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New York City could see 400,000 workers return next month in first phase of a long recovery

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As many as 400,000 workers could head back to work when New York City begins the first phase of its reopening in June, as the national epicenter of the crisis looks to begin a long recovery from the coronavirus shutdown. 

Mayor Bill de Blasio on Thursday laid out guidelines for businesses that will be allowed to open their doors in the coming weeks, and estimated that 200,000 to 400,000 more people will be reporting to work in person when the restart begins.

But a litany of unanswered questions remain, chief among them being how those workers can safely get around amid concerns about packed subways and buses being a conduit for the spread of Covid-19. 

De Blasio punted when asked about transportation options for a city so reliant on public transportation. 

“For the next few months, people are going to make their own choices,” he said. “Some people are going to be comfortable on mass transit, some are not.”

New York City is the only region in the state that remains under a full-fledged shutdown order. Officials estimate that some time in the first two weeks of June, it will hit the public health benchmarks needed to kick off the first phase of a gradual reopening.

When that happens, construction, manufacturing, wholesale and retail pickup will be allowed to reopen — but with a host of restrictions meant to reduce transmission of the disease.

“We’ve come a long way. We’re not going to blow it now,” de Blasio said.

Since March, all nonessential businesses have been ordered closed in the city. The resulting loss of tax revenue has cratered the city budget and put New York on track to adopt 1970’s-era budget fixes to fill what is now an estimated $9 billion hole. 

Those industries slated for the first phase of the restart include all construction sites; clothing, electronics, furniture, machinery, printing and textile manufacturing; wholesalers for chemical products, household appliances, apparel and metals; and stores selling office supplies, clothing, electronics, furniture and sporting goods. Regular retail stores will only be allowed to offer curb-side or in-store pickup.

Businesses will be mandated to keep people six feet apart, with only one person allowed in tight areas like elevators and check-out counters. They’ll have to make sure employees wear masks, and check them for symptoms each day.

The city plans to publish a detailed rule book next week, and launch a hotline for business owners with questions, de Blasio said.

Officials will do random inspections of reopening businesses, starting with warnings to correct safety violations that will escalate to fines if they don’t comply. While a handful of businesses have begun to reopen in defiance of shutdown orders, de Blasio called it “idiotic” not to wait for the official go-ahead.

The mayor did not give a specific date for when the restart will begin. “The day it happens is the day the numbers tell us we’re there,” he said.

When that happens, more riders are expected to head for the subway system, where ridership has already begun to rebound from the rock bottom levels it hit at the height of the pandemic.

De Blasio had little advice to offer New Yorkers wary of risking their health with more people on the subways and wondering how they can get around safely.

“You may see people use their cars more in the short term, if they have a car, or use for-hire vehicles for example,” he said “But that’s a short-term reality.”

The mayor said he plans to meet Thursday with MTA chairman Pat Foye and discuss setting limits on how many people the subway system can safely carry. The state-run agency has not given any estimates on passenger limits. Cities like London have said they can only carry 15 percent of their normal passenger load. 

“You’re going to see a certain number of people who their only option is to take a subway or bus, and they’ll need to come back to it,” de Blasio said. “There’s some people who are just not going to be comfortable in the short term. And I think to some extent, it will be a little bit of natural sorting out.”

More than half of city households do not own cars. De Blasio did not respond when asked if the city has any plans to use its own streets to provide safe transportation options. With billions in tax revenue lost to the crisis, he has proposed almost $11 million in cuts to existing bus and bike lane programs.

“He’s planning to fail at this moment,” said Danny Pearlstein of the Riders Alliance. “A plan of inaction is a plan for gridlock.”

This blog originally appeared at Politico on May 28, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Erin Durkin is a reporter for POLITICO New York and the co-author of New York Playbook. Before joining POLITICO, Erin wrote for The Guardian and was a City Hall reporter for the New York Daily News, where she covered the de Blasio and Bloomberg administrations and the City Council. She also reported on urban development and local politics in Brooklyn.


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The Pentagon Wants to Sacrifice Mexican and Indian Workers for U.S. Arms Industry Profits

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Sarah Lazare | Al Jazeera America

On March 20, the Pentagon issued a guideline stating that U.S manufacturers of missiles, warships and fighter jets should stay open during the Covid-19 crisis. The rationale is that the “defense industrial base” constitutes “essential” critical infrastructure for the United States. Yet we have every reason to believe that U.S. militarism, propped up by the arms industry, is making the world far more vulnerable to the pandemic.

Five years of devastating airstrikes, primarily carried out with U.S.-made weapons, have decimated Yemen’s health system just in time for Covid-19—and the bombs did not stop when the pandemic began. Instead of global cooperation, we’ve seen the United States tighten sanctions on Iran, one of the countries hardest hit by Covid-19, deploy ships to the caribbean to provoke Venezuela, and take a confrontational posture towards China. Now, U.S. workers are being asked to risk their lives—or, as one union that represents General Dynamics workers in Maine put it, become “sacrificial lambs”—so that the U.S. war machine can keep humming. Meanwhile, far from the assembly lines and plant floors, the CEOs of companies like Lockheed Martin and Raytheon are safeguarding their profits. These are the same executives who enjoy influence in the Trump administration, whose Secretary of Defense, Mark Esper, is a former lobbyist for Raytheon.

