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Amazon’s Unlimited Unpaid Time Off Ends May 1, and Workers Say That Could Be Deadly

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Amazon warehouse workers across the country today decried the company’s decision to end a policy of unlimited unpaid time off, and said that working conditions inside Amazon fulfillment centers are putting their lives at risk.

Employees from New Jersey, Minnesota, Michigan and New York, working with Athena Coalition, said on a call today that a policy change announced late last week—which will replace the unlimited paid time off offered to workers as a response to the coronavirus crisis with a more restrictive policy at the end of this month—is “outrageous” in light of the very real level of danger that still persists for those forced to work in close quarters. “People have to choose, do I stay home and risk losing my job, or go to work and risk getting sick?” said Hafsa Hassan, who walked out of work yesterday in protest, along with about 50 colleagues at the Amazon fulfillment center in Shakopee, Minnesota.

Amazon’s announcement that it will roll back unlimited unpaid time off at the end of April means that employees will soon be required to apply to be granted leaves of absence if they must be away from work for health reasons, or to take care of children who are out of school, or to protect vulnerable family members. But employees say that system is confusing and broken, even for those who should qualify. Rachel Belz, an Amazon warehouse worker in New Jersey who also works with the activist group United for Respect, has not been at work since mid-March because of fears of infecting her family, especially her son. Her attempts to apply for a leave of absence, though, have resulted in multiple dropped calls, unanswered emails, and no response from the company. “H.R. is overloaded. You can open a case, and they won’t get back to you,” she said. “If you’re expecting people at a high volume to apply to these things, you need to work out the kinks in the system.”

Belz, who is in contact daily with other workers at the facility, said that the company’s attempts to keep the warehouse free of coronavirus are inadequate. Among the problems, she said: No soap in the bathrooms, cleaning supplies that are kept locked in cages that can only be opened by managers, and temperature screenings for workers that are being conducted using only a thermal camera—and workers who appear too warm are encouraged to go outside for a few minutes, cool down, and try again.

Amazon spokesperson Rachel Lighty said that “we are providing flexibility with leave of absence options, including expanding the policy to cover COVID-19 circumstances, such as high-risk individuals or school closures.” She also called Amazon employees “heroes fighting for their communities and helping people get critical items they need in this crisis.” The company had its first confirmed Covid death two weeks ago, when an operations manager at a California Amazon warehouse died.

Multiple workers said that their facilities lacked cleaning supplies, and that hand sanitizer and cleaning wipes are being kept in one location away from work stations, making it impossible to regularly sanitize your individual work area throughout a shift. They said that Amazon’s current hiring boom is making break rooms and common areas even more crowded, making proper social distancing impossible. They expressed doubt that the single mask being issued per person per shift is enough to keep them safe. And they described the unnerving experience of seeing fully protected cleaning crews descend on their job sites after a coworker reported testing positive for Covid.

Jordan Flowers, who works at the Amazon fulfillment center on Staten Island that has been the target of protests and walkouts in recent weeks, said that he knows coworkers who are now choosing to sleep in their cars, rather than going home and risking getting their families sick. “It’s frightening,” he said. Billie Jo Ramey, an Amazon worker in Michigan who has been taking unpaid leave since March after getting ill with Covid-like symptoms, fears what the policy change will mean for her, and for those around her. “I’m in no shape to go back. I’m at high risk,” she said.

Several workers noted the wealth of Amazon owner Jeff Bezos—who’s gotten tens of billions of dollars richer since the beginning of this crisis, thanks to Amazon’s booming stock price—and contrasted his resources with the lack of resources they feel they’re being given on the job. “That’s not just terrifying,” said Rachel Belz, “it’s pathetic that we can’t trust a trillion-dollar company to do the most basic thing, which is to clean.”

This article was originally published at In These Times on April 27, 2020. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Hamilton Nolan is a labor reporting fellow at In These Times. He has spent the past decade writing about labor and politics for Gawker, Splinter, The Guardian, and elsewhere. You can reach him at [email protected].


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Democrats in Congress Should Rethink a Health Insurance Deal That Would Be Terrible for Many Americans

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Congress must act decisively to ensure Americans get needed health care in the face of the novel coronavirus pandemic, both to promote public health and to reduce viral spread. But one Democratic proposal is a massive giveaway to private insurance companies with few redeeming qualities.

