Vol. 1 | No. 3
THE WORKPLACE FIGHT AGAINST COVID-19
UNEMPLOYMENT in the U.S. is projected to affect
47 MILLION workers
THE WORKPLACE FIGHT AGAINST COVID-19
he Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has already been physically and financially devastating for workers across the globe. Unemployment in the United States is projected to affect 47 million workers, or 32% of the workforce according to Federal Reserve estimates. It’s often lost on us that the original New Deal programs of public works projects, financial reforms, and employment regulations enacted between 1933 and 1939 were victories won by the labor movement. After the stock market crash of 1929 about 25% of the population of the United States was unemployed and another 25% underemployed. The few workers who did have jobs were sometimes forced to work 50 - 60 hours per week, 6 days per week. In some cases employers cut workers’ hours in order to keep more employed.
President Hoover was in office during the early years of the Great Depression and saw it mainly as a market crisis. As a result, Hoover resisted public investment in favor of more business-minded solutions. He feared a lack of business investment would result in inflation and prolonged depression. When President Roosevelt was elected, he enacted public works programs because of pressure from organized labor. The job of a workplace leader is to bring workers together regardless of the physical distance between them or an inability to meet in person. The age-old tradition of meeting in a union hall is still important to union culture today but the climate created by the Coronavirus pandemic makes it impossible for the foreseeable future. Luckily, there are tools and methods that union and non-union leaders can use to keep workers connected during this difficult time and beyond. The Workplace Leader magazine is committed to supporting the labor movement by providing useful information on how you can continue to PROTECT, MOBILIZE and SUPPORT your members. It is more important than ever that our labor movement is fully functioning and well-informed in order to protect workers’ rights throughout this crisis.
The DIGITAL UNION MOVEMENT is Here: Physical Distancing, Social Solidarity
The Coronavirus pandemic has made it unsafe (and in some cases, illegal) to congregate in groups. It is important to practice physical distancing and stay home as much as possible while we attempt to wait out this global public health crisis. While we do that you can run your local union digitally, utilizing technologies that most of your workplace leaders and members can access. You can reach out to UnionBase for information and trainings on these topics at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Here are a few helpful tools and tactics you can use:
• UnionBase was created to allow
workers and union leaders to communicate in a secure digital environment. The UnionBase team has been actively tracking attacks on workers since the Coronavirus outbreak. Additionally, we’re recognizing the union movement’s efforts to protect their members.
• Zoom is an enterprise video commu-
nications cloud-based platform for video and audio conferencing and collaboration. You can sign up for a Zoom account for free or pay for a plan that allows access to create calls with more participants and tools. Unions can use Zoom to hold union meetings and webinars to keep union staff engaged and informed. Google Hangouts is a good free alternative to Zoom. We do warn you that Zoom has
had security issues recently as they have expanded quickly during the Coronavirus pandemic. In order to do larger meetings with union membership you need to use Zoom in combination with another tool for security reasons. If you want to keep your union’s membership engaged digitally, we recommend holding at least one video conference meeting with your members per month, and sticking with a meeting format that members are familiar with.
• For union-wide votes, unions can use
digital election tools like Election Runner to allow members to vote. Proper digital voting software should allow for transparency, send automatic email reminders for members to vote and include a final vote tally with charts to show results.
Using TECHNOLOGY to WIN Worker Demands During the Coronavirus Pandemic
Workers employed in the gig economy and low-wage occupations are typically exploited to the same degree as any other profession. Here are a few examples of how they are fighting back and using technology to do it:
Amazon and Instacart Workers Striking App workers at Instacart, and Amazon workers nationwide, launched strikes to protest a lack of hazard pay and a similar lack of protective equipment. Whole Foods workers launched a global sickout on March 31st for similar reasons. Throughout the U.S., working people and their labor organizations have stepped up to fight for a better world in a time of crisis.