But now we are seeing a new dimension to this injustice. To protect the flow of supplies to U.S. military contractors, the Pentagon is pressuring Mexico and India to keep factories open, at the peril of Mexican and Indian workers. However bankrupt the argument that U.S. weapons manufacturers must stay open to protect American interests, it is outright brutish for the Pentagon to impose this standard on other countries. Workers in Mexico and India have no say in the actions of the U.S. government or military, yet they are being asked to put their lives at risk for America’s “national security.”

Covid-19 is spreading rapidly in Mexico, where factories are sources of major outbreaks. In mid-April, Mexico’s Undersecretary of Health, Hugo López-Gatell, warned that factories that continued to operate, despite orders for non-essential businesses to shut down, threatened to become major vectors of the disease and unleash an outbreak in northern border states.

Yet, just days later, in an April 20 press briefing, Undersecretary of Defense Ellen Lord said that “several pockets of closure internationally” are impacting the “aviation supply chain, ship-building and small space launch.” She stated, “I spoke with our U.S. Ambassador to Mexico on Friday, and today, I am writing the Mexican Foreign Minister to ask for help to reopen international suppliers there. These companies are especially important for our U.S. airframe production.” While Lord did not specify which U.S. companies she was referring to, several U.S. military contractors have subsidiaries in Mexico, including Lockheed Martin and Honeywell, according to a U.S. International Trade Commission report from 2013. In an April 21 earnings call, a Lockheed Martin official indicated that the company sees it as a priority that vital suppliers in Mexico stay open.

The Pentagon was not the only powerful U.S. entity that joined in this pressure campaign. In an April 24 special briefing, Michael Kozak, acting Assistant Secretary at the State Department, said, “Our embassy and here in Washington has been working very closely with Mexico, advocating for American firms.” He added, “And I think we’re making progress on that.” Meanwhile, on April 22, more than 300 corporate presidents, chairs and CEOs wrote a letter to Mexico’s President, Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO), to keep open manufacturers deemed by the United States to be “essential and critical.”

These joint efforts appear to have been effective. Ten days after her initial remarks about Mexico, Lord indicated in another press briefing that U.S. pressure had been successful. “While I won’t provide any numbers, we have seen positive results,” she said. “I am thankful to our U.S. ambassador in Mexico, and to the government of Mexico, who has taken great strides to evaluate firms and their contribution to U.S. National Security requirements.”

Her admission that Mexico is being compelled to put its workers at risk in the service of U.S. “national security” is striking. What’s more, Lord revealed that U.S. corporations had a seat at the table when this pressure was discussed. “I have had ongoing conversations with our U.S. ambassador to Mexico, U.S. corporate CEOs, members of the House and Senate, as well as other officials in the State Department over the past two weeks to highlight key companies constraining our domestic defense supply chain in order to catalyze re-openings in Mexico,” she said. “We appreciate Mexico’s ongoing positive response.” (The Washington Post reported on May 1 that Mexico’s President AMLO “has not clarified whether U.S. defense or health-care manufacturers should remain open.”)

In a statement for a Defense News article published April 21, Eric Fanning, the president and CEO of the Aerospace Industries Association, attempted to present the subservience of Mexican workers’ lives to U.S. arms manufacturers’ interests as a form of mutually-beneficial synchronization in the spirit of the Trump administration’s new U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade deal, slated to take effect July 1. “To restore certainty and keep goods and services moving, all levels of government within the U.S., Canada, and Mexico must work together to provide clear, coordinated, and direct guidance about how best to protect our workers, while ensuring aerospace and defense is declared an ‘essential’ function in all three countries,” he said.

The claim that a few months of slowed or stopped production presents a threat to the U.S. military apparatus is untrue on its face. The United States, by far, has the largest military in the world: In 2019 the country accounted for 38% of all global military spending, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). The United States is also the top arms exporter by a long shot, delivering weapons to 96 countries from 2015 to 2019, according to a separate SIPRI finding. What’s more, this industry has grown significantly over the past five years, with U.S. arms exports from 2015 to 2019 23% higher than 2015 to 19. The idea that this massive industry can not pause to protect the lives of workers without threatening the U.S. military fails on its own, violent logic.

Meanwhile, some Mexican workers have vociferously objected to being asked to work during the pandemic for U.S. companies. In mid-April, protests took hold in Ciudad Juárez, near the U.S. border, after workers for U.S. companies died, as Reuters reports. “These companies are worried about their supply chains, but it’s the workers who are dying,” Susana Prieto Terrazas, a labor activist in Ciudad Juárez, told the Washington Post amid protests against the Michigan-based Lear Corp., which makes car seats. “And if all they do is export, how is that essential to Mexico?”

It is not immediately clear which suppliers or subsidiaries to U.S. military contractors in Mexico have remained open as a result of pressure from the Pentagon, and whether any deaths can be directly attributed to the Pentagon’s actions. However, even keeping a single factory open for the good of U.S. military contractors presents an unacceptable risk to the workers being asked to clock in.