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This proposal would require the federal government to cover the full cost of COBRA, a continuation of employer-based coverage for people who have lost their jobs or who are furloughed. Because COBRA is for ex-workers, employers do not contribute to its cost. Instead, people on COBRA are typically required to pay their entire health insurance premium, which now averages around $20,000 a year for a family.

While the government would pay COBRA premiums, this proposal still requires workers to pay out-of-pocket costs that could add up to thousands of dollars.

This approach is inequitable, expensive, and not targeted to addressing the public’s health and safety. It should be set aside in favor of direct payments to doctors, hospitals, and other providers who deliver care to those in need.

Having the government cover COBRA premiums would lock in existing health inequalities. It would not help people who worked in jobs that did not provide health care coverage or who otherwise did not have access to employer-based insurance. And, if you had employer coverage and your employer offered you a low-cost HMO with limited access to care, for example, that’s all this proposal would pay for. But if you were a highly paid employee at a hedge fund and had excellent coverage that cost twice as much, this proposal would pay for your more expensive coverage.

This plan commits tens of billions of taxpayer dollars to private health insurers, regardless of the quality or price of the coverage they offer. That is not where our public resources should be going.

And, to repeat, this proposal does not cover the high out-of-pocket costs that come with most work-based coverage. To get care, people need to be able to afford the deductibles and copays. But, even pre-coronavirus, one in four Americans with insurance went without care because they couldn’t afford these costs. Forty percent of Americans didn’t have $400 in the bank for an emergency. Today, with no steady income, more people have fewer resources and will be forced to forgo care even with COBRA.

Furthermore, this proposal does not make budgetary sense. If enacted, Congress would be paying tens of billions of dollars more for people’s coverage than it would if the federal government paid directly for their health care through Medicare, as Senator Bernie Sanders and Representative Pramila Jayapal have proposed.

Why is Medicare less costly? Medicare’s administrative costs alone are more than 10 percent lower than private insurance. Medicare also reins in provider payment rates.

Paying providers directly through Medicare has additional advantages. It treats everyone equally, ensuring that all of us will get the care we need. People can see any doctor they choose. And, there are no financial barriers to care.

Moreover, covering care through Medicare provides real-time data on the scope of COVID-19 through a single electronic billing system, which is sorely lacking today. This data has helped other wealthy countries contain the spread of the virus and effectively deploy resources where they are needed.

The government picking up the tab for COBRA coverage should be seen for what it is: A handout to the health insurance industry. It rewards health insurers who offer inefficient, low-quality, high-cost health plans. And, it does far too little to ensure people get needed care, much less contain COVID-19.

Earlier in April, AHIP, the trade association for the corporate health insurers, made this same proposal in a letter to Congress. Surprise, surprise.

Some of the Democrats behind this proposal have financial ties to the health insurance industry. So, perhaps this legislation is payback for the hundreds of thousands of dollars in contributions to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. If so, shame on these House Democrats.

Whatever the motivation, this is the wrong way to help our nation in a time of crisis. Help should go where it’s needed and where it will do the most good, not where it’s politically expedient.

This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Diane Archer is a senior adviser to Social Security Works and founder and president of Just Care USA, an independent digital hub covering health and financial issues facing boomers and their families and promoting policy solutions. She is the past board chair of Consumer Reports and serves on the Brown University School of Public Health Advisory Board. Ms. Archer began her career in health advocacy in 1989 as founder and president of the Medicare Rights Center, a national organization dedicated to ensuring that older and disabled Americans get the health care they need. She served as director, Health Care for All Project, Institute for America’s Future, between 2005 and 2010.

About the Author: Richard “RJ” Eskow is senior adviser for health and economic justice at Social Security Works. He is also the host of The Zero Hour, a syndicated progressive radio and television program.


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Proper Chemical Safety Tips

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Employee safety is one of the top priorities in any workplace, but it’s elevated when chemicals are involved. Laboratories, pharmaceutical facilities, warehouses and other environments such as these carry additional risks. Some materials can release caustic vapors or cause serious burns if they come in contact with exposed skin. Spills can create hazards on the floor of a facility or require specialized equipment for cleanup.