Video Conferencing Unions, worker centers and legal advocacy organizations have banded together to call for more paid sick time, expanded unemployment compensation, more safety protections, and an easing of laid-off workers’ financial obligations. In Philadelphia, nearly 400 low-wage workers joined a virtual town hall meeting (jointly pulled together by low-wage worker-organizers) with 10 of the city’s 17 city council members in attendance to demand that the City set up a fund to help workers who will fall through the cracks of the social safety net.
Let’s imagine the world that we want, and fight to win it.
Building the World We Want Co-Worker.org Workers across the country have discovered the petition site Coworker.org, and used it to start petitions demanding results from their bosses. Notably, Starbucks workers created a petition that got 37,314 signatures in just nine days, resulting in a closure of nearly all of its U.S. stores to keep baristas safe from the Coronavirus. Publix grocery store workers (who have previously won campaigns about dress code through Co-worker) have also started a petition for hazard pay. In addition, the Fight for 15 has launched a digital story bank to collect stories from fast food workers who are impacted during the Coronavirus pandemic.
For those of us who work in the movement for economic and social justice, this moment has left us with uncertainty about everything except the fact that our economy — jobs, workers, consumers, and even bosses — will never go back to the way things were. The key is to make sure our lives get better, not worse. As we adapt to our new world, let’s take a lesson from union members at General Electric, who conducted a wildcat strike to urge that their factories convert to building ventilators for Coronavirus patients. Let’s imagine the world that we want, and fight to win it. –K ati Sipp is a consultant who works with economic justice and migrant rights groups. She is also the editor of the blog Hack the Union.
The Workplace Fight Against COVID-19 continued ▼
How Stewards Can SUPPORT FRONTLINE MEMBERS
During this difficult moment for workers, workplace leaders are more important than ever. We must provide guidance and emotional support, especially for our most vulnerable colleagues who will be alone for months until it is safe to stop physical distancing. Here are some ways that you can support your members and co-workers by preparing answers to key questions they are sure to have:
Coronavirus (COVID-19) Membership Guidance Create an easily accessible guidance document that, at a minimum, covers the following topics (answers may vary depending on language in your collective bargaining agreement):
• Guidance on sick leave and
Here are some common questions regarding working from home that your union leadership should be prepared to answer for members during the COVID-19 Pandemic. Continue to support your members by supporting their rights to work digitally when possible:
• Can I bring home the monitor/ keyboard I use at work?
PTO contract language
• Employer Short-Term Disability Coverage
• Contact information for Employer- or
• I need office equipment that I don’t
have at home and can’t bring from the office. Will my employer provide me with that equipment?
community-provided mental health assistance
• Should my employer provide funding,
• Will my employer provide funding for
• If I don’t usually work from home and
• Health Insurance Provider(s) Key Info • Accessing Unemployment Insurance in • Contact information for the United Way and other community resources
• Facts on how to work safely and limit
the possibility of exposure to the virus that is specific to your workplaces
or reimburse me, for needed ergonomic devices? me to have required internet access? need to use my cell phone during this period, will my employer reimburse me for those cell phone charges?
• If I’m expected to host meetings or
other events virtually, will the employer provide me with access to, and training about, systems like Zoom or Google Hangouts?
Be Prepared to Answer the Following Questions
• I’m not sick, but because work has
slowed/shut-down my manager is telling me to take sick time. Can they require that?
• I’m an essential staff member who
needs to report to work. Will my employer compensate me for private transit?
• I have dependents that require my
care at home. Do I need to use sick and/or vacation time to care for them? Does this fit under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA)?
• If my workplace is closed, will I still receive pay?
COVID-19 Illness Related Reporting Requirements
• My doctor has provided a general
excuse about my absence, but my manager is asking whether I have contracted COVID-19. Am I required to reveal my status?
• Can my employer require me to say
that I have had contact with someone who has contracted COVID-19?
