(NEW YORK, NY) – Today, on the eve of Workers Memorial Day, the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU), which represents thousands of essential and frontline workers across the United States, called out multiple industries for their slow response to COVID-19. The RWDSU has lost 15 members to COVID-19, who worked for employers whose actions were too little and too late to stop the spread of the virus at the workplace. The union also holds OSHA and the CDC responsible - timely and appropriate action could have helped save the lives of RWDSU members.
The union has produced a video honoring all the RWDSU members who have lost their lives to COVID-19 (see above).
A statement from Stuart Appelbaum, President of the RWDSU on the slow response by employers and the Federal Government’ OSHA and CDC agencies follows:
“Our employers from industry to industry have not been doing enough to protect our members; and OSHA and the CDC as well have failed working people during the COVID-19 pandemic. On this Workers Memorial Day we are honoring the lives of too many workers we’ve lost to COVID-19.
“Our members are scared to go to work; yet they do it because they need to provide for their families. But they shouldn’t be expected to be putting their lives on the line when they show up for work - they never signed up for that.
“OSHA has received thousands of requests for enforcement from workers fearful about their workplace exposure to the COVID-19 virus and the failures of their employers. Too many employers have failed to provide necessary personal protective equipment, implement social distancing, expand worksite sanitation and other protective measures. OSHA has not provided any effective response to these requests. Only this past weekend has it even issued guidance for workers in meat processing facilities. As a result workers have and will continue to die. The voluntary guidelines it has issued are insufficient. They have no teeth and employers can, and have, ignored them. These guidelines should be mandatory and enforceable. The agency should issue an Emergency Temporary Standard covering the COVID-19 pandemic, which could actually help workers.
“Above all else, OSHA has failed to require that employers implement COVID-19 risk reduction guidelines issued by the CDC. And in addition to its failure to enforce protections, OSHA has actually eased requirements for employers to report work related illness related to the pandemic.
“Sadly, today we are honoring RWDSU members who have lost their lives to COVID-19. We can think of no better way to honor them than by demanding that employers and government do more to protect workers. Employers must act now, and treat workers with the dignity and respect they deserve by providing every possible protection so they can continue working safely through this crisis.”
More information on the staggering delays in the RWDSU’s essential workers’ industries:
In the poultry industry the RWDSU has been calling on employers to implement critical standards to protect workers’ safety and to secure the food supply chain. After that initial set of demands on the industry was made by the RWDSU, some companies have begun to: arrange regular calls with union representatives, provide personal protective equipment (PPE); and additional partitions and social distancing measures have also begun to take effect as well. Action by the entire poultry industry has been too little too late for workers, and workers will continue to die from COVID-19 unless significant improvements are made across the industry.
Related Press Releases:
In the food processing industry In response to repeated delays in providing adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) to workers at Kraft Heinz Company (Kraft Heinz), and lack of real negotiations around hazard pay and quarantine procedures, RWDSU Local 705 said enough is enough for our members at Kraft Heinz in Holland, Michigan. Most outrageously, despite the fact that COVID-19 has been spreading across our nation for weeks, workers at this facility only just started to receive PPE late last week.
Related Press Release:
In nursing homes our members still don’t have the PPE they need to protect themselves and vulnerable residents. RWDSU locals across the country have been demanding that the owners provide staff with adequate personal protective equipment (PPE), which is critical for the safety of staff, residents and the communities they operate in. It is unfathomable that in the midst of unprecedented health risks created by COVID-19 pandemic, our nursing homes have by and large yet to provide acceptable PPE to workers, which could help stop the spread of COVID-19. Access to respirator masks would protect residents, workers and the community from the pandemic’s full scale effects.
