
Wendy Gooditis: Yeah. I started visiting both smaller locations, like in elementary schools, or the huge, huge locations that are vaccinating 3,000 a day at each end of my district, and just really admire all the volunteers, both the people giving the vaccines and the people checking people in and registering them and keeping an eye on things. So many, hundreds of vaccines, to help get the thousands and thousands of people in the district vaccinated.
Wendy Gooditis: So yeah, I happen to think that if we hadn’t had Democrats in charge, I … Well, it’s hard to imagine how that whole thing would have gone, because it didn’t appear to be a priority to people who weren’t Democrats, so thank goodness. Thank goodness we had the majority at the right moment in time.
Lyzz Schwegler: Yes, and I completely agree. Unfortunately, there wasn’t a whole lot of direction that we were getting from the last administration so it really was up to all the state legislatures.
Wendy Gooditis: Yeah.
Lyzz Schwegler: Yeah. You also led the charge to establish some legislation for a workshare program and to prevent layoffs and help employers survive through the end of the pandemic and recover. Can you talk a little bit about that?
Wendy Gooditis: Well, that was a really good thing. It sounds kind of boring, workshare, but the fact is, it allowed employers to keep more of their experienced employees on. Yes, those employees worked fewer hours, but they could make up some of that difference through the Virginia Employment Commission. Those employees were able to keep their jobs, they were able to keep their benefits and the employers didn’t have to let everybody go and then go through the expense and the drain, the energy drain, of rehiring and retraining. It actually was a very, very intelligent and valuable way to help both employers and employees.
Lyzz Schwegler: Yes. Don’t sell yourself short please, Delegate. Maybe state leg, sometimes the bills are not as flashy as in other levels of government, but yes, extremely important and really impacting everybody’s everyday lives.
Lyzz Schwegler: You’re also a career educator, and it seems that you’ve always been very passionate about improving Virginia schools. During the pandemic, you and your colleagues helped to allocate millions of dollars for COVID preparedness and response in K through 12 schools. Can you explain a little bit about that and how it’s helping students across the Commonwealth?
Wendy Gooditis: Well, in our budget, we had delegated 5% teacher raises across the board, which is great. It’s not enough, it’s a tiny little beginning. Our teachers deserve a whole lot more than that, but it’s something and that was part of our budget. Also part of just our standard budget was 1.4 million the first year and 1.7 million the second year for kindergarten readiness, early childhood education. That is really, really important.
Wendy Gooditis: But in terms of COVID itself, in our special session budget, we allocated $96 million, $95 million to school districts all over the Commonwealth, and that did all kinds of things. It helped so much with getting all the virtual schooling up and running. It helped with protections for teachers. It helped with training the teachers how to do the virtual schooling. That’s a lot of money and we were so glad to be able to send that money out all over the Commonwealth to help our school districts. It was a tough, tough year for teachers and students alike and I’m just so proud of how we’ve pulled through. We have catching up to do, but you know what, that’s what happens with a global pandemic and we stand behind our teachers and students and want to help them as much as we can to catch up.
Lyzz Schwegler: Yes, I love that. My sister is also a teacher, which I saw she actually had joined to this Instagram Live for a minute. So yes, I know that very intimately myself as well.
Lyzz Schwegler: You talked a little bit about the need to increase teacher’s wages across the board, which we are a thousand percent in support of, what about the fight for the minimum wage and how we saw that a lot of essential workers, people that we formerly maybe didn’t think of as essential workers, folks at grocery stores and corner shops and so forth, many of them are making minimum wage, which is not really a livable wage. Can you talk a little bit about the fight for increasing the minimum wage in Virginia?
Wendy Gooditis: Well, what I always think of, first of all, I’m so glad we did it, but come on, how was this so difficult? Why did it take so many years to figure out that $7.35 or whatever it was is just a ludicrous amount to pay somebody in this day and age? I don’t care if that person is 17, it’s still ludicrous. You do a job and you should be paid, you should be compensated for doing that job. I’m so thankful, it’s been raised to $9.50 now, it’s going to get to $12 over the next year or two. Then we have to revote on it again to get up to $15, and we have to get it there.