Keeping people safe while they handle these chemicals may involve the use of safety gear, which has its own set of protocols. For all of these reasons and more, it’s crucial to take extra care when working in proximity to these substances. When it comes to creating a safer environment in this context, no point is too big or too small. Every action, from the big picture to the smallest detail, matters for protecting life and limb around these various hazardous materials.

From a macro perspective, it’s essential to have clear-cut protocols in place that detail precisely what’s expected of employees when handling chemical agents. Supporting those rules should be a regular training program designed to educate newer staff and reinforce safe practices in veterans. On a smaller scale, it is important to remember that even individual beakers and flasks should be inspected periodically for signs of wear. A hairline crack or other tiny flaw can lead to a leak or spill that could have disastrous consequences. Ensuring that all personnel are equipped with safety goggles, gloves, coveralls and other pieces of protective gear is another crucial element of a safe and productive workplace. Even something as simple as keeping all containers clearly labeled and on the appropriate shelves in storage areas can reduce the risk of accidents significantly. For more tips for working safely with chemicals, take a look at the accompanying infographic.

About EOC1: EOC1 is a leading provider of controlled environmental testing and certification services. For over 14 years, their experience covers a range of industries including hospitals, laboratories, pharmaceutical, manufacturing and more. EOC1 serves to help their clients meet their contamination control needs while meeting industry and regulatory requirements.


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What would it look like to reopen the economy safely? First, listen to workers

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At some point, some way, businesses and other parts of the economy will reopen. Donald Trump wants that to happen within weeks, quickly and without regard for public health. But while we need to insist on listening to public health experts about when to reopen, there are also questions about what it should look like when that happens. Workers need a voice in that, the AFL-CIO, the largest federation of unions in the U.S., said in a new working people’s plan for reopening the economy the right way.

That’s the first and most important part of the plan: Workers’ voices need to be heard at every level, from the individual workplace up to the federal government. But that’s not the only important principle to uphold in making sure that workers are safe as their workplaces reopen. Workers need adequate personal protective equipment on the job—and training to use it correctly—and they need widespread testing, reporting and tracking, and contact tracing to prevent workplace-based outbreaks.

PPE is needed once workers are back on the job. But how will we know it’s time for that to happen? “The primary criterion for deciding whether it is safe for working people to return to work is worker safety, assessed on the basis of sound science rather than politics or profits,” the AFL-CIO plan says. That means the government agencies that are supposed to protect worker safety have to use their expertise and enforcement powers—which already hadn’t been happening under Trump.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration and Mine Safety and Health Administration “must issue an emergency temporary standard for infectious diseases that requires all employers—including public employers in states without an approved OSHA state plan—that are currently open, or will reopen, to develop and implement an infection control plan, with requirements for hazard assessment, engineering controls, work practice and administrative controls, provision of personal protective equipment, training, medical surveillance, and medical removal protections,” the AFL-CIO argues. “Federal and state safety agencies must conduct worksite inspections to enforce existing standards and the infectious disease standard, and issue clear enforcement directives to ensure that employers are protecting workers in every sector.”

Workers also have to be protected from retaliation if they refuse to work when working means exposure to the virus or if they blow the whistle about unsafe working conditions, among other possibilities. 

Trump wants none of this, of course. He’s looking for ways to make the economy more abusive and less safe during and in the eventual wake of the coronavirus pandemic. But this is part of what it would look like to do right by workers. Democrats in Congress and in the states and running for president should be paying attention.

This blog was originally published at Daily Kos on April 25, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is a Daily Kos contributor at Daily Kos editor since December 2006. Full-time staff since 2011, currently assistant managing editor.


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Capitalism Can’t Be Repaired—Coronavirus Shows Its Huge Weaknesses

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Consider this absurdity: The U.S. government’s policy in the face of the current capitalist crash is to “return the economy to the pre-coronavirus normal.” What? In that “normal” system, private capitalists maximized profits by not producing the tests, masks, ventilators, beds, etc., needed when coronavirus hit. Profit-driven capitalism proved extremely inefficient in its response to the virus. Wealth already lost from the coronavirus far exceeds what it would have cost to prepare properly. In capitalism, a small minority—employers—makes all the key decisions (what, how, where to produce and how to use the proceeds) governing production and distribution of most goods and services. The majority—employees and their families—must live with the results of employers’ decisions but are excluded from making them. Why return to such an undemocratic “normal”? Why fix capitalism yet again, given its structural disposition to cyclical crashes and repeated costly need to be fixed?

