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WHICH STATES AND CITIES HAVE ADOPTED COMPREHENSIVE COVID-19 WORKER PROTECTIONS?

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As the COVID-19 pandemic surges in the United States, workers have continued to protest and organize for their safety and health—but action is needed at all levels of government, starting with the top. To date, the Trump administration—specifically, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration—has resisted issuing any workplace safety standards or requirements to protect workers from COVID-19 in the workplace. In the absence of federal leadership, some governors and state health departments have stepped up to expand worker protections.

OSHA has resisted issuing any workplace safety standards or requirements to protect workers from COVID-19 in the workplace.

Some states have issued executive orders with very specific worker protection requirements, and Virginia issued a first-in-the-nation Emergency Temporary Standard to protect workers. Oregon and Michigan also have issued emergency standards. Other states have issued guidelines, some of which they intend to enforce. Some cities as well have issued protective ordinances for workers.

Many states’ executive orders (including the Virginia standard) require employers to heed the following:

  • ensure physical distancing of at least six feet between employees and their coworkers and customers;
  • provide face masks to all employees if maintaining six-foot social distance is not always possible;
  • require customer to wear face masks;
  • provide employees with other personal protective equipment in addition to face coverings;
  • improve ventilation;
  • provide employees with regular access to hand-washing and soap;
  • have hand sanitizer readily available to workers;
  • require deep cleaning after COVID cases are discovered in the workplace; and
  • notify workers when cases are found.

In some states, such as Oregon, Michigan, and Nevada, enforcement is handled by state occupational safety and health agencies; in others, by health departments, labor departments, and the attorney general’s office. Some states where federal OSHA has traditionally done enforcement are still figuring out how best to enforce these protections.

Inexcusably, the Trump administration has abandoned its responsibility to ensure that workers and the general public are safe in this pandemic. As the number of workers infected with and dying from this disease continues to grow, it’s clear that a voluntary approach to worker safety is not mitigating this public health disaster.

A voluntary approach to worker safety has failed to mitigate this public health disaster.

Even while workers continue to take major risks in speaking out and organizing in their workplaces, communities of color are paying the heaviest price for this federal policy failure. Although all workers on the job now or returning to work in the near future are at risk of illness, Black and Latinx workers and other workers of color, including immigrants, are more likely to be in frontline jobs. In addition, these communities have disproportionate rates of serious illness and death related to COVID-19, stemming from structural racism over generations related to healthcare and access to care. It is crucial that state and local policymakers step up to prioritize these workers and thereby further protect communities in this pandemic.

Below is a list of the 14 states that have adopted comprehensive worker safety protections (with links to more information). In addition to these, separate executive orders requiring face masks in the workplace have been issued by some governors (e.g., North CarolinaTexas, Massachusetts), cities (e.g., Raleigh, NC), and counties. Philadelphia has also issued the first citywide ordinance protecting workers from retaliation for raising COVID-19 safety and health concerns or refusing to work under unsafe conditions related to COVID-19.

California

Cal/OSHA adopted a new emergency standard for COVID prevention on November 19, 2020:
https://www.dir.ca.gov/OSHSB/documents/COVID-19-Prevention-Emergency-apprvdtxt.pdf

https://www.dir.ca.gov/title8/5199.html (the Cal/OSHA aerosol transmission standard that covers healthcare and first-response employees)

http://file.lacounty.gov/SDSInter/bos/supdocs/147290.pdf (L.A. County Board of Supervisors approved a proposal to facilitate worker-led health councils to monitor business compliance with public health orders mitigating the spread of COVID-19 at work)

https://thelafed.org/releases/in-battle-against-covid-19-board-of-supervisors-propose-innovative-solution/

Illinois

https://www2.illinois.gov/Pages/Executive-Orders/ExecutiveOrder2020-32.aspx (initial EO issued April 30)

https://www2.illinois.gov/Pages/Executive-Orders/ExecutiveOrder2020-38.aspx (updated EO issued May 29)

http://dph.illinois.gov/covid19/community-guidance/guidance-food-and-meat-processing-facilities (issued by Illinois Department of Public Health)

From the reopening checklists now being published: “Any employee who has had close contact with co-worker or any other person who is diagnosed with COVID-19 should quarantine for 14 days after the last/most recent contact with the infectious individual and should seek a COVID-19 test at a state or local government testing center, healthcare center or other testing locations. All other employees should be on alert for symptoms of fever, cough, or shortness of breath and taking temperature if symptoms develop.”

Kentucky

https://govstatus.egov.com/ky-healthy-at-work

Massachusetts

https://www.mass.gov/info-details/reopening-mandatory-safety-standards-for-workplaces

https://www.mass.gov/forms/report-unsafe-working-conditions-during-covid-19 (complaint form)

https://www.mass.gov/service-details/covid-19-workplace-safety-measures-for-reopening

Michigan

Michigan OSHA issued Emergency Rules for COVID-19 on October 14, 2020. (See related press release.)

Two executive orders previously issued (here and here) will no longer be enforced by the state due to a Michigan Supreme Court decision on October 2nd invalidating the orders.

