NYC congressional Dems tag onto lawsuit accusing Amazon of putting Staten Island workers in coronavirus danger

Six congressional Democrats from New York City are providing legal ammunition for Amazon workers on Staten Island who are suing the retail giant over allegations that it put them at risk of contracting coronavirus, the Daily News has learned. The Big Apple lawmakers, led by Rep. Nydia Velazquez, filed a so-called amicus brief late Wednesday in Brooklyn Federal Court that offers official congressional support for the lawsuit, which was brought by three workers at Amazon’s Staten Island fulfillment center, where at least one employee has died from COVID-19. read more at the NY Daily News

UNI GLOBAL UNION & RWDSU FILE AMICUS BRIEF IN HISTORIC COVID-19 CASE AGAINST AMAZON

Brief Outlines Amazon´s Disregard of Worker Safety Exacerbating Covid 19 Spread   (NEW YORK, NY) – Tonight, UNI Global Union and the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU), filed an amicus brief in the case brought by Derrick Palmer, Kendia Mesidor, Benita Rouse, Alexander Rouse, Barbara Chandler and Luis Pellot-Chandler v. Amazon.com Inc. and Amazon.com Services LLC, which argues that the e-commerce giant must protect warehouse workers and the community at large from COVID-19.    “What we’ve learned from this pandemic is that Amazon has not made workers’ safety a priority unless they are forced to do so- either through government intervention or through prolonged strikes. Speed and volume have been the company’s priorities - with workers’ safety and wellbeing well behind. We are determined to change that,” said Christy Hoffman General Secretary of UNI Global Union.    “We urge the court to understand that this is a matter of life and death for Amazon workers and the broader community.  If Amazon is aiding the spread of the COVID-19 virus,  they are creating a major threat to public safety that needs to be immediately addressed” said Stuart Appelbaum, President of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU). “Amazon workers have repeatedly reported their concerns about serious issues impacting their health and safety during the COVID-19 pandemic. Today we filed an Amicus brief in support of workers whose lives are at risk during this global crisis. In our country -  where Amazon has prevented  their employees from having  union representation - workers  have no other way to have their concerns heard. Amazon must do better for its workforce, and the communities where they operate.  Amazon needs to listen to its workers who are at risk during this global pandemic and  working under unacceptable  conditions. Amazon needs to prioritize the lives and safety of their workers over profits,”   The lawsuit was filed June 4, 2020 in the U.S. District Court in Brooklyn and claims that Amazon’s efforts in Staten Island to protect workers have been rife with "purposeful miscommunication with workers," "sloppy contact tracing," and poorly enforced social distancing. The workers who filed the suit also state that production goals were unrealistic if proper safety protocols were followed. So far, the company has refused to disclose the number of cases and retaliated against employees who dared to speak out against the unsafe conditions at work. The lawsuit is asking for a formal injunction to force Amazon to adhere to public health guidance.    The unions argue that, since the beginning of the pandemic, conditions at many Amazon warehouses have not met the basic health and safety standards prescribed by the WHO or national authorities. As the company strained to meet the increased demand for its deliveries, it increased the speed and pace of work rather than slow it down in order to allow time for hand washing and social distancing.   As the submission makes clear, when workers were represented by unions, they were able to reduce risks after calling upon the health authorities or courts to intervene, or, in some cases, by going on strike.   However, in the United States, where most Amazon warehouses are located and where there are no recognized unions, Amazon did not negotiate over conditions, refused to disclose the number of cases and retaliated against employees who dared to speak out against the unsafe conditions at work.   UNI Global Union and the RWDSU have been speaking out in support of workers raising alarm about working conditions throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Links to relevant statements and letters:    March 17, 2020: Global alliance of unions demands Amazon address COVID-19 March 29, 2020: Amazon Workers Walkout in Staten Island March 30, 2020: Chris Smalls Firing April 1, 2020: America's Top Unions Demand Amazon Do Better April 2, 2020: Statement on the Amazon Memo Designed to Smear Chris Smalls April 6, 2020: Amazon Workers 2nd Walkout April 9, 2020: International Trade Unionists' Letter Supporting Amazon Workers April 21, 2020: Amazon Workers 3rd Walkout May 5, 2020: Amazon Worker Death   US Workers Fight Back In the United States, in response to Amazon’s insufficient worker protections during the outbreak, non-union Amazon workers in over 40 Amazon facilities in California, Texas, Wisconsin, Florida and New York resorted to strikes and other types of protected worker activity to protest Amazon’s working conditions during the COVID-19 pandemic. The company retaliated by firing at least three Amazon warehouse employees for “violating internal company policies.”  The firings prompted increased scrutiny and calls by elected leaders like New York Mayor Bill De Blasio and New York State Attorney General Letitia James to investigate the tech giant.   Amazon Union Workers in Europe Win Additional Protection Unlike their counterparts in the United States, Amazon workers in European countries with stronger labor protections like Italy, France and Spain were able to use union representation to advance and protect their right at work. In Italy, workers concerned about crowding, availability of PPE, and enhanced safety measures went on strike in at least five separate Amazon facilities and forced the company to abide by strict health and safety protocol.   In France, unions, including UNI affiliate, Federation des Services, CFDT,  brought a civil case alleging against Amazon for not take adequate steps to protect workers from the risk of the coronavirus and of trying to sidestep the unions statutory role. The court ultimately sided with workers and unions who negotiated a settlement that included mandatory consultation with unions over safety measures, hiring of external experts by union representatives to asses effectiveness of measures, and an increase in the hourly rate for salaried workers returning to work.   In Spain, the Labour Inspectorate ordered Amazon to correct deficiencies in their health and safety plan to prevent COVID19, after the union Comisiones Obreras demanded an inspection. The company was forced to accommodate physical distance between workers, disinfect facilities where workers had been diagnosed with COVID-19, provide personal protective equipment, and relax productivity quotas.   The UNI Global Union/RWDSU submission can be viewed here.  

