‘We want our voices to be heard’ — Excluded and essential workers share their stories with Bishop Zinkula

Barb Arland-Fye
Excluded and essential workers in Scott County pose with signs in the entry of the Scott County Administrative Center in Davenport on Feb. 17, just before the start of a meeting of the Scott County Board of Supervisors. The workers asked the board to provide federal pandemic relief funds to workers excluded from previous rounds of pandemic relief funds.

By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger

DAVENPORT — Emir has worked in a Bettendorf factory throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and his wife, Margarita, worked in a different factory. Both became ill with COVID and Margarita, who now works elsewhere, continues to suffer from post-COVID conditions. Monica of Davenport is a self-employed housekeeper who spent four days in the hospital after contracting COVID and suffers body aches nearly two years later. Yasmin of Davenport has worked for the past 12 years as a housekeeper for a Bettendorf family, but has escaped illness.

All of these individuals are essential workers and were among a dozen members of St. Anthony Parish in Davenport who shared their stories with Bishop Thomas Zinkula on Feb. 22 in the parish hall. The essential workers asked to meet with him because they believe Scott County and Davenport elected officials are not responding to their request for pandemic relief funds from which they were excluded because of their immigration status.

The meeting with Bishop Zinkula took place five days after a Quad Cities Interfaith-organized effort to request that the Scott County Board of Supervisors allocate a portion of the county’s federal pandemic relief funds to excluded and essential workers. Scott County’s allocation from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) is $33.6 million. The essential workers request direct aid in the form of a $3,200 stimulus check for every low-wage worker in Scott County ($10 million total) excluded from previous rounds of pandemic relief. They request an additional $10 million in premium pay for low-wage workers who performed essential work in Scott County throughout the pandemic.


“Excluded and essential workers kept our economy running, while risking their health so we could protect ours. It is time that we invest back into these workers that showed up every day,” Quad Cities Interfaith states. “These workers are certified nurse assistants, delivery drivers, cleaning and sanitation workers, grocery store employees, restaurant workers, construction workers, nurses, hospitality workers, the list goes on. They were and continue to be ESSENTIAL workers.”

“Counties like Johnson County, Iowa, and states like New York and New Jersey have invested in excluded and essential workers. Scott County has the perfect opportunity to invest back directly into the people that were impacted the greatest.”

During their meeting with Bishop Zinkula, Mayra Hernandez, an organizer for Quad Cities Interfaith, interpreted for essential workers who spoke Spanish. Emir told the bishop, “We want to be heard. We want our rights to be respected as well…. We have been meeting with elected officials of Scott County and the City of Davenport. They have heard us, but they refuse to meet with us individually. It’s not fair for us. We work hard and we pay taxes and we worked through the pandemic.”

We are not asking for charity, but for justice,” said Gloria Mancilla, an English speaker who helped organize the excluded and essential workers at St. Anthony Parish. Mancilla is an essential worker and a permanent resident who did qualify for pandemic relief. However, her parents are excluded workers. She believes her parents and other front-line workers deserve pandemic relief regardless of their immigration status.

Barb Arland-Fye
Bishop Thomas Zinkula takes notes while listening to excluded and essential workers at a meeting on Feb. 22 at St. Anthony Parish in Davenport.

“We need your support,” Yasmin, the housekeeper for the Bettendorf family, told the bishop. “We have contributed a lot and we want that respect back.” All of the workers asked Bishop Zinkula to join them in a march from St. Anthony Church to the Scott County Administrative Center beginning at 5 p.m. on March 14. The Scott County Board plans to hold a public hearing March 17 on Scott County’s Fiscal Year 2023 budget, which includes budgetary authority for the ARPA pandemic relief funds, with voting to follow afterwards.

Bishop Zinkula told the workers he would support them as much as possible, however he cannot attend the march because he will be in Washington, D.C. “I would love walking with you, leading the way, but I can’t because I have another commitment. What else can I do?”

The workers asked him to send a representative to the march. “I can send more than one,” Bishop Zinkula assured the group. He offered to write a letter to the Scott County Board of Supervisors, if that would be helpful. Father Rudolph Juarez, pastor of St. Anthony Parish, who was also at the meeting, suggested Bishop Zinkula write an editorial instead. Father Juarez said the Scott County Board has been unresponsive to date.

The Catholic Messenger sought a response from Ken Beck, Scott County Board of Supervisors chair. He said in an email, “Please understand that commitments/appropriations were made to these (ARPA-funded) projects back in November 2021. In many cases, preparatory work has started and funding has begun for the supportive housing projects.” He indicated that Quad Cities Interfaith was too late in its request. Supervisor Ken Croken disagreed. “It is never too late until the board has voted.”

Meanwhile, Bishop Zinkula agreed to write an editorial with input from the excluded and essential workers. They thanked the bishop. “It means a lot to us that our church is not only a place where we worship our Lord, but a community that walks along with us, the excluded and essential workers,” Mancilla told the bishop in a follow-up email.

“It’s a privilege to be with you. I care about you and love you,” Bishop Zinkula told the workers. Before ending the meeting with a blessing, Bishop Zinkula shared a prayer written by the late Bishop Ken Untener of Saginaw, Michigan.

The prayer includes this paragraph: “We plant the seeds that one day will grow.  We water the seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.  We lay foundations that will need further development.  We provide yeast that produces effects far beyond our capabilities.”

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