Minnesota

https://www.health.state.mn.us/diseases/coronavirus/businesses.html

https://www.dli.mn.gov/sites/default/files/pdf/COVID_19_business_plan_template.pdf

https://www.dli.mn.gov/sites/default/files/pdf/COVID_19_meatpacking_guidance.pdf(for meat)

https://www.leg.state.mn.us/archive/execorders/20-54.pdf (on the right to refuse work)

Nevada

http://business.nv.gov/News_Media/COVID-19_Announcements/

http://gov.nv.gov/News/Emergency_Orders/2020/2020-04-29_-_COVID-19_Declaration_of_Emergency_Directive_016_(Attachments)/

http://gov.nv.gov/News/Emergency_Orders/2020/2020-05-07_-_COVID-19_Declaration_of_Emergency_Directive_018_-_Phase_One_Reopening_(Attachments)/

New Jersey 

On October 28, 2020, New Jersey’s governor issued Executive Order 192 to protect New Jersey’s workers during the pandemic. The governor’s press release provides an overview.

This comes on top of an earlier executive order issued on April 8, 2020 requiring essential retail businesses and industries to take steps to limit the spread of COVID-19, among other things. (The state is also updating industry-specific guidance.)

New York 

https://agriculture.ny.gov/system/files/documents/2020/04/retailfoodstoreguidanceforseniors_1.pdf(some essential industries remain without guidance)

https://forward.ny.gov/

Oregon

On November 6, 2020, Oregon OSHA adopted a new COVID-19 emergency temporary rule addressing COVID-19 workplace risks.

This follows previous executive orders issued during the pandemic:
– https://www.oregon.gov/gov/admin/Pages/eo_20-12.aspx (executive order)
– https://osha.oregon.gov/news/2020/Pages/nr2020-19.aspx (Oregon OSHA)
– https://www.wweek.com/news/2020/07/01/oregon-osha-to-enforce-mask-rules/ (enforcing the EO)

Pennsylvania

Gov. Wolf: Health Secretary Signs Order Providing Worker Safety Measures to Combat COVID-19

COVID-19 Guidance for Businesses

https://www.governor.pa.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/20200415-SOH-worker-safety-order.pdf

https://www.jacksonlewis.com/sites/default/files/docs/PhiladelphiaCertifiedCopy20032801.pdf(Philadelphia ordinance that includes retaliation protections for raising concerns or refusing unsafe work; plus private right of action)

Rhode Island

https://reopeningri.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/COVID-19-Control_Plan_Fillable_Template-Final-5.13.20.pdf?189db0&189db0

VITAL WORKPLACE RESOURCES

Virginia

https://www.doli.virginia.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/COVID-19-Emergency-Temporary-Standard-FOR-PUBLIC-DISTRIBUTION-FINAL-7.17.2020.pdf (Virginia OSH has just passed the nation’s first Emergency Temporary Standard for workers, which will be effective the week of July 27)

Washington State

https://www.governor.wa.gov/sites/default/files/COVID19AgriculturalSafetyPlan.pdf(COVID protections for farmworkers)

https://www.doh.wa.gov/Portals/1/Documents/4300/TWH-RevisedRule-9-10-2020.pdf (revised emergency rule on temporary worker housing)

https://www.governor.wa.gov/issues/issues/covid-19-resources/covid-19-reopening-guidance-businesses-and-workers (this is written as enforceable guidance)

https://www.lni.wa.gov/safety-health/safety-rules/enforcement-policies/DD170.pdf (enforcement)

This blog originally appeared at NELP on December 21, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Deborah Berkowitz NELP’s Worker Safety and Health program director, joined NELP in 2015, following six years serving as chief of staff and then a senior policy adviser for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) (2009-2015).


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Service + Solidarity Spotlight: The Season of Giving: IBEW Local 103 Holds Annual Christmas Toy Drive

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Working people across the United States have stepped up to help out our friends, neighbors and communities during these trying times. In our regular Service + Solidarity Spotlight series, we’ll showcase one of these stories every day. Here’s today’s story.

Members of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 103 in Boston came together over the weekend to hold their annual toy drive for kids and families in need. The union credited Mayor Martin Walsh (LIUNA) and all of the donors and volunteers who made the event possible. “Thank you so much, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, the IBEW Local 103 volunteers and everyone that donated to our annual Christmas toy drive! I’m so proud of Local 103,” said local Business Manager/Financial Secretary Louis Antonellis.

This blog originally appeared at AFL-CIO on December 18, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Aaron Gallant is an AFL-CIO contributor.


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It’s Been a Long Nightmare Before Christmas for UPS and Postal Workers

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Every year, workers at the Postal Service and UPS expect to work long hours between Thanksgiving and Christmas. “This is like our Super Bowl,” said Kimberly Karol, president of the Iowa Postal Workers (APWU). “Employees really do rally together.”

But this year has been like no other. Workers were still catching their breath from last year’s holiday peak when the pandemic struck and online ordering ratcheted up. It was like Christmas all over again—and it never stopped.

POSTAL JAM

Package volumes at the Postal Service are up 40 percent compared to this time last year, and understaffing is intensified by Covid—more than 50,000 of the 600,000 postal workers have had to take pandemic-related leave.

“They’re working from 12 to 14 hours a day, seven days a week, with very little off time,” said Becky Livingston, St. Louis APWU president. “People are getting tapped on the shoulder saying, ‘We need you four more hours.’”

In Knoxville, Tennessee, rural letter carrier Alex Fields has worked almost every day for months, typically from 6 a.m. to 8 or 9 p.m. In October he hit 33 workdays in a row. “Basically everyone comes in the morning, takes a truck of packages before they even start the mail, comes back, does the mail, then goes out with more packages,” he said.