MACY’S REFUSES TO PROTECT WORKERS DURING REOPENING - UNION TO STEP IN

Macy’s Inc. Deems Workforce in White Plains Too Small to Perform a Critical Health and Safety Prevention Measure RWDSU Local 1-S Will Check All Members Temperatures as Workers Report to Their Shifts Each Day to Protect Union Members Working In The Covid-19 Pandemic   WHAT: On June 12, 2020, Local 1-S of the The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU), which represents about 4,300 Macy’s Inc. workers in the New York area will perform critical temperature checks of union members as they report to their first shift during the re-opening of the retail industry.    After Macy’s Inc. refused to perform temperature checks of workers at two of its smaller stores (White Plains and Parkchester) as they reopen, RWDSU Local 1-S decided that it had no choice but to step up to perform this important testing itself - because the company was abdicating this important responsibility to its workers, customers and the public.    RWDSU Local 1-S members will be available to speak to the media, while RWDSU union representatives will be on site to perform critical temperature checks of workers, in one of many negotiated terms between Macy’s Inc. and the union to protect workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.    WHO: Macy’s workers in White Plains, New York, Mike Jones (RWDSU Local 1-S Vice President), and RWDSU Local 1-S union representatives.   WHEN: Friday, June 12, 2020 10:30 AM -11:15 AM EDT (NOTE: The press availability for this event will begin just ahead of the morning shift start time, this is an approximate end time to the best of our knowledge, please be patient as the time for worker availability may vary on the morning of. All worker interview requests MUST be made to Mike Jones on site the morning-of, in your RSVP please note your desire for worker interviews so we can prepare.)   WHERE: Macy’s Galleria Mall 100 Main Street, White Plains, NY 10601  (NOTE: Temperature checks will be happening by the two large garage bay doors.)   Kindly RSVP to Chelsea Connor above.   ADDITIONAL BACKGROUND:  The RWDSU, which represents thousands of retail workers across the northeast, has been calling on Macy’s Inc. to do better by their workers throughout the COVID-19 crisis and as it enters contract negotiations: RWDSU Demands Macy’s Inc. Extend Contract Macy’s Fireworks Display to Take Millions in Healthcare from Workers  Macy’s Furlough Announcement Harms Workers     Angella Harding, President of Local 1-S of the RWDSU, issued the following statement: “For Macy’s Inc. to consider workers at smaller stores more expendable than at their flagship Herald Square and their larger stores is inexcusable. The safety of our members in White Plains and Parkchester is just as important not only to their own safety, but to the safety of their community as any other store. The union will continue to step in and provide critical health and safety measures that protect not just our members but shoppers as well in the COVID-19 crisis, but it is shameful Macy’s won’t take this simple but critical step to protect its entire workforce. Let me be clear, our union will not stand for any inequity in the protection of workers in the workplace now, nor ever.”   RELEVANT RWDSU LOCAL 1-S REOPENING AGREEMENT LANGUAGE: Wellness Checks Colleagues must complete wellness checks before each shift.   Colleagues must take their temperature at home. If the temperature is 100.4°F or higher or if the colleague is experiencing flu-like symptoms or otherwise feeling unwell, the Colleague may not work their shift. The Colleagues may use paid time off or in certain locations, available sick/safe time and may reach out to Colleague Support for assistance. In Herald Square and Queens Center, temperature checks will occur in store at the start of the colleagues shift. Colleagues who test over 100.4°F will not be allowed to work, and will be sent home. They will be entitled to PTO or sick benefits, and shall not be issued attendance points. For Parkchester and White Plains, Local 1-S will provide temperature checks at the colleague entrance. Local 1-S President and Macy’s Vice President, Principal Labor Strategy Leader will sidebar negotiate the details of how this will take place. When colleague arrives to work, a wellness check will be conducted and recorded. The questionnaire portion of the wellness check will be completed while the colleague is on the “on the clock”. The designated People Leader will ask a series of questions – known as Wellness Checks – to ensure the safety of everyone in the store (the responses to the series of questions is personal and will not be recorded). Did you take your temperature before you left for work today? Was your temperature below 100.4°F/38°C? Are you free from all of the following symptoms: new or worsening cough, shortness of breath, sore throat, new loss of taste or smell, chills, muscle pain, headache, or runny nose? Can you confirm that you have NOT had close and prolonged contact with a person who was lab-confirmed to have COVID-19 to your best knowledge? (The CDC defines close contact as being within 6 feet of someone with a confirmed case of COVID-19 for a prolonged period of time, 10 minutes or more, within the last 14 days)   If the colleague answers “yes” to all questions, they should immediately wash or sanitize their hands, ensure they have a face mask on, and proceed to their work area. If the colleague answers no to any one of the three questions, they should be sent home and should be paid for the time it took to conduct the wellness check.  If a colleague is sent home due to the outcome of the wellness check, the colleague’s attendance will not be adversely affected.   