Mexican workers don’t appear to be the only ones being asked to make a sacrifice for the U.S. military industry. In her April 30 statement, Lord indicated, while providing no details, that the United States is applying similar pressure to India. “We’re also watching India very closely,” she said. “India has mandated closure of businesses, which is impacting defense sector primes. India is a major defense partner, and we hope they can all stay safe while transitioning back to an operational status.” This followed a brief statement she made in her April 20 remarks: “Mexico right now is somewhat problematical for us, but we’re working through our Embassy, and then there are pockets in India, as well.”

According to researchers at Johns Hopkins University, there are currently 42,836 confirmed Covid-19 cases in India, yet it has one of the lowest testing rates in the world, so numbers could be far higher. With a population of 1.3 billion and just 0.55 hospital beds per 1,000 people, a full-blown outbreak in the country could be catastrophic.

The U.S. military was already in the business of sacrificing the wellbeing of ordinary people all over the world to maintain its dominance. We see this in its 800 military bases across the planet, which erode self-determination and environmental safety around the world. We also see it in the military’s ongoing wars, occupations, drone strikes and proxy battles—which have persisted, and in some cases escalated—during the pandemic. And we have seen this in the Pentagon’s request for billions in the next stimulus package, demanding a bailout for arms industry CEOs while 30 million people in the United States are newly unemployed. That the Pentagon is now demanding workers in other countries risk their lives for the sake of protecting its U.S. contractors shines new light on the cruelty of the U.S. military, and on the folly of allowing systems designed to carry out war to determine what constitutes “essential” work.

This article was published at In These Times on May 4, 2020. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Sarah Lazare is web editor at In These Times. She comes from a background in independent journalism for publications including The Nation, Tom Dispatch, YES! Magazine, and Al Jazeera America. Her article about corporate exploitation of the refugee crisis was honored as a top censored story of 2016 by Project Censored. A former staff writer for AlterNet and Common Dreams, Sarah co-edited the book About Face: Military Resisters Turn Against War.


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Search Results Web results Workers Won’t Quit Just to Get a Marginally Increased Benefit

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Unemployment insurance (UI) is a program designed to keep workers connected to the workforce. It is an earned benefit that allows workers to receive income while they are looking for a job. Any notion that workers will not return to work when it is safe to do so ignores not only evidence but also the intention of the unemployment insurance system.

UI benefits have always been a critical, yet insufficient wage replacement. The weekly benefit in states with the best benefits generally covers around 50 percent of a worker’s lost wages, allowing for some income during instances of unemployment, while remaining woefully inadequate to cover all expenses. This is particularly true if unemployed people worked in jobs that paid minimum or low wages.

Making ends meet when making 100 percent wages is hard enough for underpaid workers, never mind trying to do so making only – or less than – half of that. That is why the new Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (PUC) program, which temporarily provides an additional $600 weekly to qualified unemployed workers (on top of their regular state unemployment benefits) is so important to workers – and to our ability to counter this economic downturn.

We should be asking ourselves why underpaid workers – who will hopefully be making closer to or above their regular wages, allowing for greater economic stability in these uncertain times – are being expected to labor for too little money in the first place. Wages have stagnated for decades. People cannot live on the wages they are making, much less on an unemployment benefit that is a fraction of that.

Right now, our concern should be focused on making sure that workers are able to maintain an adequate income. This benefit boost is necessary in part because states have lowered their unemployment insurance benefit levels to the point where they cannot effectively provide countercyclical stabilization during a recession.

As NELP has reported repeatedly, the real problem is that too many workers who qualify for benefits cannot access them. As we have seen across the country, filing for unemployment insurance can be arduous.

When we see workers standing in line for paper applications for unemployment insurance, workers spending hours on hold while trying to apply over the phone, or the crashing of computer systems, we should focus on making sure everyone who lost work can get their benefit instead of worrying about the extremely unlikely scenario that underpaid workers will quit to get unemployment benefits.

There are more than a few reasons to call this idea into question. First, of all, under every state unemployment law in the country, a person who quits work in order to receive an unemployment check will be found ineligible for benefits. There are some situations (mostly adverse changes in wages, hours, and working conditions) that can be regarded as good cause to leave a job; the prospect of a higher unemployment benefit is not one of them.

Second, several guidance letters issued by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration have made it clear that quitting work to receive unemployment benefits can be fraud – workers know this because the few stories about fraud are used by anti-worker, anti-UI proponents to represent all workers and hurt a system that can support all. Workers are informed before applying that they cannot claim benefits for which they do not qualify and if they do, they will need to pay them back, and may even face steep financial penalties.

Moreover, it’s short-sighted to overlook how critical it is for workers to maintain their connection to a job right now. For so many people, there is more to a job than the paycheck. Workers can share a sense of camaraderie with their coworkers. They can find personal meaning in their jobs. If nothing else, work can provide a sense of stability for individuals and families.

In these highly uncertain times, the reassurance of continued work is something that more and more workers can no longer count on. It may be the source of health care benefits, retirement security, and possibly equity in the company. Workers are also well aware of how resume gaps can harm long-term job prospects, even in this era.