Look at this absurdity from another angle. When capitalist corporations fail, they often resort to declaring bankruptcy. That often means a court removes an existing leadership and turns the enterprise over to a different leadership team. Outside of legal bankruptcy, a failing capitalist enterprise may often experience its shareholders voting to oust one leadership team—one board of directors—and replacing it with another. While such steps recognize that capitalists do fail (and quite regularly), the solution they made into law changes only who are the employers. Bankruptcy neither questions nor changes the capitalist structure of the enterprise. But why maintain such a capitalist “normal?” Maybe the problem is the structure and not the particular executive team running the capitalist enterprise.

A staggering 20 million U.S. employees have lost their jobs and filed for unemployment benefits during the month before April 15. This is absurd. We the people, the public, will now pay a portion of the wages and salaries their employers no longer do. The unemployed will often blame themselves; many will lose connections to their skills, their former employer, and their fellow workers; many will worry about getting old jobs back; many will borrow (often too much); all will worry about mounting debts; etc. They would be far better off if they all got socially useful jobs as well as most of their former paychecks. The government could be such an employer of last resort: when private capitalists either cannot or will not hire because to do so is not profitable for them.

But capitalists almost always oppose public jobs. They fear the competition with private capitalists that state employment might entail. They worry that public employees will keep those jobs and not move back to private employment. To placate private capitalists, governments “fix” recessions and depressions—periods when capitalists fire workers—by sustaining the unemployed with cash for a while. Society loses as the public pays the workers’ wages and salaries but gets no production of public goods and services in return.

Congress’s recently passed law (CARES) plans to stimulate a crashed U.S. capitalism by giving major airlines some $25 billion to pay most of the wages and salaries of roughly 700,000 airline employees for the next six months. This is capitalist absurdity squared. Most of those employees will collect their paychecks but do no airline work because flying will remain too risky for too many over the next six months. One might expect airline employees to be required to do some sort of public service in return for their government paycheck. They might prepare safe workplaces to then produce the tests, masks, ventilators, gloves, etc., needed these days. They might be trained to test; to clean and disinfect workplaces, stores and athletic arenas; to teach using one-on-one social media tutorials; and so on. But no, in capitalist countries (with rare exceptions), private capitalists do not want and thus governments do not pass laws mandating that public sector jobs be required of the unemployed in exchange for their pay. Society loses, but capitalists are mollified.

Then, too, Boeing is getting a big bailout. That corporate leadership recently proved itself responsible for selling unsafe airplanes that killed hundreds, trying to hide its failures, and squeezing billions in public subsidies out of the state of Washington. Yet the government’s bailout leaves Boeing leaders (and other employers getting government bailouts) in their traditional positions of making all key enterprise decisions exclusively and privately.

Why “fix” capitalism in these ways? Why the irrationality of unemployment pay without socially useful work for the unemployed? Why reproduce a normal capitalism that so undemocratically organizes its enterprises—where an unaccountable employer minority dictates to an employee majority? Why replace one group of employer dictators with another, when a better alternative presents itself? In short, why reproduce the capitalist (i.e., employer-employee) system generating socially divisive levels of unequal income and wealth almost everywhere plus business cycles regularly intruding instability?

Are we experiencing capitalism’s historic decline? Is that the message as people increasingly find capitalism to be unnecessary at best and unbearable at worst? Worker cooperatives present themselves as a better alternative way to organize enterprises: factories, offices, and stores, private and public. As democratic economic institutions, worker coops are a better fit with and a much better support for democratic political institutions. For the 21st century, the most popular slogan on socialists’ banners will likely be “Democratize the Enterprise.”

In the 14th century, bubonic plague—the “Black Death”—exposed Europe’s feudalism as vastly underfed, exhausted, dispirited, divided, and diseased. The infecting fleas carried by the rats could thus kill off a third of a very vulnerable continent. European feudalism never recovered its pre-bubonic strengths; its peak was behind it. Renaissance, reformation, and then the great English, French and American revolutions followed. The system collapsed amid transition to a new and different system, capitalism. Might the interactions now among capitalism, coronavirus, and a new worker-coop-based socialism prove similar to those among feudalism, the Black Death and capitalism so long ago?