“The plant’s so backed up that they’re sending raw unsorted mail, whole trays to carriers to manually sort and case ourselves. Everyone’s spending an hour a day just casing up mail that’s supposed to be run through a machine, because there’s no one to run the machine. That’s on top of having 400 packages to deliver on your route.”

Some processing plants are so overwhelmed that 100 or more trucks full of mail are waiting outside, snarling traffic. A driver in Cleveland told local news he had slept in his truck for two nights while waiting to unload.

Inside the plants, packages are piled on every available surface. “There’s not a lot of space to even walk through the building,” said processing clerk Courtney Jenkins, director of organization for Baltimore APWU. “There’s less space to socially distance.”

SAME JOB, LESS PAY

At UPS too, parcel volumes are hitting record highs. Unlike the Postal Service, the company is making money hand over fist.

Fundamental to the public Postal Service is its commitment to accept all mail. UPS, on the other hand, gets to choose what it can deliver profitably and skip what it can’t. At the start of December it announced it would stop picking up parcels from six major retailers including Macy’s, Gap, and L.L. Bean. (The Postal Service absorbs packages that UPS and FedEx won’t take; its share of e-commerce deliveries doubled from October to December.)

While some UPS workers are getting too many hours, others are getting too few, as the company finds ways to foist more work onto lower-paid tiers.

One of these tiers is Article 22.4 drivers, paid $6 an hour less than regular drivers. Package delivery is the better-paying Teamster job at UPS; the warehouse workers who load and sort are mostly part-timers making less than half as much.

Created in the 2018 contract, the 22.4 was originally pitched as a hybrid position that would do a bit of both—but obviously UPS gets more bang for its buck by using these workers as a cheaper way to deliver, rather than a more expensive way to sort and load.

Sure enough, “they’re doing the same job as I am,” said Corey Levesque, a delivery driver and steward in Rhode Island. As new 22.4 drivers are hired, “you have people saying, ‘How come I get paid six bucks less and do the same work?’ And you have no real answer. They were sold out in that contract.”

THEIR OWN CARS

In fact, resistance to this new tier was the biggest reason why members voted down the 2018 tentative agreement. But the Teamsters leadership, who had proposed the concession in the first place, imposed it anyway, exploiting a constitutional loophole that requires a two-thirds vote for a “no” to stick.

Now a slate led by Boston’s Sean O’Brien and Louisville’s Fred Zuckerman is running to lead the union in next year’s one-member-one-vote election, pledging to do away with both the 22.4 tier and the two-thirds rule.

Another proliferating tier is Personal Vehicle Drivers—unbenefited temps who deliver packages from their own cars. “They’ve just thrown the PVDs at everything,” Levesque said. “If a driver goes out heavy, they’ll send a PVD to them and have them take work.

“On the one hand that’s alleviated some of the overtime we normally put in on peak. On the other hand there are some people who want the overtime, and they’re taking that away.”

In some parts of the country, regular drivers are forced to work six-day weeks. In other places they’re having trouble getting even 40 hours because PVDs are delivering so much.

GAMES WITH TIERS

Inside its warehouses, UPS is playing the same games. Most inside workers are part-timers who start at $14.50 an hour, plus benefits. They’re guaranteed 3.5 hours of work each day; they get overtime after five.

To dodge that overtime, Chris Cecil said, on his shift UPS has hired dozens of full-time seasonal workers for $16 an hour with no benefits—and guaranteed them eight hours a day. “Workers are pretty pissed,” said Cecil, a steward in Greensboro, North Carolina. “A lot of our folks want these inside full-time jobs that the company refuses to create. Instead they’re giving someone off the street that job for the month of December.”

This is grueling work. “You never know what is in the trailer,” said Kristen Jefferson, who unloads trailers in Chicago. “It could be a bulk load, 53 feet of unloading furniture that could weigh 80-140 pounds.

“If you could see my co-workers walking out of the building at the end of the day. So many of them have been broken down by UPS, and UPS does not care. They just want the packages out.”

In the Postal Service too, each union has a permatemp tier for new hires. Fields has been a “rural carrier associate” for three years. Soon he hopes to graduate to a career position.

But “I’m glad I was still a sub during all this, because at least I’ve gotten paid for all this overtime,” Fields said. Instead of hourly pay, regular rural carriers get a daily salary based on a 2017 count of their routes. There has been no adjustment for the explosion in package volume since then.

“People deliver 200 packages a day and they’re only getting paid for 60-80,” Fields said. “On Black Friday they were out till 9 or 10 p.m. and got paid the same.”

HIGH TURNOVER

It’s a sign of how bad conditions are that UPS and the Postal Service both struggle to retain workers despite the country’s sky-high unemployment.

“We have single parents that don’t have childcare for 14-hour days,” APWU’s Livingston said. “Those people are feeling like they’re being forced to resign.

“We’d like to be able to give them encouragement that it’s going to change, but we don’t know when it’s going to change. We’ve been in peak season mode since March.”

“They’re going to have to really look at what they’re paying postal employees, especially at starting salary levels, because we don’t really keep people long,” Karol said. “Amazon is one of the bigger competitors.” (Read more here: “Building Its Own Delivery Network, Amazon Puts the Squeeze On Drivers.”) 

In UPS warehouses, “turnover is insane,” Cecil said. “It’s pretty rough work. They might hire 20 people and five stay.”

UNIONS CARED ABOUT COVID

What about Covid safety, as cases surge across the country? The situation is bad.