Policymakers need to learn the lesson of the last recession, which many individuals,  families and communities,  never recovered from. The response to the last recession did not inject enough money and was not sustained enough to ensure that communities actually recovered.

The families and communities that were most harmed in the last recession, unsurprisingly, were disproportionately people of color and women – who already were dealing with generational racial wealth gaps and gender wage gaps. Today, we are in an economic crisis with workers in a worse place economically than before. Communities cannot afford for policymakers to aim low in terms of emergency aid.

It is concerning that states like Georgia, Alabama, and Tennessee are “re-opening” their economies and encouraging workers to go back to work. If shutting off access to unemployment insurance is any motivator behind this decision, it is sure to backfire. As public health officials warn, the more people who are forced to go back to work, the greater the risk to their health and safety and the cascading effects.

As we see shockingly disproportionate numbers of Black people dying, we know that racism and classism are not only the root cause of economic abandonment but also encapsulate our entire response in this moment.

More workers getting sick and overwhelming the health care system will prolong the duration of the pandemic and the number of people being infected, while also exacerbating economic problems in the future. The rush to reopen will ironically lengthen the duration of the crisis and worsen long-term economic conditions – particularly for underpaid workers of color and women of color.

Any argument being made that is not focused on ensuring all workers have the income needed to survive in this moment is ignoring a very important lesson: providing people with economic security is the answer to economic stability in good times, and to recovery after times of crisis. After all, the economy doesn’t exist without workers.

This article was originally published at NELP on April 27, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Michele Evermore joined NELP in 2018 as a senior policy analyst for social insurance. She has worked to promote worker power as a legislative advocate for labor unions, including the Service Employees International Union District 1199 New England and National Nurses United. She also worked for the Obama Department of Labor to advance sound benefits policy, employment policy for people with disabilities, and equal pay for equal work. Prior to that, she worked in Congress for a decade, primarily for Senator Tom Harkin and also for the House Committee on Education and the Workforce. In those roles, she worked to advance worker protections, organizing rights, and improving retirement security in a variety of private pension plan designs, as well as Social Security.


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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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Defend Global Supply Chain Workers Facing the COVID-19 Pandemic

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Brian Finnegan (@finneganba) | Twitter

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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Big Win on Back Pay: Worker Wins

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Our latest roundup of worker wins begins with a victory on back pay for NABET-CWA workers at CNN and includes numerous examples of working people organizing, bargaining and mobilizing for a better life. 

NABET-CWA Workers Win $76 Million in Back Pay from CNN: Locals 11 and 31 of NABET-CWA have negotiated one of the largest back pay settlements in the history of the NLRB. CNN is required to bay $76 million to hundreds of broadcast technicians who were fired when CNN terminated a subcontract with Team Video Services. NABET-CWA President Charlie Braico said: “After more than 15 years, this settlement agreement finally delivers justice for workers who experienced serious hardship in their lives due to CNN’s union-busting practices. This incredible settlement in workers’ favor should send a very clear message to CNN and to other employers that union-busting is illegal and has consequences.”

University of California-Santa Cruz Trades Workers End Strike with New Contract: Dozens of carpenters, plumbers, electricians and other trades workers at the University of California, Santa Cruz, ended a strike with victory as they ratified a new contract representing for the 49 AFSCME Local 3299 members. Electrician Joe Baxter said: “I’m just really proud of our people that we held the line and were able to get a fair and good contract. In the end, I felt like UCSC came through and gave us a fair contract.”

King County, Washington, Water District Workers Win New Contract: Members of the Operating Engineers (IUOE) Local 302 capped months of negotiations with a victory as the commissioners of King County Water District 19 approved a union contract, the first in the district’s history. Shop steward Dominic Jovanovich said: “It was definitely tense at first, but we knew our supporters would come out for us and show solidarity because we know that organized labor is strong together. We were happy the board made the right decision and we’re excited to move forward.”

Joliet Marijuna Workers Join UFCW: A majority of the 95 employees at the Cresco Labs marijuana cultivation facility in Joliet, Illinois, voted to join the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW). This is the first successful organizing drive in Illinois since recreational marijuana use was legalized. The workers are seeking better pay and more comprehensive health benefits.

Sports Illustrated Editorial Employees Vote for NewsGuild Representation: More than 90% of the editorial employees have voted to join the The NewGuild of New York-CWA. The new unit covers some 80 writers, editors, producers and other editorial staff in print, digital and video. Top issues for the workers are job security, severance, layoff protections, pay equity, workplace safety, diversity in hiring and advancement, and a voice in editorial strategy. Senior writer Jenny Vrentas said: “As journalists, we hold the teams and athletes we cover accountable. It is our responsibility to do the same in our own workplace. We are unionizing to ensure that Sports Illustrated is a safe, inclusive place to work, where all employees are treated equally and can continue to perform our jobs at a high level.”

Google Cafeteria Workers Join UNITE HERE: Approximately 2,300 cafeteria workers at Google campuses in the California Bay Area have voted to be represented by UNITE HERE. The workers are technically employed by a subcontractor, Compass Group, through its subsidiary, Bon Appétit Management Co. Compass and UNITE HERE are negotiating the first contract for the unit.

