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. ■
“[T]he working-class can’t thrive on low unemployment rates alone. For the median job-seeker in Trump’s America, the odds may be good, but the good jobs are an oddity,” wrote Eric Levitz, associate editor of the Daily Intelligencer in his December 6, 2019 article, Jobs, Jobs Everywhere, But Most of Them Kind of Suck.
At the end of 2019, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) reported that the unemployment rate was 3.2 percent, the lowest it has been in decades. But despite the low unemployment numbers, workers aren’t prospering, far from it.
The truth is, most of the surge in hiring has been to fill low-wage positions. The Brookings Institute, a nonprofit public policy organization, wrote in its November 2019 report, Meet the low-wage workforce, that “even as the U.S. economy hums along at a favorable pace, there is a vast segment of workers today earning low enough to leave their livelihood and families extremely vulnerable.”
The report states that more than 53 million people, or 44 percent of all workers ages 18-to-64 in the United States, are low hourly wage earners. Their median earnings are $10.22 per hour, about $18,000 per year.
The report shows that 64 percent of low-wage workers are in their prime working years of 25-to-64. And more than half work full-time year-round.
Calling our current economic state, a “barbell” economy, a Washington Post December 5, 2019, article by Heather Long points out that among the “10 jobs expected to add the most employees in the next decade, six pay less than $27,000 a year. Jobs are growing at the high and the low end.”
In her article, Long writes about the lack of news coverage on the more than 2.1 million (disproportionately female) administrative and office-support jobs that have been shed since 2000.
We have all heard countless tales of the offshoring of manufacturing jobs, but very little has been said of the loss of those administrative and office-support roles. Traditionally, those jobs have been a route to life-long economic security for non-college-educated women.
The Washington Post reports that “employment in administrative support positions has fallen to 1986 levels, and the Labor Department predicts that secretaries and administrative assistants will see the largest job losses of any occupation in the coming decade.”
Where we once had what the Federal Reserve calls “opportunity employment” — employment accessible to workers without a Bachelor’s degree that typically paid above the national annual median wage — we are seeing more and more of those jobs being shed and most of them aren’t being replaced. There are very few opportunities for adults entering the workforce who don’t have the education or training to get ahead.
Another statistic not taken into account in the DOL’s report on unemployment is the number of involuntary part-time workers. Rob Valletta, a vice president in the Economic Research Department of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco told Business Insider in January that there are “about 1.4 million additional individuals who are stuck in part-time jobs. These numbers imply that the level of involuntary part-time work is about 40 percent higher than it would normally be expected at this point in the economic expansion.”
In examining the part-time and gig economy phenomenon, Business Insider editor Jim Edwards writes, “the part-time ‘gig economy’ has broken a fundamental link in capitalism that was good for workers. Pay rates no longer move upward as unemployment moves downward because companies like Uber, Amazon, Just Eat, and Deliveroo switch their demand for labor on and off, on a minute-by-minute basis.”
“Having a job is no longer a guaranteed way of getting ahead. Instead, work may keep you poor. You cannot get rich working for Uber. You cannot get rich working for Deliveroo.”
By Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (MD-05), House Majority Leader
Over the past three years, we’ve watched the Trump Administration take a hatchet to decades of advancements in workers’ rights. From the denial of overtime pay to gutting the Department of Labor, from helping employers undermine unions to targeting federal employees and contractors, this President has pursued a vicious anti-worker agenda since day-one in office. However, this isn’t a new phenomenon. Republican presidents and Congresses have been working to erode workers’ rights for more than a generation. That’s why I will soon be bringing to the House Floor major legislation to restore and expand protections for American workers who wish to organize and bargain collectively.
H.R. 2474, the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, was introduced by Chairman Bobby Scott of the Education and Labor Committee and now has broad support among House Democrats. This legislation will make significant and positive changes that will empower workers to unionize and help unions more effectively advocate for their members. That’s why I’m proud to support it and bring it to the Floor for a vote.
First, the PRO Act bans employers from forcing workers to participate in anti-union activities, a common tactic used to undermine organizing. Furthermore, this bill would end the practice of management using workers’ classification to affect union eligibility and deny workers the pay and benefits they are due. The PRO Act also prevents employers from hiring permanent replacements for striking workers, empowering unions in negotiations on their members’ behalf.
Additionally, the PRO Act restores the mission of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), which has been subverted by President Trump to enact anti-labor policies. Along with permitting the NLRB to engage in economic analysis for the first time – in order to ensure that its assessments are supported by its own findings and not outside groups’ partisan agendas – the PRO Act reverses the Trump NLRB’s recent decision that harmed workers employed jointly by more than one employer. These steps will once again make the NLRB an advocate for workers and not an opponent.
I’ve been proud to support organized labor throughout my career in public service. That’s because I continue to believe strongly in the necessity of strong unions if we are to have a strong economy that helps working families get ahead. Representing more than 62,000 federal employees in Maryland’s Fifth District, I work especially closely with AFGE, NTEU, and other unions representing federal workers. I’m very proud of our work last year to win twelve weeks of paid parental leave for all federal employees for the first time in our history. That’s just the beginning, and I’m going to keep pushing for full paid family and medical leave benefits for all workers. The Democratic-led House Majority has also passed key legislation to raise wages and expand opportunity, and we will continue to deliver when it comes to the priorities of working men and women.
If we are going to succeed in growing our economy and maintaining it as the most competitive in the world – if we are going to keep the American Dream alive for workers and their families – we must have strong unions that can stand up for their members. That’s why the PRO Act is so critical and why the House must consider it. I look forward to bringing it to the Floor as Majority Leader and to casting my vote in favor of its passage. Together, we can ensure that the march for workers’ rights moves ever forward, not backward.