Category Archives: Labor Organizing

Where’s the Health and Safety Plan?

New Orleans      Leaders and members of Local 100 United Labor Unions finally had enough of working on the frontlines without proper protection against the coronavirus in nursing homes, supported living centers, human development centers, transportation, sanitation, cleaning, schools, head start centers, and public-facing offices.  OSHA, the Occupational Safety & Health Administration, requires every workplace to contain a copy of the company’s health and safety plan.  Local 100 members working for sixty different employers, public and private, came together on one day to go into their employers’ offices and demand to see the plan.

None of this came out of the blue, given the shutdown, CDC regulations, and nature of the services provided by the daily labor of Local 100 members. This concern had been a matter of constant discussion in the workplace between Local 100 stewards and supervisors, Local 100 representatives and employers.  Early in the pandemic when clients of ResCare turned positive and workers were unprotected, Local 100 filed a formal complaint with OSHA.  We’re still waiting for action.

Some workplaces have been better than others, certainly, while others have pretended that they needed to do little, slow walking everything from clear policies to protect workers and clients to inadequate personal protection gear.  Local 100, working with #NOLAPPE-Last Mile, has distributed literally thousands of face masks, shields, and isolation gowns to our workers in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas.  As one of our Shreveport stewards working at Caddo Head Start told the press on all-union-action-day, “We are constantly cleaning, and I’ve purchased my own masks and my own shoe covers.”

Local 100 sent requests to all their employers in recent weeks formally requesting a copy of each employer’s OSHA mandated health and safety plan.  The response was underwhelming.  One of the nursing homes in Shreveport responded.  A couple of head start companies complied in Houston and Shreveport.  At best it was a smattering at the headquarters level.  At the workplace level, Local 100 members reported never having seen the plan or informed of its existence.

Enough.

Local 100 members in a coordinated multi-state, multi-city action in full-PPE confronted supervisors in hundreds of our workplaces with all of our employers demanding to see a copy of the plan, while alerting the public and media about the action.   We’re still getting reports back on how many of workers successfully accessed reports.  We’ll count them up, and file more complaints with OSHA on the unavailability of the reports.  We will get them.

Once we have them, then the next step in Local 100’s Health & Safety Campaign, will be making sure the plans actually make workers’ health and safety a priority in the guidelines and a reality in practice.  This should have been the easy part, the harder parts are still to come.

Local 100 members are fed up.   Local 100 members are in it to win it.

It’s a fight that needs to happen everywhere.

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Unions are Feeling the Love, While Weaker

Pearl River     Even here along the Gulf Coast and Mississippi River, the temperature has edged down a couple of degrees, signaling Labor Day’s arrival.  In my time this meant school was starting and no matter what the thermometer read, it was fall, doggone it, and time to pull out the long-sleeved shirts and get ready to hump it for another year.

Labor Day now means union-time for me, not school days.  At the Regional Transit Authority where we represent workers along with the Amalgamated Transit Union and the electricians, they are grilling hot dogs and hamburgers under the breezeway at the A. Philip Randolph RTA building.  Maybe the Greater New Orleans AFL-CIO will try to have its picnic in City Park, a tradition we restarted when I was Secretary-Treasurer of that body, but given social distancing and Covid-19, maybe not?  Riding bikes in the evenings along the Mississippi Sound between Waveland and Bay St. Louis over the weekend, we saw lots of picnics, but no union banners.

For unions, these are contradictory times.  According to the new Gallup poll, we’re feeling the love with 65% public support, the highest in seventeen years.  Their poll shows that,

Democrats’ current 83% approval of labor unions is the highest on record since then. At the same time, 45% of Republicans and 64% of independents approve of unions.  In 2009, 66% of Democrats, 29% of Republicans and 44% of independents viewed labor unions favorably. Since the Great Recession, union approval has recovered among all three major party groups.

With huge unemployment underlining the fact that job security means almost nothing whether you are table server, an airline attendant, or a school worker, more workers are at least wishing that they had a union, and that’s good news.

On the other hand, 30 million on unemployment benefits with a lot of those union members as well, means unions are facing cutbacks in many cases as dues income drops.  Workers could be ringing the phones at union halls and find more answering machines and less follow-up on organizing plans.  Unionized janitors, casino workers, and a pile of manufacturing workers have found themselves on the unemployment line.  Salaried, professional, and office-based workers have largely been able to return to work, even if remotely, but service, industrial, and other workers remain on the bench as the economy still struggles with the pandemic and reopening.

We’re hardly in shape to muster the resources for great drives, even if workers were clamoring for help.  For all his faults, there are also no John Lewis-types out there ready to rally either the institutional unions or the unorganized to wave our flags.

Certainly, there are opportunities.  Teachers are standing up over health-and-safety concerns, but given the way the administration and OSHA have walked away from the issue, the same need – and demand – for collective action exists in all workplaces.  Joining with the unemployed, many of them union members, to demand more benefits and security, and leading the way is another obvious path we could pave.

Or not.

It’s unclear if hunkering down and hoping for the best is a winning strategy.  Certainly, it hasn’t proven to be over recent decades, so it’s unclear how well it will work in the current crisis we face now.

The good news is that people love us again.  The bad news is we may be in no position to return that love.

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