This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

About the Author: Richard D. Wolff is professor of economics emeritus at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and a visiting professor in the Graduate Program in International Affairs of the New School University, in New York. Wolff’s weekly show, “Economic Update,” is syndicated by more than 100 radio stations and goes to 55 million TV receivers via Free Speech TV. His two recent books with Democracy at Work are Understanding Marxism and Understanding Socialism, both available at democracyatwork.info.


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VA Workers Say Southern States Reopening Too Soon Puts Veterans’ Lives At Risk

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As Republican governors across the South gear up to reopen businesses in their states over the objections of public health experts, health care workers for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)—already stretched thin in the face of the COVID-19 crisis—fear for their vulnerable patients, and for themselves.

The governors of Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee say they are coordinating plans for regional reopening of businesses that have been shuttered for weeks by the spread of coronavirus. The most aggressive plans thus far have come from Georgia governor Brian Kemp, who announced this week that his state will allow gyms, barber shops, tattoo parlors and other businesses to reopen this Friday, along with restaurants and movie theaters on Monday. That announcement has drawn objections from the mayors of Georgia’s biggest cities, as well as from public health experts, who point out that the state’s infection rate has not yet peaked, and that Georgia lacks the capacity to do widespread testing in a way that would make such reopening safe.

One obvious consequence of reopening businesses before the virus is contained could be an increase in COVID-19 cases, wiping out any benefits from the past weeks of social distancing. Such a scenario is concerning for John Corn, an AFGE union steward and a nurse at a VA medical facility in Carrollton, Georgia that provides care for elderly and disabled veterans. Between staffers who are sick, forced to take time off to care for children whose schools are closed, and forced to quarantine because they came in contact with a colleague who tested positive for COVID-19, Corn says that his facility is already seriously short-staffed—sometimes there are only two medical workers, rather than the usual four, overseeing a house with 11 patients. “It’s very stressful times for the staff and the residents,” Corn says. “Twelve hours of work, stopping for just 20 minutes to throw down some food and take a drink. That’s the only break we’re getting.”

Corn and his coworkers are members of the American Federation of Government Employees, which represents hundreds of thousands of VA employees nationwide. Since the coronavirus outbreak began in earnest, nurses at his facility have been trying to get access to more personal protective equipment (PPE), particularly N95 masks, which are being tightly rationed. For now, Corn and others who have direct patient contact are given only gloves and a basic surgical masks.

“We’re rationed one mask per day. You wear that one mask for twelve hours,” Corn says. At the end of his shift, he takes off the mask, goes home, and then puts the same mask on to walk back into work the next day and receive a new mask. The shortage of protective equipment puts everyone at risk. Because the facility has been locked down to visitors, Corn points out, the only way that patients can become infected is through staff members, who leave, go home and come back in every day. If the state’s business reopening causes a “massive increase” in cases as he fears, staffers can transmit that to vulnerable patients. Even though nurses are conscious of the fact that they could easily become asymptomatic carriers of coronavirus, they have not been able to secure more PPE. Instead, he says, they’re simply told that “this is what it is.”

The same problems plague VA workers in Florida—another state where a Trump-allied Republican governor, Ron DeSantis, is determined to reopen businesses. Desantis appointed a special commission to come up with a plan for reopening by the end of the week. Tatishka Thomas, the president of AFGE Local 548 in Bay Pines, Florida, which represents more than a thousand VA medical workers, says that one of her top concerns is that workers who do not have direct patient contact are issued only a single surgical mask per week, well short of what she considers to be safe.

Thomas dreads the idea of businesses in the state opening in the near future. “I’m extremely concerned, Because of the simple fact that everyone hasn’t been tested,” she said. Currently, Floridians without symptoms are not being widely tested, despite the fact that there could be many asymptomatic carriers. Asked what her union’s relationship is with the governor’s office, Thomas had a one-word answer: “Nonexistent.”