NewsGuild Members at The New Republic Ratify Ambitious Contract: Newsroom workers at The New Republic unionized in 2018 in the wake of the #MeToo movement. Now those workers have secured their first contract, which contains ambitious diversity provisions, progressive policy to prevent sexual harassment, and industry-leading intellectual property and privacy rights. Unit Chair Alex Shephard said: “This contract solidifies an important goal behind why we organized: To protect and live the values that The New Republic has espoused in its pages for over 100 years. The strength of our union is reflected in this contract, and I’m proud to have stood alongside fellow Guild members in crafting an agreement that fosters an environment of collaboration, transparency, growth, and sustainability.” 

St. Louis Metro Workers Secure New Contract: The negotiations took months, but the members of Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 788 won a new contract from St. Louis Metro Transit. Some 1,500 working people voted to approve the new contract, which includes higher starting pay, protections against rising insurance costs, and increased pay for night and weekend work. Overall, wages and benefits for the workers will see an increase of $26 million over three years. Reggie Howard, president of Local 788, said: “It was a long fight. But we feel really good about it.”

USW Members at Clearwater Paper Agree on New Contract: Workers at Clearwater Paper have been working without a contract since 2017. The members of United Steelworkers (USW) Local 712 approved an agreement that would cover more than 800 employees. Contract negotiations have been long and contentious with the membership almost unanimously rejecting what Clearwater previously said was its last and best offer. The new contract runs through 2025.

Food and Water Workers’ Union Voluntarily Recognized: Nearly 80 workers at Food & Water Action (and its affiliated organization, Food & Water Watch) from around the country voted to be represented by the Nonprofit Professionals Employee Union (NPEU), IFTPE Local 70. Management will voluntarily recognize the new unit. The workers said: “As an organization, we advocate for union power in the WATER Act and a real Green New Deal because we recognize the critical importance of protecting union labor and not leaving workers behind in our fight for a better world. We believe that a union will allow us to truly live up to our values; will give us a tangible way to promote diversity, equity and inclusion in our workplace; and will show the rest of the world how truly invested we are in the right of workers to make a fair living on a livable planet.”

This blog was originally published by the AFL-CIO on April 3, 2020. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Kenneth Quinnell is a long-time blogger, campaign staffer and political activist. Before joining the AFL-CIO in 2012, he worked as labor reporter for the blog Crooks and Liars.


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What Workers Have Already Won in the Face of Coronavirus

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The coronavirus pandemic has laid bare the stark reality of the United States: our inadequate, for-profit health care system, our precarious employment conditions, and the deep inequality that is foundational to our society. But it’s also shown us that when things get dire enough, the working class fights back. Over the last few weeks, in dealing with the outbreak of the coronavirus, people across the United States have organized at their workplaces, and also won major reforms in the housing sector. Workers’ consciousness about the cruelty of our profit-driven society—and about their own power—is being raised by the day, thanks to the failure of government leadership. While it’s likely that we will enter a recession or even depression soon, workers are still fighting for what they deserve—and that struggle must continue after the pandemic passes.

While many workers have lost hours or even been laid off in the last few weeks, others have made advances in various industries amid the crisis, including securing paid time off and health and safety guarantees. Teachers in New York City forced Mayor Bill De Blasio to close city schools under threat of a mass sick-out, workers shut down a Chrysler plant near Detroit over concerns about how the company was dealing with the virus, and workers at McDonald’s won 14 days of paid sick leave, albeit only at corporate stores which account for about 5% of the fast food giants’ restaurants.

In Philadelphia, city library workers moved a petition among themselves, patrons and the larger community to demand both the closure of public libraries and paid time off for all workers, even those who are not members of the union. The petition dropped in the morning on Monday, March 16, and by Tuesday evening, it had over 4,000 signatures, and the workers won their demands. Terra Oliveira, an after-school leader at the Philadelphia Free Library, told In These Times, “Our access to paid leave and our basic rights shouldn’t be something that we have to fight for every single time there’s a crisis.” Non-union library workers have been organizing with their union colleagues for about a year, building the infrastructure necessary to deal with our current crisis.

Similarly, the housing movement has long fought for moratoriums on evictions and utility shut-offs. Both have felt like far-off possibilities, the absolute peak of what we could win in a perfect storm of political will and power. But Tara Raghuveer, campaign director of the Homes Guarantee Plan at People’s Action, told In These Times that “the pandemic is showing us what has always been possible, and what that means is that it’s always been possible to end the practice of eviction.” Because of the seriousness of coronavirus, organizers and activists have won either moratoriums on evictions or utility shut-offs in cities and states across the country, including Philadelphia, San Jose, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York, Massachusetts, and Kentucky. The coronavirus crisis is revealing what was true before: It is unconscionable to abandon people who are houseless or without work.  “This has opened up tremendous space to ask for more and win more,” Raghuvver said.