At both UPS and the Postal Service, mask enforcement is lax or absent. Social distancing and contact tracing often aren’t happening.

The Postal Service had 116 nurses nationwide and 30 vacancies last summer—cramping its capacity to do contact tracing—and the job openings weren’t even posted on its website, according to a Postal Inspector General report that also chided the employer for not doing workplace temperature checks.

One postal manager contracted Covid, but “upon his return proudly announced his refusal to name others he had been in contact with, because he wasn’t going to give them time off,” Karol said. “He considers all sick leave usage as slacking.”

At UPS, “they are still having people work in close proximity,” Jefferson said. “People are still doubled up in trailers. Many people in my hub have tested positive for Covid.”

FIGHTING UNIONS VITAL

Some of the most proactive safety measures have been union-initiated. Early in the pandemic, the Des Moines APWU set up Plexiglas barriers at post office retail counters and around the desks of expeditors in the mail plants who interact with truck drivers from all over the country. The local pushed successfully for a 45-day buffer supply of gloves, masks, and sanitizer.

In Rhode Island, Teamsters Local 251 told the company, “We can enforce social distancing for you,” Levesque said. “We had safety committee members at the guard shack making sure members were coming in close to their start times instead of hanging out.

“We tried to make sure people were socially distancing in the building. We have conference calls between union stewards and the business agent twice a week to talk about what we can do.”

The stresses of the pandemic have thrown into relief the need to build enough union power to abolish the unfair tiers and win better compensation for everyone. “What all this is putting into workers’ hearts and minds is that the boss does not care about you,” Jenkins said.

In the Teamsters, “this year has illustrated that we need new leadership,” Levesque said. President James P. Hoffa, who is retiring next year, “just flat-out does not hold places like UPS accountable,” said Columbus driver Michael Chapman.

In the Rural Carriers, “I don’t understand what union leadership even thinks they’re doing,” Fields said. “Everyone is so mad at them. Across the political spectrum, every rural carrier conversation is like, ‘Why do we even have a union?’

“It just shows the need for organizing. We have the power in this situation. We’re so short-staffed—they’re depending on us to get those packages out.” 

This blog originally appeared at Labor Notes on December 18, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Alexandra Bradbury is editor and co-director of Labor Notes.


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New York City fast food workers to get a major new job protection, this week in the war on workers

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The New York City Council voted to dramatically strengthen protections for fast food workers with two bills this week, both supported by Mayor Bill de Blasio. The really big deal bill would ban fast food restaurants from firing workers without just cause—that means workers could only (“only”) be fired for performance issues or other serious problems, not just because the boss felt like it.

Most workers in the U.S. are currently “at-will,” which means exactly that—your boss doesn’t actually need a reason to fire you. As Jared Odessky explained at Data for Progress last summer, moving to a just cause standard could help crack down on discrimination: “Currently, the burden is on a fired worker to show that they were terminated for an impermissible reason like their race or sex. This is true even though the employer has greater access to and control over information about the firing. After the worker makes out a case of discrimination, the employer can then point to another basis for the termination, benefiting from an at-will presumption that permits employers to fire workers for almost any or no reason. In reality, employers can simply invent reasons after the fact. The burden then falls to the worker to show that the reason the employer gave was a lie.”

The other bill passed by the city council would require layoffs to go in order of seniority. Both bills apply to fast food stores belonging to chains with more than 30 locations.

This blog originally appeared at Daily Kos on December 19, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson has been a contributing editor since December 2006. Clawson has been full-time staff since 2011, and is currently assistant managing editor at the Daily Kos.


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Building Its Own Delivery Network, Amazon Puts the Squeeze On Drivers

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While millions have lost their jobs and thousands of small businesses have shut their doors, at least one company has thrived during the pandemic: Amazon. The e-commerce behemoth controls 40 percent of online sales and has amassed record profits. The net worth of founder Jeff Bezos, the world’s richest man, has jumped to $186 billion, up more than $70 billion since March. 

Amazon’s continued growth and dominance in online retailing are due to its mastery of logistics—including its investment in building the world’s largest contingent (that is, not made up of permanent employees) last-mile delivery network, with over 500,000 contracted drivers globally. 

Last-mile logistics workers complete the final steps of delivery to a consumer’s home (or a neighborhood Amazon locker). While most packages in the U.S. are still delivered by the big four—UPS, FedEx, DHL, and the Postal Service (USPS)—Amazon is increasingly building out its own delivery network, posing a major threat to these firms and to working conditions in the industry. 

THE LAST-MILE PROBLEM

In contrast to big-box retailers that rely heavily on warehouse workers hired through temp agencies, Amazon directly employs hundreds of thousands of warehouse workers around the world (though it still regularly hires temps during peak periods). 

However, in the last-mile delivery sector, Amazon has taken a different approach: expanding its network of contingent and subcontracted drivers.

The last mile is one of most labor-intensive components of the e-commerce supply chain. Nearly one-third of the total cost of shipping goods occurs here. Logistics experts have described the challenges facing e-commerce firms as “the last-mile problem,” since the final leg of delivery usually involves multiple stops with small packages.

To decrease its dependence on the big four (including the unionized UPS and USPS), Amazon has invested in parcel delivery. By 2019, around half of Amazon Prime packages in the U.S. were delivered by subcontractors or contingent workers.