NYC RE-OPENING STATEMENT FROM RWDSU PRESIDENT STUART APPELBAUM

We must not forget that as New York City begins re-opening we are Still in the midst of extraordinary challenges. The safety of workers, customers and all New Yorkers must be our primary concern. This includes making sure workers have all the health and safety protections and preventative measures in place in their workplaces to prevent the spread of COVID-19. But it also means that all New Yorkers must continue to do their part including wearing masks in public, and especially when they are in retail stores. Many of our members are eager to begin the re-opening of the city and going back to work, but they want to do so safely.    “But workplace protections alone are not enough to ensure safety. We are deeply troubled by the behavior of the police towards protestors since the tragic death of George Floyd. New York City’s retail workforce is incredibly diverse and as we return to work we need to know that all workers will be safe as they come to and from work. That means security in knowing that you will not be targeted by the police for the color of your skin. At this moment that is far from being reality. We cannot and will not rest until each and every New Yorker can live and work in safety. We must make this a city where black lives matter. We must make this a city where workers and all people are respected and protected” said Stuart Appelbaum, President of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU).   The RWDSU believes non-essential businesses need to re-open safely and that means our employers need to ensure workers are safe. That means that our members will need to have: Proper social distancing available in break rooms, bathrooms, during shift entry and exits, and throughout their work day. The proper personal protective equipment. Access to rapid testing. Screening of workers as they enter the workplace. Workers must have adequate break time to wash their hands and put on proper PPE throughout their shift. Workers need to be trained on the new store procedures and safety measures and equipment. Perhaps most critically, when a worker feels sick they must have a real ability to stay home and quarantine. If needed, that means they are paid if they get sick, and that they need access to affordable healthcare. To do so that means capacity in health departments has to be expanded to do effective tracking. To protect workers the general public needs to adhere to preventive measures. It is imperative that customers wear masks in the stores.

STATEMENT ON THE MURDER OF GEORGE FLOYD

  “The murder of George Floyd has surfaced a rage and grief that has built up over centuries of injustice in our country. The outrage, frustration, anger, and fear that black Americans are feeling stems from the long history of racism embedded in our society. The murder of George Floyd is only the latest death of a black person by the hands of police.   “We cannot separate George Floyd from Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Philando Castile, Eric Garner, Akai Gurley, Sandra Bland, Tamir Rice, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, Patrick Dorismond and the many, many more black people who have been murdered because of the color of their skin.   “As Martin Luther King Jr. said, “A riot is the language of the unheard.” It is time for us to come together as a nation to set a new course that acknowledges the problematic race relations in our country. We must tackle the systemic issues that continue to oppress black people and the economic, housing, healthcare, and societal discrimination that makes it more difficult for black people to be successful in this country.   “The labor movement must stand with the Black Lives Matter movement in demanding an end to police violence with the same commitment that we fight to improve workers’ rights for a just economy for all,” said Stuart Appelbaum, President of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU).    

