As America (and Cleveland) reckons with the longstanding oppression of Black, Brown, and Indigenous people, many of us have come to realize that there are other community members who have been doing this work long before we showed up.
Through emergencies like the current pandemic, we experience a surge in awareness about disenfranchised community members. Those who must risk COVID exposure in order to earn enough to pay their rent. Those who cannot stay home when education is forced into a remote format. Those who are not able to protect themselves from the virus because they are detained in a jail or prison. Those whose jobs do not provide adequate protection despite PPE mandates.
While it has taken a pandemic for many of us to truly grasp the plight of others, there are grassroots organizations that have been fighting to amplify these voices for decades.
At the frontline of these efforts in Northeast Ohio is Cleveland Jobs with Justice. The nonprofit was founded in 1992 when leading labor activists at the AFL-CIO realized the need to collaborate with other unions in the fight for safety and justice for laborers. In time, they extended this to include other justice-focused partners — transitioning into a coalition of 44 labor, faith, and community groups who work together to promote workers’ rights and social justice throughout the Cleveland area.
It’s a tall order.
“Movement-building is a strategic priority,” explains executive director Deb Kline. Cleveland Jobs with Justice works intentionally to keep this movement broad and diverse, working with a wide spectrum of organizations and constituencies — because doing so empowers those fighting for change.
Through efficient coalition-driven organizing, Cleveland Jobs with Justice activates individuals and organizations to fight anti-union harassment, to protect public safety nets, and to bear witness to injustice as a means to speaking out against it.
With an emphasis on economic justice, immigration reform, and fair trade — protecting the rights of workers over the gains of corporations — the group facilitates a united voice for Cleveland organizers in the pursuit of respect, dignity, fairness, and justice for all.
Like many of their community partners, Cleveland Jobs with Justice has expanded their immigration justice work rapidly over the past few years, with local efforts increasing dramatically following the 2018 Corso’s Nursery raid. This included supply drives for families who were impacted by the raid and other direct-response work that has evolved into a rapid response coalition to assist those targeted during and after ICE raids and targeted traffic stops.
Cleveland Jobs with Justice also works with local organizers such as Americans Making Immigrants Safe, Catholic Charities, and immigration attorneys to raise funds that will literally buy freedom and dignity for detained asylum-seekers — paying bonds when finances are the only barrier to release and providing commissary dollars to those who are not eligible to bond-out.
The pursuit of social and economic justice also includes livable wage activism and a “postal banking” campaign to make mail delivery more available to those who are homeless. Currently, Cleveland Jobs with Justice is also on the forefront of the Save the Post Office campaign.
Says executive committee member Larry Bresler, director of Organize Ohio, “Cleveland Jobs with Justice is the only organization that I’m aware of in Cleveland — and in Ohio — that really works in a meaningful way to merge community based organizations along with faith-based organizations and organized labor to work together for progressive change.”
This trifecta creates a formidable presence that gets things done. “Having all the groups working together is what makes Cleveland Jobs with Justice unique,” says Bresler, adding that connecting community groups and organized labor through shared goals has resulted in a unifying lens and a powerful force that will ultimately lead to positive, equitable, lasting change.
Cleveland Jobs with Justice offers points of entry for all levels of activism — from occasional donors and newbie volunteers to passionate actions via protests, rallies, and political strategizing. You can help their work by making a donation here. Interested in becoming a volunteer? Find out more from their Action Network.