The VA employees in Repulican-controlled southern states find themselves in the politically tricky position of being both union members (unpopular), and essential front-line health care workers taking care of veterans (very popular). John Corn, who is himself at increased risk from COVID-19 because he is a diabetic, understands firsthand the bitter irony of the situation: His employer, the U.S. government, will not give him and his fellow coworkers what they need to protect themselves at work, even though their primary goal is to protect the veterans in their care. The same politicians who are quick to proclaim their love for veterans—and their disdain for public sector unions like AFGE—are putting those veterans in danger by reopening businesses too soon, and exposing their caregivers to greater risks.

“I choose to do what I do because I love what I do. I love my veterans. I support my country by taking care of these veterans,” Corn says. “But i’m also a union member. I support my union. And I will be there for my members to give them that voice.”

This article was originally published at In These Times on April 22, 2020. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Hamilton Nolan is a labor reporting fellow at In These Times. He has spent the past decade writing about labor and politics for Gawker, Splinter, The Guardian, and elsewhere. You can reach him at [email protected].


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Governors release new plan for reopening — and suggest few states are ready

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Rachel Roubein

A new road map from the nation’s governors for reopening the economy urges a cautious approach, saying the White House must dramatically ramp up testing and help states bolster other public health measures before social distancing can be safely pulled back.

The plan from the National Governors Association and state health officials suggests a wide-scale reopening of the country isn’t imminent, even as President Donald Trump roots on Southern states that are dialing down restrictions despite warnings from health experts.

The 10-point governors’ road map insists there aren’t enough coronavirus tests and said the federal government needs to better distribute testing supplies to the states. The report echoes concerns from health experts that moving too quickly could reignite the spread of the virus in communities and undo the health benefits gained by weeks of social distancing.

“Opening prematurely — or opening without the tools in place to rapidly identify and stop the spread of the virus — could send states back into crisis mode, push health systems past capacity and force states back into strict social distancing measures,” reads the report from the NGA and the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials.

The report comes amid broader debate over whether states like Georgia and Tennessee, which are lifting prohibitions, are moving too quickly, while protests cheered on by conservative groups and Trump himself are playing out in capitals across the country. Trump this morning congratulated the mostly Republican-led states moving to reopen their economies, even as coronavirus hot spots remain within their borders.

The states’ plan largely tracks with the phased approach for reopening Trump outlined last week, but said states should proceed carefully without broader testing. Despite Trump’s insistence that states have the testing they need to reopen, the states’ report said “testing capacity remains inadequate.” Several governors are still complaining of shortages of swabs and reagents needed to conduct wide scale testing.

The plan, which tacitly criticizes the Trump administration for poorly distributing supplies, estimates that the nation will need to be able to test anywhere from 750,000 to tens of millions per week, though states are still rationing testing and struggling with supply shortages.

Trump in recent weeks has pushed responsibility for testing onto the states, but the new road map said the federal government should “rapidly build” up testing capacity and coordinate distribution of supplies. A new coronavirus package moving through Congress this week includes $25 billion for testing, while calling for testing strategies from the Trump administration and the states.

Maryland’s Republican governor, Larry Hogan, who chairs the NGA, has criticized the administration for not doing enough to help states increase testing. Hogan’s administration over the weekend secured thousands of test kits from South Korea, prompting criticism from Trump for turning to a foreign government for help.

The plan recommends a “a significant increase” in workers who help identify those infected with the coronavirus and try to convince their contacts to self-quarantine to guard against an explosion in cases. The country currently only has a fraction of the workers needed to trace the virus. Louisiana, for example, hopes to expand its workforce for contact tracing from 70 to 700, said state health Secretary Courtney Phillips. Many of the new volunteers states are bringing on will receive just a few hours of training for work that has little margin for error.

The governors’ report also says states should have plans for quarantining the contacts of people who have become infected at places like hotels, dorms or military barracks. They should also have a robust public health infrastructure in place as they reopen, including a strong surveillance system for detecting Covid-19, develop metrics to assess the hospital’s capacity to treat both coronavirus and non-infected patients and protect at-risk populations. Those are similar to measures Trump’s reopening plan but includes more detail.

“These steps require the full participation of the federal government, state health agencies, other state agencies, local governments, the private sector, and the public,” the report said.

This article was originally published by Politico on April 22, 2020. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Rachel Roubein is a health care reporter for POLITICO Pro, focusing on doctors and hospitals. She previously covered health policy and politics at The Hill and National Journal, where she reported extensively on Obamacare and the opioid epidemic. She got her start in journalism reporting for Carroll County Times, a local newspaper in Maryland, and covered everything from the rise of heroin in the county to state efforts to start a medical marijuana program, from town budgets to crime. She studied journalism at the University of Maryland, and grew up in Oklahoma — and also Louisiana, Texas and Kentucky.

