This Label Letter carries more news of the Trump administration’s continued attacks on working people, but that’s not the big story.
The big news is fighting back against Trumpian repression. The big news is unions fighting for the health and safety of healthcare workers in the face of Federal government inaction, ineptitude and misinformation during a pandemic.
The big news is the Puerto Rico education system rescue mission organized by the AFT and joined by numerous other unions. This effort is but one of many similar public service campaigns organized or assisted by the Labor Movement.
Our newsletter also has the responses of workers who said “I’m Union because….” The statements range from wages and benefits to speaking to power, from respect in the workplace to solidarity. These are tough times but the comments indicate a spirit that matches the situations we face as working people.
Finally in addition to useful Do Buy information about UAW-built autos, we have a Fact Sheet about the novel Coronavirus (COVID-19).
More information about the virus is available at www.cdc.go/COVID19. Stay abreast of the news about the virus from reliable sources. Misinformation and scams are spreading with the virus.
On March 5, the Washington Post reported that more than 100 hospital workers were in self-imposed quarantine in California after having had interaction with patients who later tested positive for the Coronavirus.
Doctors, nurses, bank tellers, airport workers, and just about any other front facing service employee is at risk of contracting the Coronavirus or COVID-19. And many of them say they do not have the proper tools or training to mitigate exposure.
A nationwide survey of registered nurses conducted by National Nurses United (NNU), the country’s frontline health care staff, revealed that the vast majority of United States hospitals and health care facilities are unprepared to handle and contain cases of COVID-19. The results were shared at a press conference held by NNU, the country’s largest union and professional association of registered nurses.
While the survey is ongoing, results as of March 3, reflecting responses from more than 6,500 nurses in 48 states, the District of Columbia and the Virgin Islands, showed that high percentages of hospitals do not have plans, isolation procedures, and policies in place for COVID-19; that communication to staff by employers is poor-or-nonexistent; that hospitals are lacking sufficient stocks of personal protective equipment (PPE) or are not making current stocks available to staff; and have not provided training and practice to staff on how to properly use PPE.
The AFL-CIO has urged union members to call on Congress to ask for help to protect frontline workers amid the spread of the virus in the U.S.
In an email to members, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka asked members to call their representatives to advocate for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to act amid a potential global pandemic.
“An emergency temporary standard is needed to protect our workers from the current COVID-19 outbreak and future infectious agents. Will you call your representative now?” wrote Trumka.
The type of OSHA temporary standard Trumka is referring to is a “basic policy tool: regulation and enforcement by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration,” says David Michaels, former assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health.
Michaels wrote in The Atlantic that the Trump administration “can issue a rule that requires employers to take steps to reduce or eliminate hazards that threaten worker safety or health.”
Michaels goes on to explain “rules that require employers to plan for an epidemic may seem like common sense, and many employers voluntarily already do everything they would be required to do. But many is not enough. An OSHA standard would provide much-needed guidance, and the prospect of inspections and civil penalties would no doubt motivate some employers to do the right thing. Such a standard would, in essence, make following CDC guidance an enforceable requirement.”
Health-care workers aren’t the only ones who need protection either. Firefighters, police, airline workers, EMTs, bus drivers, hotel workers, bank tellers, the list goes on and on. Workers across all industries need protections too.
On March 9, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) announced it had asked employees at its DC headquarters to work from home because of a potential coronavirus case. It was the first agency to do so.
The Department of Defense (DOD), while not shuttering its doors, has encouraged its civilian employees to telework and take other “social distancing” measures to reduce and prevent transmission. And the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) suspended all non-critical travel for 30 days.
The National Postal Mail Handlers Union (NPMHU) was notified in late February that a Seattle NDC employee had tested positive for COVID-19 after an extended overseas trip. The union has met with the heads of the other postal unions, National CAD Representatives, Postmaster General Megan Brennan and other Postal Service senior leadership to discuss countermeasures to protect and address the virus.
The AFL-CIO has created a task force to ensure the safety of working people that are on the front lines of an infectious outbreak. Right now, you can call your U.S. Representative at 866-832-1560 and demand that OSHA issue an emergency temporary standard for infectious diseases. A standard for infectious diseases would address an employer’s responsibility to protect their workers. ■
A pathbreaking coalition of labor and businesses has joined together to deliver and distribute sorely needed tents and other essential supplies to assist Puerto Ricans with the resumption of classes on the island. The first tranche of over 50 commercial tents and sidewalls provided by American Tent and hundreds of other emergency items were delivered to Puerto Rico by members of the Seafarers International Union (SIU) and aboard vessels of shipping companies Crowley Maritime and TOTE Maritime, after the AFL-CIO, the Asociación de Maestros de Puerto Rico (AMPR), the American Federation of Teachers and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees launched a donation drive that has netted more than $50,000 so far.
“It is unimaginable for a community to have to confront two natural disasters on top of an economic catastrophe, but that is exactly what the people of Puerto Rico have confronted since 2017. It’s our moral duty as the affiliate of Puerto Rico’s teachers to help; to come together to help our fellow American citizens. That’s why we are spearheading this work to erect temporary classrooms for the students and teachers whose schools are not safe,” said AFT President Randi Weingarten.
“The children of Puerto Rico crave a return to their daily lives. Opening schools is a critical step to provide them with the normalcy that they need and deserve,” said AFT Executive Vice President Evelyn DeJesus. According to Elba Aponte, President of AMPR, “this has been a devastating three years for all Puerto Ricans, and the experience has drained the social and emotional wellbeing of students and educators. It is incumbent on unions and business to join together to help. We will not rest until all of our communities have recovered and secured the supplies they so desperately need,” Aponte said.
The tents and sidewalls, manufactured in the United States and provided by the Wisconsin-based company American Tent, will provide temporary classrooms for students and educators to continue the education process in some of the hardest-hit areas in the island’s south. American Tent CEO Tony Ehrbar said that “at the core of American Tent’s values is a commitment to doing the right thing. We were very pleased to get this opportunity to contribute to the rebuilding efforts in Puerto Rico and to help our fellow Americans in a time of great need.”
AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler said: “Working people have come together to help their brothers and sisters in Puerto Rico. This is the beginning of a long-term effort, and I can assure you that the labor movement will continue to assist with the relief efforts for as long as it takes. The labor movement is built out of solidarity. We look after each other, and we are here for each other. When disaster strikes, we will be there to help.”
Puerto Rico Secretary of Education, Eligio Hernández Pérez, said that the Department of Education and the school communities of the municipalities under the emergency zone are grateful to the AFT and the AMPR because they are allies in this process.
“Likewise, I appreciate the support of the Presidents of these labor unions, Randi Weingarten and Elba Aponte, who have collaborated since the first day in the response to our students, teachers and school personnel. The donated equipment and materials will go directly to the educational centers in the six southern municipalities affected by the earthquakes. Once again, we demonstrate that teamwork produces results.” concluded Hernández Pérez.
The coalition also collected and sent assistance, supplies and materials, including first-aid kits, bottled water, water filters, solar-powered lights, medicines, batteries, generators, diapers, coolers, battery-powered fans, baby food, canned food, building materials, tarps and tents. ■