AN UBER FOR PACKAGES

Amazon Flex drivers are gig workers treated as independent contractors, similar to Uber drivers. They are paid per completion of a delivery route, not by the hour. Flex drivers must provide their own vehicles or rent delivery vans.

Independent contractors lack the legal rights of employees to unionize and enforce minimum wage protections. In 2019, a group of Amazon Flex Drivers based in California sued Amazon, claiming that the company had intentionally misclassified Flex drivers as independent contractors to avoid paying overtime and employee benefits.

In addition to Flex, the company is increasingly relying on its Delivery Service Partners program, rolled out in 2018. DSPs are small subcontracted parcel delivery firms with 20–40 delivery vans apiece—considered “independent” of Amazon, though they exclusively deliver packages for Amazon Prime customers.

SUBCONTRACTED DRIVERS

DSP fleets are limited to 40 vans to complicate unionization efforts and to increase Amazon’s flexibility and power over the price paid per delivery. Limiting their size makes it difficult for these small firms to gain leverage against Amazon. Each DSP manages between 40 and 100 employees.

I live in Southern California, one of Amazon’s largest markets in the world. For years, it was most common here to see white unmarked delivery vans with workers wearing reflective vests hustling Amazon Prime packages through the streets. Today, however, most DSPs lease grey-blue Amazon-branded delivery vans and Amazon uniforms for their drivers. And yet, despite their appearance, these subcontracted delivery drivers do not formally work for Amazon.

The majority of these drivers in Southern California work eight- to 10-hour shifts and earn about $15 per hour. Many do not receive health insurance benefits. 

These workers face extreme pressure to meet the demands of Amazon’s tight delivery terms. During peak holiday periods, the number of deliveries can reach as high as 400 per shift. Drivers complain of unpaid overtime, poor working conditions, and unrealistic expectations and pressures set by Amazon.

Between Flex and the DSPs, Amazon’s expanding market power has introduced new levels of exploitation for thousands of delivery drivers, many of them workers of color and immigrants. 

SPEED-UP AND SURVEILLANCE

Walmart became the world’s largest corporation by developing a sophisticated logistics management program, which reduced inefficiencies in the movement of consumer goods across thousands of miles.

However, the supply-chain management approach that Walmart perfected in the big-box era has not adapted well to the rapid changes brought on by the growth of e-commerce.

Big-box retailers have struggled to compete because their infrastructure was built to accommodate long-distance shipping. E-commerce depends upon a more localized and fragmented distribution and delivery system. 

Consumers demand increasingly fast delivery to their homes; the Amazon Prime program has driven further consumer demand for expedited free shipping. All this creates pressure on workers in both warehousing and last-mile delivery to speed up.

Connected to this speed-up are technologies that track workers’ movements and speed in real time. Amazon is the industry leader in worker surveillance across the global supply chain.

Amazon’s logistics infrastructure relies upon this exploitation and hyper-surveillance of both warehouse workers and contracted delivery drivers. In global labor organizing, joining these two groups together will be critical to worker power.

SQUEEZING THE COMPETITION

To compete with Amazon, FedEx has begun to tap into the e-commerce market by working with hybrid retailers (big-box stores that combine offline and online sales) that offer in-store pickup.

According to FedEx, approximately half of all online purchases occur after 4 p.m. This prompted the company to roll out a new late-night shipping option, giving retailers the opportunity to offer next-day shipping on orders placed as late as midnight. 

FedEx Express drivers pick up the packages from retailers as late as 2 a.m. and take them to sorting hubs. Deliveries can occur as soon as the next day within the local market, and two days for destinations farther away.

The late-night shipping program began in 2017 as a pilot in Los Angeles. Since then it has entered 100 local markets. Using the physical infrastructure of big-box retail outlets as a point of competitive advantage, FedEx has increased the speed from fulfillment centers to delivery to less than 24 hours. 

Competition between Amazon and hybrid retail firms has fueled a race to capture the last-mile market in other ways, too. Amazon’s acquisition of Whole Foods, at a price of $13.7 billion, had less to do with groceries and more to do with increasing its last-mile market share.

By acquiring Whole Foods, Amazon instantly added to its delivery network 440 refrigerated warehouses within 10 miles of 80 percent of the population. Since the acquisition, Amazon Flex drivers routinely use Whole Foods stores to drop off and pick up packages at Amazon lockers. The acquisition also improved Amazon’s last-mile market position in relation to its hybrid retail competitors Walmart and Target.

This blog originally appeared at Labor Notes on December 17, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Jake Alimahomed-Wilson is a sociology professor at Cal State-Long Beach. He is the co-editor, with Ellen Reese, of The Cost of Free Shipping: Amazon in the Global Economy (Pluto Press, 2020). This piece is an edited excerpt from the book. Read a review here.


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Dear Mackenzie: There’s One More Donation You Owe to the World

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Dear Macken­zie Scott, 

This week, you announced that you’ve made $4.2 bil­lion in char­i­ta­ble dona­tions in the past four months. For that you deserve an extreme­ly mod­est amount of con­grat­u­la­tions! You are, no doubt, besieged at all times by peo­ple who come to kiss your ass and beg for mon­ey. We come to you today with some­thing dif­fer­ent: moral con­dem­na­tion leav­ened with only the faintest sense of praise?—?com­bined with an idea that offers redemp­tion for you and for the belea­guered reg­u­lar peo­ple of Amer­i­ca at the same time.