Related Press Release:
In grocery stores and pharmacies our members thankfully have had gloves and time available to clean their hands as much as they need to throughout this crisis. And most of our stores, but not all, put up sneeze guards and spaced out registers early on. However, in the early days of the pandemic the CDC was too slow to issue guidelines that mandated workers and customers wear masks. The delay cost a member his life in New York. We have actively pushed for Executive Orders to mandate masks and face coverings for shoppers and we have been successful at doing so in states where we have many grocery and pharmacy workers on the front lines, most recently in New York. Shame on the CDC for acting too slowly - and as a result too many of our members went to work for too long fearful of exposure.
RWDSU Members who have lost their lives to COVID-19:
Enrique Almoite was a member of RWDSU Local 262 for 17 years, working in Housekeeping at West Caldwell Care Center in West Caldwell, New Jersey. He passed away on April 3, 2020.
Nora Aragon was a 5-year member of RWDSU Local 262, she worked as a Line Operator at Flexion in Newark, New Jersey. She passed away due to COVID-19 on April 23, 2020.
Yanic Balthazar was a cook at the SUNY Old Westbury campus and a member of RWDSU Local 1102 since 2007. She passed away on April 1. She leaves behind two daughters, and a son who worked for SUNY Old Westbury for a year.
Manuel Chavez, who went by the nickname Victor, was a member of RWDSU Local 338. He worked at Zabar’s for 32 years in “The Mezzanine” section. Victor passed away on April 2, 2020.
Jamie Fernando worked in the Luggage Department at Macy’s on 34th Street. He passed away on April 3, 2020. He was a member of RWDSU Local 1-S for 26 years, working his way through various departments at Macy’s. Devoted to his church, Jamie died at the age of 62.
Manuel Garcia was a food service worker for SCCC/Aramark at the Suffolk County Community College Brentwood Campus. He had been a member of RWDSU Local 1102 since 2017 when he started work at SCCC/Aramark. He leaves behind his 3-year-old daughter, his mother and a sister.
Annie Grant was a member of Local 938 of the RWDSU Southeast Council. For 13 years, Ms. Grant worked at the Tyson plant in Camilla, Georgia. She passed on April 7 due to the coronavirus.
Erlinda Guevara was a 23 year member of RWDSU Local 1102 at Autronics in Central Islip, Long Island. She started at the company in 1996 as a molding operator. Guevara passed away Sunday, April 19, 2020. She left behind a husband, three daughters and three sons.
Maurillo Guzman was a member of RWDSU Local 1102 RWDSU from Queens, New York. He started working for Gate Gourmet at LaGuardia airport in 2003 as a dish room attendant. He was loved and respected by all. Maurillo passed away due to the coronavirus on April 4, 2020 and is survived by his wife.
Mary Holt worked the poultry line the Camilla, Georgia Tyson plant for 27 years. She was a member of the RWDSU Southeast Council. She passed away April 6 from COVID-19 complications.
Ana Valerio was a member of RWDSU Local 1-S, working full-time for 19 years at the Macy’s Herald Square store in the Receiving Department. She enjoyed travel and was known for her generosity, kindness and gift giving. She died on April 3, 2020.
Wilfredo Ramirez was a 5-year member of RWDSU Local 262, working as a Machine Operator at Flexon in Newark, New Jersey. He died on April 16, 2020.
Richard Weber Jr. worked full-time in the Suit Department at the Macy’s Herald Square flagship store. A member of RWDSU Local 1-S, Richard had 10 years of service with the company. He had a law degree and a love for the fashion industry. He passed away on March 18, 2020. He was 57 years old.
Elose Willis served as Secretary of Local 938, representing poultry workers at Tyson in Camilla, Georgia. She was a proud and committed member of the RWDSU and worked at the facility for 35 years. She passed away due to COVID-19 on April 1, 2020.
Willy Zumaran from Queens, New York was a member of RWDSU Local 1102. For 16 years Willy worked as a cook for Gate Gourmet at LaGuardia airport. He passed away from COVID-19 in April.
The RWDSU updates the list of members who have passed to COVID-19 here.