The apparent ease with which these long fought for reforms were granted demonstrates that it is—and has always been—well within the power of the state and corporations to acquiesce to our demands. It also shows that it isn’t the benevolence of politicians and CEOs that has secured these victories, but worker organizing. If workers hadn’t been demanding paid sick time and eviction moratoriums for years, we never would have won them now. “Now that these demands have been won during this emergency crisis, there is so much more solidarity and communication among library workers that wasn’t there before. We will continue to fight,” said library worker Oliveira.

The state spends exorbitant amounts of money when it’s capital that’s feeling the pain, a fact illustrated by the dramatic financial actions being taken or considered to keep the economy afloat during the pandemic: a $1.5 trillion loan by the Federal Reserve to inject into capital markets; an $8 billion spending package to fight the coronavirus; and a nearly $1 trillion stimulus bill being considered at the time of this writing. These options obliterate the notion that money doesn’t exist to pay for programs like a Green New Deal, free college, free childcare, housing for all and various other social programs.

When it comes to spending to meet the needs of the millions of ordinary people who are hurting right now, politicians can’t muster the will. While the Democratic Party postures as recognizing and responding to this need in contrast to Trump, the proposals they’ve so far offered have been offensively mediocre and inadequate. H.R. 6201, trumpeted by Nancy Pelosi and House Democrats, offers paid sick leave benefits to only 20% of U.S. private sector workers—a figure that does not include informal economy workers. Former presidential candidate Kamala Harris also promoted a bill she had introduced that would give workers $500 each month—a pittance compared to the $2,000 per month cash payments to U.S. households floated by sen. Bernie Sanders.

We are heading into almost unprecedented economic territory—a potential 20% unemployment rate if our leaders don’t act now. More and more workers are facing the prospect of losing hours and even being laid off, as many major cities, municipalities and states impose shut downs for businesses except those classified as essential industries. Already, nearly one in five U.S. workers reports losing hours or work altogether since the onset of the coronavirus crisis earlier this month. We can expect that number to balloon in coming weeks and months as the public health crisis—and the ensuing economic crisis—continues to deepen. 

Some are trying using this crisis to fortify the tyrannical power employers have over workers’ lives. In Minnesota, Governor Tim Walz just suspended some collective bargaining rights for state employees, citing the need for “flexibility… during this peacetime emergency.” As workers unite to demand what we’ve always deserved, and the crisis deepens, some politicians and bosses will undoubtedly use this as an opportunity to ram through more neoliberal reforms that dismantle our rights and public institutions.

Conventional wisdom might suggest that in times of economic hardship, workers have the least power and leverage based on the scarcity of jobs and desperation for whatever we can get to provide for ourselves and our families. But strike activity and worker organizing is on the rise, the Bernie Sanders campaign program is raising political expectations, and workers are winning in the face of this pandemic. It’s reasonable to believe that when things “return to normal”—if that ever happens—politicians and bosses will attempt to take back all that we’ve won. They’ll try to strip paid sick leave from workers, and to reinstate evictions. But we mustn’t let them. Like Oliveira said, “It feels like only the beginning.” 

This article was originally published at InTheseTimes on March 17, 2020. Reprinted with permission.About the Author: Mindy Isser works in the labor movement and lives in Philadelphia.



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Coronavirus Prevention That Works For Working People

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America isn’t ready for coronavirus. In the last 24 hours, millions of school children across the country have been told to stay home for two weeks, or even longer. This is an important public health step to stop the spread, but it also means parents can’t go to work. 

I’m fixing lunch for a 9 and 12 year old as I write this. And I’m one of the lucky ones who is able to telecommute. Millions of Americans are not so lucky. 

In addition to the countless schools and businesses that are moving to telecommuting or closures, we’re also hearing from the CDC that if you are sick you should stay home, other than to seek medical treatment. 

And yet, we have to ask, exactly how are the third of Americans without paid sick days supposed to follow this advice?

Likewise the nearly 90 million Americans who are uninsured or underinsured are already sick with worry that if they contract the coronavirus they won’t be able to get treatment. 

This pandemic threatens to go from very bad to a whole lot worse simply because of our chronic disinvestment in the health and economic security of millions of Americans. The level of danger and risk we now face is directly related to our policy failures. 

Democrats in Congress are moving as fast they can on a policy response to the coronavirus that puts our health and safety first with paid sick days, enhanced unemployment insurance, food security, strong protections for frontline workers, widespread and free coronavirus testing, anti-price gouging protections from surprise medical billing, and increased capacity for the medical system. 

The reality is that these are all things that progressives have spent a very long time fighting for–guaranteed health care, paid sick days and family leave, an end to surprise medical billing, and a strong social safety net. Republicans on the other hand, have blocked them at every turn. 

And now we’re seeing the fallout from Republican indifference to low-income and middle-class families in real time: A Pennsylvania man and his young daughter were recently evacuated from Wuhan, China. When his daughter started coughing, they did the responsible thing and went to the hospital to get checked out. They were quarantined for a few days, and ultimately tested negative for the virus. When the medical bill for $3,918 arrived, he was stunned.  Almost 40 percent of people in the U.S. can’t afford a $400 emergency bill, let alone nearly $4,000. How many times has this scene played out already at kitchen tables across America? 