Dan Goldberg

About the Author: Dan Goldberg is a health care reporter for POLITICO Pro covering health care politics and policy in the states. He previously covered New York State health care for POLITICO New York. Before joining POLITICO New York, Dan was the health care reporter for the New Jersey Star-Ledger. Dan holds a bachelor’s degree from Binghamton University, and a master’s degree in Journalism from Columbia University.

Brianna Ehley

About the Author: Brianna Ehley is a reporter on POLITICO Pro’s health care team. She covers federal public health policy, as well as addiction and mental health issues. Prior to joining POLITICO, she wrote about health care, economic policy and government agencies for The Fiscal Times and blogged about the DC media scene for Fishbowl DC. She started her career at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch covering Illinois state government while earning her master’s degree in public affairs reporting from the University of Illinois.


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Defend Global Supply Chain Workers Facing the COVID-19 Pandemic

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COVID-19 may not yet have sickened as many people in developing countries as in the United States or Europe, but more than 150 million workers in supply chains are already suffering the swift and massive impact of the pandemic. These workers have even less savings and weaker social protection systems than the very weak ones America’s workers have. Just as we insist U.S. government assistance in this crisis must prioritize jobs and workers’ lives and livelihoods, global collective efforts must focus on millions of workers in global supply chains who have no safety net.

Global demand has plummeted and major corporations have stopped buying, many canceling orders already placed—even refusing to pay for goods already produced. Employers in these supply chains are cutting jobs and wages. Global garment workers, already facing some of the worst working and living conditions before the pandemic, are losing their precarious foothold on survival. At minimum, major garment brands and retailers must pay for work already done and goods already made or in production. Some companies have acted ethically; others have not.  

Today, workers and employers announced a joint statement to work together in the garment industry at the global level to clarify principles that major brands and retailers must act on throughout this industry that has long depended on unsustainable practices and low wages.  

ITUC General Secretary Sharan Burrow joined the call to action:

We cannot afford the human and economic devastation of the collapse of our global supply chains and millions more in developing economies thrown back into poverty. Jobs, incomes and social protection are the dividends of business continuity, and this statement calls for emergency funds and social protection for workers to guarantee industry survival in the poorest of our countries. Leadership and cooperation from all stakeholders are vital to realize a future based on resilience and decent work.

In the statement, employers and workers commit to work together to seek funding for the producing countries from governments and international financial institutions and other sources, so that workers can get wages, jobs can be preserved during the crisis and governments can commit to strengthen social protection programs in the future. 

Like all statements of principle, this one is a first step that will mean nothing without immediate action and sustained collaboration with workers. Beyond paying wages, the industry must reform its labor relations and buying practices to fix problems that have existed for decades. The global labor movement and allies will track the behavior of governments that receive this assistance and the actions of buyers and suppliers in the supply chain, as well as the impacts of both on workers. Student labor activists are already tracking the follow-through by some brands from the United States

Other industries need to collaborate globally and work upward from these principles, too, making more concrete commitments. Working with the global labor movement, the AFL-CIO will pursue these commitments to ensure that companies and governments fulfill their stated principles and ethical and legal commitments in this crisis and move toward globalization with social justice.

This article was originally printed on AFL-CIO on April 22, 2020.  Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Brian Finnegan is a Global Worker Rights coordinator for the AFL-CIO.


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San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council Launches Food Assistance Program

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Our Team — San Diego & Imperial Counties Labor Council

We are in an unforeseen crisis. Just a few weeks ago none of us could have predicted the economic impact created by the COVID-19 pandemic. Our members and our neighbors are in a financial and food crisis. Our entire labor council operation has converted to an emergency team focused on securing member benefits and running a substantial food distribution operation. To date we’ve distributed more than 150,000 pounds of food and served over 5,000 families in need. In the coming days, our distribution will provide food to more than 2,000 families per week, as our operations continually expand. I wish to commend our staff team for the work they are doing to keep this operation running, in the face of the health crisis swirling around them.

