AFT members honored for stepping up and speaking out

Heroes often emerge when individuals take action during unexpected moments or events. Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, AFT members are stepping up to guarantee that the needs of the people they serve are met no matter what—and that makes them our everyday heroes.

Yolanda Fisher

In the first general session of the AFT convention, two AFT members—Yolanda Fisher and Trung Le—were honored for embodying our union’s values. They cared, showed up and fought for their communities.

It’s clear that Yolanda Fisher loves being a cafeteria manager at T.W. Browne Middle School in Dallas. She’s been a food service worker for nearly 27 years, but it’s more than a job. “I love the work I do, because I love to serve,” says Fisher, who is a member of Alliance/AFT.

“Working with kids, you notice when they are hungry or in need of clothing or school supplies,” says Fisher. She tries to make sure the students don’t miss meals, often sending them home with food for the weekends.

When the pandemic hit and the Dallas Independent School District closed schools, Fisher and her crew of food service workers stepped up to feed students—preparing and packaging breakfasts, lunches and dinners for the kids to pick up so they wouldn’t go hungry. That’s when she noticed that a lot of adults were suffering too, and Fisher ramped up the meals preparation to serve whole families.

“When we first started, we didn’t know how great the need was,” says Fisher, but every week the number of meals they provided increased. “As a country, we need to help our neighbors, to make sure that everyone has the basic needs of life.”

Thanks to her efforts, Fisher and her crew were recognized for their service on the cover of Time magazine. “I’m a server for life,” Fisher told Time. “It’s an honor to serve those kids who really need it.”

Watch Yolanda Fisher’s AFT Hero video.

In harm’s way

One of the biggest storylines from the coronavirus pandemic is the lack of adequate personal protective equipment for healthcare workers in hospitals across the country. Trung Le’s hospital was no different. Le, a registered nurse with UConn Health and member of University Health Professionals/AFT Connecticut, often found himself reusing his PPE for a week or more.

Trung Le with Joe Biden

“As frontline workers, we put our patients first and do what we can to ensure everyone’s safety,” says Le, adding that as a nurse, he knew there was a possibility he could get sick while taking care of patients. But Le was concerned about the reuse of PPE and the risks reuse posed to patients and providers alike. He shared those concerns with Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden during a virtual roundtable discussion on the impact of COVID-19. “There is an undertone of dread throughout the hospital because this is serious, and we are playing Russian roulette,” Le told Biden.

In April, Le contracted a mild case of COVID-19. He was quarantined in a hotel room for two weeks and eventually recovered; but he has continued to speak out about PPE because he wants hospitals to be better prepared, especially as COVID-19 surges across the country.

“I don’t mind speaking up about what’s happening. I will say and do what I can to protect my co-workers and myself because we are putting our lives on the line,” says Le. “I hope this [pandemic] changes the country and that we realize what’s important and that we need each other to survive.”

Watch Trung Le’s AFT Hero video.

[Adrienne Coles]