Your net worth, accord­ing to reports, stands at some­thing like $60 bil­lion. How did you get so rich? You got so rich by being mar­ried to Ama­zon CEO Jeff Bezos for 25 years. More specif­i­cal­ly, you got so rich by divorc­ing Jeff Bezos last year, and get­ting 4% of Amazon’s stock in the process. That stake in the com­pa­ny was worth $38 bil­lion when you got it. You have there­fore made more than $20 bil­lion in the past year, thanks to the company’s boom dur­ing the pandemic. 

Here is where we will say some­thing mild­ly nice about you: You seem to be on the good end of the bil­lion­aire class. Many of your wealthy peers view char­i­ta­ble giv­ing as a chance to see their name adorn­ing fan­cy build­ings, or to attend lav­ish social events while being insu­lat­ed from crit­i­cism for their lav­ish­ness. Oth­ers, like your ex-hus­band, view char­i­ty as an unim­por­tant after­thought, donat­ing an inde­fen­si­bly pal­try por­tion of their wealth to the needy, or leav­ing the task to a foun­da­tion after they’re dead. By giv­ing away bil­lions this year alone, you have demon­strat­ed that you grasp, to some extent, the moral urgency of help­ing peo­ple soon­er rather than lat­er. You have pledged to give away the major­i­ty of your wealth in your own life­time?—?not much of an eth­i­cal achieve­ment by Peter Singer stan­dards, but in the con­text of Amer­i­can bil­lion­aires, not bad. 

Fur­ther­more, your choic­es of where to give seem to show that you do care about impact, and not just grandeur and flash. You sought out small orga­ni­za­tions, from his­tor­i­cal­ly Black col­leges to local food banks, that can do a lot with your mon­ey, rather than lazi­ly writ­ing checks to big nation­al groups that will show­er you with good P.R. and then blow a lot of your mon­ey on mid­dle man­age­ment. You exhib­it a very basic sense of human decen­cy, and that alone puts you ahead of most of your peers. 

Of course, that is not enough to give you a pass. The very exis­tence of a $60bil­lion for­tune in the hands of one per­son is a crime, proof of the way that human soci­ety has evolved away from jus­tice. And your for­tune, in par­tic­u­lar, is not clean. Your mon­ey was earned on the backs of hun­dreds of thou­sands of reg­u­lar peo­ple who have done the work that makes Ama­zon run, and suf­fered as a result. They have suf­fered phys­i­cal­ly. They have suf­fered finan­cial­ly. And they have suf­fered exis­ten­tial­ly, by being treat­ed at every turn as cogs in a machine, rather than as human beings whose own hopes and dreams and auton­o­my should be allowed to flour­ish. Every Ama­zon ware­house work­er forced to pee in a bot­tle because they didn’t have suf­fi­cient breaks; every Ama­zon office work­er who slept in their car in order to keep their job; every Ama­zon deliv­ery dri­ver denied a chance at an actu­al career with a liv­ing wage and ben­e­fits because the com­pa­ny has seen to it they will nev­er be a full time employ­ee; all of these peo­ple put a dol­lar into your pock­et, Macken­zie Scott. Your for­tune came from them. Your mon­ey was earned by squeez­ing them into pover­ty. That is the plain truth. No mat­ter how nice of a per­son you may con­sid­er your­self to be, the fact is that you have a pro­found debt to all those people. 

You could, I guess, just write a check and give every Ama­zon work­er a few thou­sand bucks. That would be nice for a pass­ing moment, but noth­ing would real­ly change. You can­not fix a struc­tur­al debt with a trin­ket. In order to start cor­rect­ing the fun­da­men­tal injus­tices that have made you so rich, you must do some­thing that can give those work­ing peo­ple their own pow­er to take back con­trol of their lives. 

Ama­zon needs a union. And I am hap­py to say: Macken­zie Scott, you can help with that. It’s hard to orga­nize a com­pa­ny like Ama­zon, both because it is a larg­er beast than any indi­vid­ual union has resources for, and because it will spend a great deal of mon­ey on lies and intim­i­da­tion to pre­vent its work­ers from exer­cis­ing their fun­da­men­tal right to orga­nize. But mon­ey can help to even the play­ing field. For a small frac­tion of the mon­ey you just gave out?—?say, $100 mil­lion?—?it would be pos­si­ble to hire orga­niz­ers nation­wide with the express pur­pose of union­iz­ing Ama­zon. The com­pa­ny is cur­rent­ly fight­ing against one sin­gle union dri­ve at a ware­house in Alaba­ma; we need to have them fight­ing against par­al­lel union dri­ves at hun­dreds of ware­hous­es across the coun­try all at once. The labor move­ment knows how to orga­nize work­ing peo­ple, but its resources are sim­ply no match for a $1.6 tril­lion com­pa­ny that can stamp out iso­lat­ed dri­ves like a giant crush­ing an ant. To give Amazon’s work­ers a chance at real jus­tice, the com­pa­ny must be orga­nized. And to orga­nize a com­pa­ny like this, there must be ded­i­cat­ed nation­al infra­struc­ture work­ing on this, and only this. No labor union in the Unit­ed States has enough mon­ey to build this on the scale that’s nec­es­sary. But you do, Macken­zie Scott. 

With one check, you can make it pos­si­ble to start union­iz­ing the com­pa­ny that made you a mega-bil­lion­aire. This is the sin­gle best way to start pay­ing your moral debt to those whose lives have been treat­ed as dis­pos­able in ser­vice to Amazon’s growth. And, it will real­ly piss off Jeff Bezos. I think we would both like to see that, no? 