Our ability to provide for our members would not be possible without the support of a number of our unions. A big thanks to Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 465, Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) Local 122 and United Domestic Workers (UDW)/AFSCME Local 3930 for assigning staff to our labor council food distribution in the City Heights community in San Diego, including scheduling appointments. Our team is ordering food to support our City Heights food bank, for the Unions United-United Way of San Diego County food bank, and for UNITE HERE Local 30’s and IBEW Local 569’s distributions to their members. We have secured a steady stream of food product and have recently opened an Imperial Valley distribution site for our members.

Last week, for the fourth Saturday in a row a team of labor council volunteers joined in solidarity to provide food to more than 1,000 families in need. These distributions to the general public have been in partnership with Feeding San Diego and the San Diego Food Bank. A big shout out to the unions serving on our logistics committee—Ironworkers Local 229, the San Diego Education Association, UDW, Local 122, UFCW Local 135 and Local 569. They are leading this effort with our labor council staff to make sure our distributions run efficiently, and the safety of our volunteers is maintained. In addition, we have had a large turnout of over 100 volunteers each week willing to provide a helping hand, and we thank them all. 

I’d like to acknowledge both locals 30 and 122 for the effort they are making to support their impacted members. Both unions have essentially lost their entire memberships to layoffs. Many of these workers lost their jobs more than a month ago, due to conventions and major conferences canceling. They are hurting. Yet these two unions, with strong leadership and commitment, have assisted their members in filing unemployment claims, guiding them with utility and worker assistance processing, and making sure they are getting food for those most in need. This is a time that we all need to do our part to help these workers, and all of the other members who have lost their jobs and their paychecks!

FINANCIAL SUPPORT FOR UNION MEMBER FOOD:Providing food for our union members impacted by this health and economic crisis requires a constant purchase of food. You can support our efforts by sending union contributions to the labor council’s 501(c)(3) nonprofit fund that is certified to receive and distribute food with both the San Diego Food Bank and Feeding San Diego. All funds received will go to providing food for our union members in the coming days and weeks. A big shout out to Local 135, AFT Local 1931, OPEIU Local 30, California Teachers Association and San Diego Gas & Electric for their contributions to a Partnership for a Better San Diego. We’ve also secured more than 110 online donations from individuals. 

UNIONS: Make checks out to A Partnership for a Better San Diego and mail or deliver to our labor council office. If you have questions, please contact Sandra Williams: [email protected].

INDIVIDUAL DONORS: Send contributions by clicking: Union Member Relief Program.

FOOD DISTRIBUTION:All affiliated local unions have been provided a form to request assistance for their members. Please provide the labor council with names of those you wish to receive food. Once received, the labor council staff or staff from our member unions will call to set an appointment time. Food assistance is by appointment only. The Unions United food pantry is fully functional. You can contact its operation directly. You also will need to provide the information to schedule an appointment for food assistance.

This article was originally printed in AFL-CIO on April 20, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Keith Maddox is the executive secretary-treasurer of the San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council.


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Postal Workers Face the Pandemic as the Service Struggles Financially; Amazon Workers Protest

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Jonathan Tasini - Home | Facebook

Here’s a little riddle: What has 157 million daily delivery points, 35,000 offices and 500,000 workers? It’s your U.S. Postal Service, that would be the service that really is a democratic, small “d”, institution—it’s there for everyone at a reasonable cost, no matter where you live or who you are.

Putting it mildly, postal workers are frontline workers—and to pile the safety and health dangers on top of everything else, the service is facing a massive budget hole because of the collapse of the economy because, obviously, less commerce means a lot less stuff being sent via the postal service which relies on fees. I go in-depth on what’s happening to postal workers with the Mark Dimondstein, president of the American Postal Workers Union.

And Jeff Bezos is up to his usual despicable behavior—the wealthiest human on the planet is piling up more money but at the expense of the safety and health of Amazon’s warehouse workers who are getting sick from COVID-19. Hundreds of Amazon workers stayed away from work yesterday to protest the dangerous conditions. Rachel Belz, an Amazon worker, joins me to discuss the uprising.

This article was originally published at WorkingLife on April 22, 2020. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Jonathan Bernard Yoav Tasini is an American political strategist, organizer, activist, commentator and writer, primarily focusing his energies on the topics of work, labor and the economy.


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