Just the other day, a family member told me her prescriptions were filled by a pharmacy tech who sneezed her way through the transaction. When asked why she didn’t go home to rest, the pharmacy tech said, “they won’t let me.” How many vulnerable people were exposed to cold or flu, or potentially worse, by that one pharmacy tech? Seven in ten low-wage workers can’t take time off to go to the doctor when they are sick or stay home from work without putting their jobs on the line. This is playing out in restaurants, stores, and yes, even pharmacies all across America.

When the 2008 recession hit, we engineered a massive bank bailout. If we can bail out the banks in a matter of days, we can provide guaranteed health care and workplace protections that our fellow Americans need to stay healthy and avoid getting the rest of us sick. We’ve also got to learn the lessons of 2008 and make sure we bail out the people who need it most.  Economic stimulus should focus on low- and middle income families, not tax giveaways or poorly structured bailouts that help Wall Street but leave Main Street in the dust. 

When it comes to a highly contagious virus like COVID-19 (or the flu for that matter), we’re all in this together. We have to make it possible for everyone to actually follow the CDC’s advice. That’s why Congress and the Trump administration must take action to ensure everyone can get tested, everyone has the guaranteed health care they need to get treated, everyone can stay home if they or a loved one are sick, and everyone can survive an economic slowdown. 

It should not take a terrifying national emergency for us to wake up to the realization that we all pay the price when we treat people like they don’t matter. Medicare for All, paid family leave, universal child care, a robust social safety net. These things are not a wish list. They are essentials. Now is the time to put the basic foundation in place that will make us all safer and more secure in good times, and more resilient when disaster strikes. 

This article was originally posted on Our Future on March 13, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Liz Watson is the executive director of the Congressional Progressive Caucus Center. She is the former labor policy director of the House Education and Labor Committee and a former Democratic nominee for Congress in Indiana’s 9th Congressional district. 


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How to Help Your Employees Become More Productive

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Has your productivity been lagging? Are you struggling to find ways to inspire yourself to work harder for you? Are you inspired by your boss? Perhaps you are trying the wrong tactics. Instead of focusing on what your employer can do for you, why don’t you consider what you can do to improve your life at work?

Here are some suggestions on ways you can improve productivity in the workplace. We think you may be surprised by our advice.

Take afternoon walks.

We all feel that afternoon slump. Our eyes begin to get sleepy, and we lose our ability to concentrate. Some companies fight this problem by offering free coffee or caffeinated soda to employees to give them an energy burst. But having caffeine late in the afternoon may cause you to not be able to fall asleep at bedtime. Instead, maybe try going on a brisk walk outside. Not only will this combat sleepiness, but you could encourage your whole work crew outside at the same time to have a team-building exercise.

Create a more ergonomic workstation.

Perhaps you feel like you’re not performing well because you’re in constant pain. Maybe your backs hurt from the chair they provided you, or your wrists hurt from utilizing a keyboard with little wrist support. Make sure your work stations follow OSHA’s guidelines.

Even if your desks and chairs at work are supposed to be designed with comfort in mind, you could still suffer from back pain. Just as people use a wedge pillow to get better sleep, you may consider bringing a wedge pillow for your chair. A pain-free employee is a productive employee. You should let your employer know that you’re doing this to make yourself more productive and that it isn’t necessarily distracting at all. If anything, this has saved you hours from driving home to work more comfortably or even taking too many breaks during the day.

Take work-from-home days

Are you concerned that working from home will reduce productivity? Why not give it a try? Giving yourself a chance to work from home at least once a week may inspire you to increase productivity to extend the benefit.

There are many benefits to working from home. Not only is less time wasted on commuting, but your staff is less likely to share sicknesses and spend time around the “water cooler.”

Make your schedule flexible

Not every person in your office is a morning person, so why force yourself to have the same schedule?

Flexible scheduling will also benefit you if you’re a parent of young children or caring for elderly family members. This not only will allow you more time to spend time caring for them, but also give you the freedom to finish any project at any time that you feel most productive. If you’re more a productive night person, then this can help you be a better employee.

Work in a quiet work environment

Whoever designed cubicles for offices must not have ever had to concentrate while working. It’s difficult for some people to focus when they hear their coworkers’ phone conversations, the constant thump of the bathroom door, and the chatty Kathy loudly talking about her last date.

If you are able to work in an office space by yourself, do so. At a minimum, always open up that conversation with your boss or assign a quiet workstation for people in your office.

Utilize in-house childcare

If you’re a new parent, you may be continuously distracted if you have to worry about how your newborn infant is doing at the babysitter across town. If you have an in-house daycare at your workplace, you will know if something is out of the ordinary. Also, you won’t have to leave as quickly at quitting time when you know that you can simply pick up your child on the way out of the office.

Create a healthy work environment

Employees will be more productive and happier people if they eat right and exercise. Do what you can to promote healthy living at work. Perhaps this means that you will hold a contest each week to see what team records the most number of steps for your office. Maybe you could suggest the human resources department offer a free salad bar once a week to employees at lunch. Also, consider taking up that insurance policy that offers free counseling and other mental health services.