The new reality of reopening retail stores

STUART APPELBAUM President, Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union Amsterdam News As the Empire State takes its first tentative steps toward reopening the economy, nothing is more important than ensuring we do it the right way. Part of this process will be the reopening of retail stores, most of which have been shuttered since March. And the single most important condition of reopening retail is ensuring the safety of employees and customers. Our union knows all too well that this is a matter of life or death. Across the country, the RWDSU has lost dozens of members to the coronavirus scourge, and countless RWDSU families know the anguish of losing loved ones to the COVID-19 disease. Tens of thousands of RWDSU members will be putting their lives on the line when the economy and retail stores further reopen, along with countless other working Americans. With thousands of RWDSU members employed at retail chains including Macy’s, Zara, Bloomingdales, and H&M, we couldn’t be more concerned. We only have one chance to get this right; getting it wrong—with potentially fatal consequences to our families and communities—cannot be an option. It all starts with wearing masks, which is probably the most important thing we can do to protect people along with social distancing. All employees, management, and customers should be provided masks as they enter the store and they must be required to use them when they are in the store. Consistent mask usage helps prevent transmission of the virus, and it is a crucial component of any responsible reopening plan. Employers need to commit to enforcing social distancing between employees, and employees and customers. Plexiglass partitions need to be constructed at all registers, and temperature testing needs to be provided to all employees at the employee entrance when they begin their shifts to prevent sick workers from entering the facility. Employees need to be given more breaks so they can wash their hands, and they need to be provided with sanitizer and gloves. Employers also must make an unprecedented commitment to cleaning and disinfecting their stores, cleaning all break rooms and restrooms on a regular basis throughout the day. All employee areas need to be properly supplied with paper towels and hand sanitizer. The same type of protocol needs to be used for any equipment employees use, including registers. And, all interactions between customers and employees need to be adjusted to ensure safety. Gone are the days when employees would pass a customer a phone to talk to credit card employees. Stores need to be deep cleaned and disinfected at the end of the day, and air circulation or air conditioning systems need to have proper filters sufficient to clean the air from contaminates. Filters must be cleaned every day. We all want to see New York’s economy moving again, and we want RWDSU members to be able to return to their jobs safely. This means a real commitment from employers to doing this the right way. We’ve made some progress in New York in the fight against COVID-19; it’s proof that a scientific, health-driven approach can work during these uncertain times. If we are going to open our stores, we need to continue to embrace this approach, and keep workers and customers safe, protected, and secure.

'I'm working to survive, not to live.' Essential workers face pay gaps during the pandemic

“Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, which represents over 100,000 workers, echoed Brudney's points regarding the difficulty workers face when it comes to organizing. ‘I think that employers have opposed coming together to have a stronger voice,’ Appelbaum told USA TODAY. ‘There’s been constant union-busting behavior among too many employers.’ Appelbaum says he's hopeful that this type of behavior will change as more people start understanding the importance of essential workers. ‘During the pandemic, people have noticed the value of the jobs essential workers do,’ Appelbaum said. ‘They are jobs that are more important than those that are more compensated.’” Read more at USA Today

Amazon's Big Breakdown

“In February, the company drew backlash by firing Justin Rashad Long, an employee who had called attention to working conditions at the facility, helping to renew a drive by the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union to organize workers there. ‘Normally, we’re reaching out to workers,’ Stuart Appelbaum, the president of the union, said about Amazon. ‘Now, people are reaching out to us.’ No Amazon warehouse workers in the United States are currently unionized, and the company has been aggressive in pushing back against workers’ efforts to do so. At Whole Foods, the company reportedly maintained a ‘heat map’ of stores’ ‘risk’ of unionizing, taking into account factors like local union membership, diversity (greater diversity is less ‘risk’) and sales. Appelbaum sees the pandemic as a possible turning point, not just for labor but for the public’s attitude about Amazon. ‘They feast on public subsidies, they avoid paying taxes and they mistreat employees,’ he said. The pandemic, he added, ‘magnified the health and safety problems that were there already.’ The workers’ demands during the pandemic are, by and large, unchanged: more safety; more attentiveness to worker health, both physical and mental; more pay, especially considering the risks they take on.” read it at the NY Times Magazine

RWDSU Members Give Back in New Jersey

On May 20, RWDSU Local 108, along with Local 262, hosted a grocery giveaway in New Jersey for union members and others in need. The locals were proud to partner with Mecenas - a Latino-aid charitable organization - to help organize a food drive to help community members who have been affected by the pandemic crisis. The event was sponsored in part by RWDSU-represented supermarkets. “During this crisis, we think it’s important to work with RWDSU-employers in the community to give back, and we were excited about the strong response,” said Local 108 President Charles N. Hall, Jr.