We’re going to have to con­fis­cate the rest of your mon­ey when the rev­o­lu­tion comes any­how. Might as well set your kar­ma right before then. 

Sin­cere­ly,

The unwashed masses

This blog originally appeared at In These Times on December 17, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Hamilton Nolan is a labor reporter for In These Times. He has spent the past decade writ­ing about labor and pol­i­tics for Gawk­er, Splin­ter, The Guardian, and else­where. 


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HOW FARMWORKERS IN MICHIGAN ARE FIGHTING FOR LABOR RIGHTS AND RESPECT

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On December 6, 2020, a federal judge heard arguments on a motion to dismiss in Reyes-Trujillo v. Four Star Greenhouse, a case brought by a group of farmworkers alleging wage and hour violations against the greenhouse company where they worked. The case illustrates why a strong Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) joint employment standard is critical to raising labor standards in the H-2A temporary agricultural visa program and providing H-2A farmworkers with a meaningful remedy for labor violations.

The plaintiffs, H-2A agricultural visa holders from México, worked for Four Star Greenhouse, a Michigan corporation that cultivates and sells plants and finished crops. Four Star engaged a farm labor contractor to recruit its workers through the H-2A visa program, which allows employers to recruit foreign nationals to the United States to work in temporary agricultural jobs.

The farm labor contractor acted as the plaintiffs’ employer by applying for their H-2A visas, transporting them to the United States, arranging for them to work at Four Star, and paying them. However, the plaintiffs worked at Four Star’s facility, under Four Star’s supervision, and for Four Star’s benefit. Four Star also arranged for their hire and paid the farm labor contractor a rate for their labor that was based on the plaintiffs’ hourly wage and hours worked.

The farmworkers allege that, while working at Four Star, they endured egregious labor violations, including not being paid for all hours worked and having their work checks bounce. The plaintiffs complained to both Four Star and the farm labor contractor that they had not been paid, after which the contractor allegedly retaliated by orchestrating the arrest and deportation of some of the plaintiffs by federal immigrant agents.

The plaintiffs, represented by the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center, Farmworker Legal Services, and Centro de Los Derechos del Migrante, sued Four Star for violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Act (AWPA) based on the wage violations and retaliation they endured.

Four Star filed a motion to dismiss the case, arguing, among other things, that it was not the plaintiffs’ employer so was not responsible under the FLSA or the AWPA.

In NELP’s amicus brief supporting the plaintiffs’ opposition to the motion to dismiss, NELP argues that Congress intended for the FLSA and the AWPA to expand accountability for labor violations to companies that insert contractors between themselves and their laborers while maintaining the economic power to prevent FLSA and AWPA violations.

The definition of “employ” in the FLSA and the AWPA—which includes “to suffer or permit to work”—is the broadest definition of employment used in a law. It derives from state child labor laws, which used the “suffer or permit to work” language to reach businesses that used middlemen to illegally hire and supervise children.   

Given this broad definition, it is clear that Congress intended both the FLSA and AWPA to cover businesses that allow work to be done for their benefit and have the power to prevent wage and hour abuses, even if they disclaim responsibility as an employer.  Because Four Star had the power to know about and prevent the egregious violations that the plaintiffs endured, it should be considered the plaintiffs’ employer under the FLSA and AWPA. 

Because Four Star had the power to know about and prevent the egregious violations that the plaintiffs endured, it should be considered the plaintiffs’ employer under the FLSA and AWPA. 

Furthermore, there is endemic exploitation in the H-2A visa program, and this exploitation cannot be curbed unless companies that hire H-2A farmworkers through farm labor contractors are held accountable. Coming from homelands with few job opportunities, H-2A workers—most of whom come from México—often arrive in the United States in serious debt, having paid significant fees and travel costs for the opportunity to work in the United States.  

Companies like Four Star that use farm labor contractors to recruit, transport, and pay H-2A migrant workers exacerbate the workers’ vulnerability to exploitation.  Labor brokers like the farm labor contractor in this case traffic in foreign workers whom they hire out to a variety of different employers.   

The workers are dependent on the farm labor contractors for their housing, food and transportation and on the agricultural operations like Four Star for their jobs and livelihood.  Many farm labor contractors have few assets, which means workers cannot obtain legal recourse from them for violations of their rights. Meanwhile the agricultural operations can attempt to avoid responsibility for their migrant workers’ exploitation by pointing the finger at the farm labor contractor. 

Meanwhile the agricultural operations can attempt to avoid responsibility for their migrant workers’ exploitation by pointing the finger at the farm labor contractor. 

This attempt to deflect responsibility is precisely what is happening in the Four Star case. Holding farm operators like Four Star accountable to their subcontracted workers as an employer will improve FLSA and AWPA compliance in an industry with rampant worker abuse.  

It will incentivize farm operators to hire H-2A visa farmworkers directly, or to choose farm labor contractors with strong compliance records and to set up procedures that detect their contractors’ unlawful labor practices. And it will increase workers’ chances of obtaining a meaningful remedy for violations of their rights.

This blog originally appeared at NELP on December 16, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Padin joined NELP in 2018 as a senior staff attorney for the Work Structures Portfolio.


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Big corporations suck the marrow out of the COVID-19 economy, leaving devastation behind them

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What’s the use of a crisis if big corporations and wealthy people can’t use it to make more money, preferably at the expense of those with less than them? I ask you! 