Schedule meetings for later in the day

Are you wasting the most productive part of your workday by hosting meetings in the morning? If you’re a part of a staff full of “morning people,” they may arrive at the office ready to tackle their inbox and cross items off of their to-do list.

Having staff meetings toward “quitting time” could encourage your staff to be more unified. Instead of one person always playing the devil’s advocate, your team will be encouraged to work together.

We hope that these ideas will help you find a way to increase productivity in the workplace.

Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Susan Ranford is an expert on job market trends, hiring, and business management. She is the Community Outreach Coordinator for New York Jobs. In her blogging and writing, she seeks to shed light on issues related to employment, business, and finance to help others understand different industries and find the right job fit for them. Follow her on Twitter @SusanRanford.


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Bloomberg aides cut loose despite yearlong employment promise

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Mike Bloomberg’s shuttered presidential campaign is dismissing staffers across the country and inviting them to reapply for jobs on his new independent committee — despite extending guarantees of being paid through the November election when they were hired.

The consolation prize: They get to keep their Bloomberg-issued iPhones and MacBooks.

Multiple Bloomberg aides told POLITICO they participated in termination calls with the campaign on Monday. Some of them complained after the calls that they were originally told they would be paid by Bloomberg though the November general election regardless of whether he remained in the race. Most staffers will receive their last paycheck on March 31, sources said.

After a poor showing on Super Tuesday, Bloomberg dropped out and endorsed Joe Biden. The former New York mayor is now underwriting an outside effort to help Democrats defeat President Donald Trump.

Hiring materials from Bloomberg headquarters shared with POLITICO stated that regardless of what happened, field organizers could expect to have a job with “Team Bloomberg” through November, though it didn’t promise interviewees where they would be based. It outlined that organizers would be paid $6,000 a month, plus a $5,000 relocation stipend and full health, dental and vision benefits.

“Employment through November 2020 with Team Bloomberg (location not guaranteed),” the document stated.

The Bloomberg campaign has said it plans to remain active in six battleground states and could give priority to the aides still on payroll. But it’s unclear how many positions the new independent expenditure will have.

A Bloomberg spokesperson said it was always the campaign’s intention to keep its staffers employed in the six battleground states where the pro-Biden effort will be carried out: Arizona, Florida, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan.

“As we’ve said over the course of the campaign, this election will come down to six battleground states,” the spokesperson said. “It’s imperative that we invest there with staff and infrastructure. Staff who were working in non-battleground states and would like to learn about future opportunities in the battleground states are being asked to let us know so we can consider them for jobs there.”

One Bloomberg campaign source said aides in those states have been asked to submit their personal plans through the general electionto Bloomberg’s team.

The outside effort has not been given an official name, and the billionaire has not released how much he intends to spend on it, though he had previously said he would shell out up to $1 billion of his more than $60 billion personal wealth on his own election. (As of his Jan. 31 filing, the most recent available, he had spent nearly $500 million on his campaign.)

Bloomberg has said he would assist any Democrat in defeating Trump, though Bernie Sanders has said he would not accept Bloomberg’s money. (Because “independent expenditures” cannot be coordinated with any campaign, he wouldn’t have much say in the matter, anyway.) The new campaign apparatus will also fund down-ballot Democrats in key House and Senate races, an aide said.

It will work alongside Hawkfish, a digital company that Bloomberg set up last spring to work for Democrats in races across the country. Hawkfish operated in tandem with the Bloomberg campaign but maintained a separate corporate structure.

Federal rules require Bloomberg designate a new vehicle to fund Democratic efforts and pay staffers. Three aides who were on different calls with the campaign said those possible jobs with the outside group were not presented as being guaranteed.

Said a staffer, “I think they are using the FEC regulations as an excuse to lay off a bunch of people” because they have to set up a new entity.

After hearing from the campaign Monday, a Bloomberg field organizer sent a mass email to other staffers that was obtained by POLITICO, also saying they expected to be paid though the general election.

“If you were told the same thing, please contact me at my personal email,” the aide wrote.

“I didn’t think I was going to have to apply for a job,” a different Bloomberg aide told POLITICO. “It was presented as being automatic. Field organizers were told during interviews that they had a guaranteed job through November.”

But, the aide added, “I don’t know if I want a job with Bloomberg, anyway. There are going to be so many opportunities — everything under the sun will be guns blazing to take out Trump. And I’m not sure what Bloomberg’s contribution is going to be to that fight.”

This article was originally published at Politico on March 9, 2020. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Sally Goldenberg is City Hall bureau chief for POLITICO New York. She joined the team in October 2013 to cover New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration, with a focus on budget and labor contracts. She also spent three years covering the city’s housing and economic development agenda.

Previously, Sally covered the New York City Council and former Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration for the New York Post. She also reported for the Staten Island Advance (July 2005 to May 2008), and covered municipal government for the New Jersey Star-Ledger (December 2002 to June 2005) and the Hillsborough Beacon (June through December 2002).

A native of Elizabeth, New Jersey, Sally now lives in Brooklyn. She has a bachelor’s degree in Journalism from Rutgers University.

About the Author: Christopher Cadelago is a National Political Reporter.


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