• Can my employer require me to stay
home if I have come in contact with a person who has contracted COVID-19?
• Can I insist on staying home if I have
come in contact with a person who has contracted COVID-19? z
WORKPLACE LEADER In the era of COVID-19 it may be helpful to take a look at some successful union battles for workplace health and safety rights.
ARBITRATION REPORT Teacher wins duty injury claim when school lacks proof
Past practice backs union position in ‘time-off’ case
Certain types of on-the-job injuries are often questioned by employers as being illegitimate. Usually managements claim the employee’s injury issues were pre-existing, their off-duty actions may have caused the injury or there were no witnesses to the accident.
When an employer sought to restrict how its workers could use their leave time, the union objected, pointing to a long-recognized past practice. The union claimed that when the last contract was negotiated it created a PTO (personal time-off) system in which sick leave and vacation time is combined, giving workers option of drawing upon their PTO balance to cover unplanned absences. The company, however, refused to accept that definition and restricted such requests. An arbitrator agreed with the union, noting that the union produced notes from the negotiations in which the employer clearly stated the past practice would continue concerning leave policy. The arbitrator ordered the company to follow the past practice on its leave policy. (Arbitration Decision 139 BNA 1348. Steelworkers Local 13-27 and Advancia-Ahtna Jt Venture. George L. Fitzsimmons, arbitrator. June 7, 2019)
Most often these management objections arise in injuries occurring to bones, tendons or joints, particularly to the lower-back, shoulder or knee. That was the case of a third-grade teacher who injured her left knee when she tripped over a student’s foot while moving a desk in her classroom. She claimed her knee buckled and the pain got severe, prompting her to ask a student to get ice from the school nurse. She also promptly reported the accident to school officials and saw her primary physician that same day. On advice from her doctor she saw a specialist the following day and was found to have a torn meniscus. Ultimately she had surgery and was absent from her job for 30 days. The specialist’s report to the school confirmed the injury, terming it to be synovitis, an inflammation of a membrane in the joints; it can be extremely painful and is often caused by arthritis, gout or lupus. The employer denied the teacher’s claim as being work-related and claimed the injury was caused by a pre-existing condition. The teacher had an earlier knee injury, but it was to her right knee, not to the injured left knee. An arbitrator ruled the school system was wrong to deny the injury claim and that it must be fully processed. The arbitrator ruled that the school provided no evidence of a pre-existing condition and that it failed to fully investigate the claim before denying it. The arbitrator cited the labor agreement which noted that a worker’s statement in an injury claim must be accepted unless it is contradicted by clear evidence. (Arbitration Decision, 4666736-AAA. Deborah Gaines, arbitrator, July 19, 2019)
Failure to directly notify union overcomes timeliness issue An employer’s instituting of a company-paid short-term disability insurance plan for its non-bargaining unit workers — and not its union employees — violated the union contract that called for any such benefit changes to be provided to the union workers. The company announced the plan on July 31, 2018 in a general email, but failed to directly notify union representatives; when the union grieved nearly six months later, the company rejected the grievance, claiming it should have been made 20 days after the changes were announced in accordance with the contract’s grievance procedure. The arbitrator agreed with the union’s claim that the contract called for the company to directly notify the union of any changes; evidence also showed all previous such changes had been communicated directly to union officials. Thus, the arbitrator ruled the grievance was timely and ordered that the company should provide the benefit to the union-represented workers. (Arbitration Decision # 4668327-AAA. Maine State Nurses Assn. and an unnamed employer. Elizabeth Bartholet, arbitrator. Sept. 19, 2019) z –K en Germanson. The writer is a veteran labor journalist.
Workplace Leader is published six times a year by UnionBase. Contents ©2020 UnionBase. Reproduction in whole or in part electronically, by photocopy, or any other means without the written consent of UnionBase is prohibited. | Cover art produced by Billy Buntin of BBDigital Media. Layout & Design by Chadick+Kimball.