Wendy Gooditis: Yes, encouraging businesses to come to Virginia and stay in Virginia, that’s really important. But you know what? Virginia is a wonderful place to live and work, businesses will come and we’ll be there even if our workers can afford to feed themselves and pay their rent. It is so vitally important, that and paid sick leave, which we’re working on. We’re making progress to get employers to provide paid sick leave to home health workers. That’s a category of worker that’s particularly dear to my heart, having lost both my parents a year ago, and the last three years of their lives, we were the most fortunate to have these wonderful home healthcare workers. Part of also what I’ve done is worked for domestic workers, in terms of getting health and safety standards for them. I want workman’s comp for these people. We’ve got to get there. I’m going to keep coming back and try to work for the people who take care of us. It’s only fair, it’s only fair.
Lyzz Schwegler: Yes, I could not agree more. I’m very sorry to hear that about your parents, but I echo your sentiments about the folks that help us take care of our loved ones are so important and they deserve every work protection and fair wage that we can possibly get to them, for sure.
Wendy Gooditis: Yes. Did we all go to the grocery store or need groceries delivered during the pandemic? Those groceries don’t appear magically.
Lyzz Schwegler: They came from somewhere.
Wendy Gooditis: I sat at home in my little house and was not exposed to lots of people, but at all levels, we had essential workers. I really hope the pandemic taught certain segments of our society who did not appreciate the people who do the hard work every day to make our lives easier, so many of our lives easier, and I include myself. My life is made easier by so many, and I really hope the pandemic teaches all of society to appreciate those people and to understand why we need to raise the minimum wage and to understand why we need workman’s comp and paid sick leave and all these things, to take care of the people who take care of all the important stuff that we can’t live without.
Lyzz Schwegler: Completely, yeah. I have been talking a lot with folks about things that they want to bring forward from the pandemic, and I could not agree more. I think that’s one of them for me, is the sense of understanding how we fit into our communities and how we have to take care of our communities and that’s really the only thing that matters. But I love that you mentioned that the minimum wage is going to be phased in over a few years, and then we’ll have to vote on it again to increase it all the way to $15 an hour, which is one of the main reasons that we are so excited and passionate about you all running for reelection in Virginia and maintaining the democratic trifecta, because the fight is definitely not over yet. I mean, we’ve only had a democratic trifecta in the Commonwealth for a very short time and there are still a lot of fights ahead.
Lyzz Schwegler: There’s renewing the minimum wage or extending the minimum wage increase, are there some other fights, upcoming fights, that you’re especially excited about, passionate about? What are your legislative priorities?
Wendy Gooditis: Well, we have to do things for labor across the board while not destroying the good business atmosphere and we have to create equity at all levels. We have to create equity in education, we have to create equity in opportunities for jobs, we have to create equity in people’s opportunities to find good places to live. Affordable housing is a big problem in Virginia and we have to work on that. Healthcare, equity in healthcare, we have to continue expanding it. The Medicaid that we expanded a couple of years ago, yay, now it is going to have a dental care aspect, which is fantastic. We just have to keep going with these things. There’s a great, great need for mental health care and for people in mental health crises or substance abuse crises. We need safe beds, safe places for these people to be while they’re in crisis.
Wendy Gooditis: This is going to have to be something that we’re going to have to face and try to make more spaces for people in crisis, and in that way, to support our law enforcement who work very hard to try to … Every now and then there’s a bad apple in law enforcement, but for the most part, our law enforcement works very hard trying to hold people in crisis and find places to put them where they can be safe. It’s a big problem in Virginia and something we have to work on.
Lyzz Schwegler: Definitely, yeah, as in many states. Law enforcement should be free to enforce actual laws rather than addressing social problems that they’re not equipped to do so and they’re probably not the best people to do, for sure.
Lyzz Schwegler: Well, this has been wonderful, Delegate Gooditis. I am very sorry for the technical glitches in the beginning, but we really appreciate you spending some time with us today and we’re so excited to support your campaign. Again, for all of you listening, you can go to sisterdistrict.com to sign up to volunteer. We’ve got of events for Delegate Gooditis and for all of our other endorsed candidates in Virginia. We just have a few short months before the general election, but it’s one of the reasons we love working in state leg, because it’s a general election every year, which is really, really thrilling and this year is no exception.
Wendy Gooditis: Well, so much is done at the state level. Sister District has had such an effect across the country, and certainly in Virginia. And you know what? People’s lives are in our hands and you’re helping save lives. That’s my view, so thank you.
Lyzz Schwegler: Well, that is extremely kind. We feel the same way about you, Delegate, so thank you so much. We are excited to support your campaign and thanks again for joining.
Wendy Gooditis: Thank you. Bye, everybody.
Lyzz Schwegler: Bye.