Well, by that standard, the coronavirus pandemic has worked out quite well. A large majority of the biggest publicly traded companies were profitable between April and September, but more than half laid off workers. Meanwhile, they watched small business revenue crash and many small businesses go under.

According to a Washington Post analysis, it breaks down like this: “45 of the 50 most valuable publicly traded U.S. companies turned a profit,” with an average of 2% revenue growth through the first nine months of the year. But at least 27 of those 50 firms had layoffs, leading to more than 100,000 people losing their jobs.

At the same time, small business revenue dropped 12%, with at least 100,000 small businesses closing.

To add insult to injury for the workers laid off by these large, profitable companies, many entered the pandemic with rah rah rhetoric about protecting their workers. Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff pledged “not to conduct any significant lay offs over the next 90 days.” He kept that promise. But about two months after that 90 days was up, Salesforce laid off 1,000 workers despite big profits.

This is 21st century corporate capitalism in action. Every disaster is an opportunity for more profit, and responsibility to the workers that make your company run is a meaningless concept. It’s one more reminder that claims about corporate tax cuts—like the ones the Republicans passed in 2017—meaning job creation should never, ever be believed. The tax cuts and the pandemic alike saw companies doing huge share buybacks to benefit the already wealthy, while workers reaped no benefit to speak of.

This blog originally appeared at Daily Kos on December 16, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson has been a contributing editor since December 2006. Clawson has been full-time staff since 2011, and is currently assistant managing editor at the Daily Kos.


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Service + Solidarity Spotlight: The Season of Giving: Labor Brightens the Holidays for Hundreds of Illinois Kids

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Working people across the United States have stepped up to help out our friends, neighbors and communities during these trying times. In our regular Service + Solidarity Spotlight series, we’ll showcase one of these stories every day. Here’s today’s story.

Dozens of members of the Bloomington & Normal (Illinois) Trades & Labor Assembly turned out on Saturday for the labor council’s annual holiday event for families in need. For the past 38 years, the labor council has sponsored a Children’s Christmas Party for low-income families. The unions provide the volunteers and logistics; the local Chamber of Commerce brings volunteers and raises the funds. Traditionally, the event is held at Bloomington High School, featuring a morning of games and a visit from Santa, with about 350–375 children participating. Because of COVID-19, this year’s event was shifted to a drive-thru event staged at the Midwest Food Bank in Normal, Illinois. Some 856 children from 318 families were served.

Every child received a gift and a candy bag, and every family received a USDA food basket and $100 gift certificate from the local newspaper, The Pantagraph. About 80 volunteers participated, prepared the gift boxes and candy bags on Dec. 11, and then helped direct traffic into the food bank warehouse, where volunteers loaded the cars. Participating unions included Laborers (LIUNA) Local 362, Painters and Allied Trades (IUPAT) District Council 30, American Federation of Teachers (AFT) Local 6038, United Association of Union Plumbers and Pipefitters (UA) Local 99, Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) Local 193, United Steelworkers (USW) Local 787, AFSCME Local 699 and Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 197.

This blog originally appeared at AFL-CIO on December 16, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Aaron Gallant is an AFL-CIO contributor.


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Union urges Small Business Administration to take a close look at hotel chain’s post-PPP layoffs

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The Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) was supposed to keep small businesses from laying off workers during the coronavirus pandemic. (Disclosure: Kos Media received a Paycheck Protection Program loan.) It hasn’t always worked out that way. Trump and Kushner businesses got loans, as did predatory payday lenders, but many of the businesses that needed the loans most were left out

UNITE HERE, the union representing hospitality workers, has set its sights on a major hotel chain that got tens of millions of dollars in PPP loans but laid off the workers at many of its hotels. In a letter to the Small Business Administration (SBA), the union calls on the SBA to “closely scrutinize” the hotels and the lending banks.

Omni hotel affiliates got a whopping $76 million across 32 PPP loans, according to UNITE HERE. But in the cases for which the union has “direct knowledge,” five hotels got nearly $15 million in loans. Despite that, “Three of them—Omni Providence, Omni San Francisco and Omni William Penn—are temporarily closed, and none of our members have been rehired or paid by the hotel. The Omni New Haven and Omni Parker House only recently reopened without all of their facilities, and the hotels have failed to recall more than 80% of our members who work at the hotels.”

This is not what the PPP was supposed to do, and it’s directly harmful to the workers. “The failure of these hotels to rehire their employees has financially harmed our members and created great uncertainty for them and their families. So far, we have not received commitments from Omni to use the loans to fully rehire the workers we represent.”

The union also sent letters to the managers of the hotels in question, noting that they appear not to be in compliance with the PPP’s terms and calling on them to rehire workers, along with letters to the banks responsible for most of the loans, calling on them to take a very close look at whether the hotels qualify for forgiveness.

“It is time for the SBA to step up and ensure that money intended to help American workers actually benefits them,” said UNITE HERE Executive Vice President Carlos Aramayo. “It is unfathomable that massive corporations like Omni have access to millions of tax-payer backed loans, while hundreds of their workers remain without a paycheck heading into the holidays.”

Rep. Katie Porter previously called for an investigation into hotel layoffs in and around her California congressional district after those hotels received PPP loans.

This blog originally appeared at Daily Kos on December 15, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson has been a contributing editor since December 2006. Clawson has been full-time staff since 2011, and is currently assistant managing editor at the Daily Kos.


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