Poultry Worker’s Death Highlights Spread of Coronavirus in Meat Plants

Annie Grant, 55, had been feverish for two nights. Worried about the coronavirus outbreak, her adult children had begged her to stay home rather than return to the frigid poultry plant in Georgia where she had been on the packing line for nearly 15 years. But on the third day she was ill, they got a text from their mother. “They told me I had to come back to work,’’ it said. Ms. Grant ended up returning home, and died in a hospital on Thursday morning after fighting for her life on a ventilator for more than a week. Two other workers at the Tyson poultry plant where she worked in Camilla, Ga., have also died in recent days. “My mom said the guy at the plant said they had to work to feed America. But my mom was sick,” said one of Ms. Grant’s sons, Willie Martin, 34, a teacher in South Carolina. He said he watched on his phone as his mother took her last breath. read the full story at NY Times

WORKERS AT VALLEY VIEW MANOR NURSING HOME DEMAND PROPER PERSONAL PROTECTIVE EQUIPMENT AMID COVID-19 PANDEMIC

(NORWICH, NEW YORK) – Today, workers and residents at Valley View Manor called on management to take more proactive measures to protect their health and safety. The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU), which represents 65 workers at the facility is demanding the owners to provide staff with adequate personal protective equipment (PPE), which is critical for the safety of staff, residents and the community.    In the midst of unprecedented health risks created by COVID-19 pandemic, the facility has yet to provide acceptable PPE to workers, which could help flatten the curve in New York. Access to respirator masks would protect residents, workers and the community from the pandemic’s full scale effects and help stop the spread the community has seen at other nearby facilities.    “The RWDSU is deeply concerned that Valley View Manor is refusing to implement the personal protective equipment standards workers demand as essential for the care of the elderly in the Norwich, New York community. The fact that the nursing home’s management is also failing to engage in a constructive dialogue with workers to address these concerns is stunning given the current pandemic as it sweeps across New York State.   “We demand management speak with workers immediately about their needs to protect not just their health, but the health of their families, their patients and the entire community. Management should provide workers with the needed personal protective equipment which will allow them to focus on caring for their patients.  Proper PPE will stop the spread of the COVID-19 virus and protect those who are among the most vulnerable COVID-19,” said Stuart Appelbaum, President, Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU).    The RWDSU represents 65 workers at the nursing home facility. The workers in the bargaining unit handle all operations at the facility and include LPNS, CNAs, laundry, maintenance as well as the dietary and activity programming for residents.  

POULTRY INDUSTRY’S DELAYED COVID-19 RESPONSE IS KILLING AMERICA’S ESSENTIAL WORKERS - PROTECT THEM NOW

(NEW YORK, NY) – Today, the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU), which represents thousands of poultry processing workers across the southern United States, condemned the industry for its slow response to COVID-19.    Over the past month, the RWDSU has been imploring poultry industry employers like Tyson Foods, Equity Foods, JBS/Pilgrim's Pride, Koch Foods and Wayne Farms to implement critical standards to protect workers’ safety and to secure the food supply chain. The industry’s response for the most part has only been recent, sporadic and limited to a few locations, leaving most workers unprotected - despite months-long demands from the RWDSU. Poultry workers at their plants have been dying.   For small towns like Albany, Georgia, it’s too little too late. Albany has the second largest outbreak of COVID-19 in Georgia. The town is home to workers from a number of nearby poultry facilities that feed Americans across the country. This community, like much of the South, will face an uphill battle when it comes to protecting its residents from COVID-19. Many suffer from long-term health issues, including respiratory issues, which have proven fatal when the virus is contracted.    At the Tyson facility in Camilla, Georgia, where the RWDSU represents 2,000 members, two members have died from the virus and many are sick or in quarantine. Tyson employs a largely black workforce that commutes from Albany, Georgia and surrounding cities to the facility daily. Workers debone chickens elbow to elbow with no access to masks. They work at speeds of upwards of 80 chickens per minute, while upper management, largely white and clad in protective gear, oversees production.    Sadly Camilla, Georgia, isn’t the only place affected. Shelbyville, Tennessee; Carthage, Mississippi; and other communities across the South are suffering due to Tyson’s delayed distribution of personal protective equipment (PPE) to workers and the delayed implementation of social distancing protocols, protective barriers, and staggered start times and breaks. Perhaps most astonishing, the company offered workers a $500 bonus, but the bonus is tied to attendance and won't be paid out until July. Workers deserve a no-strings attached bonus now and premium pay for the additional risks to their health and the health of their families as they ensure continuity of our nation's food supply for all of our families.    While the company has pledged to do better, and has started this week to share PPE with workers, put up protective barriers at some facilities, and pledged to pay union workers for time in quarantine, the fact is it’s too little too late. Workers are dying. This is inexcusable for America’s largest meat producer, which makes $40 billion in annual revenue. Yet, Tyson is just one example of an industry that is acting too late to protect a generation of workers that is feeding America during this crisis.    The RWDSU represents workers across the entire U.S. supply chain, including food processing at iconic American household brands like Quaker Oats, General Mills, Post, Gerber, and Coca-Cola, to name a few. Outside of the poultry industry, those companies seem to be getting it right with a few outliers, ensuring workers have the space they need, premium pay, and PPE.   The poultry industry as a whole is getting it wrong, and the consequences of its slow response are fatal for too many RWDSU members.    Stuart Appelbaum, President of the RWDSU issued the following statement on the industry:  “Our union members are heros. They are feeding America during the COVID-19 pandemic, and they need to be protected. The poultry industry’s response is too little too late for our members. Day after day we hear reports of our members contracting the COVID-19 virus and even succumbing to it. We won’t stand for that and neither should the giants of the poultry industry.    “We are in the middle of a pandemic. The poultry industry can and must do better to swiftly protect workers. It is outrageous that managers have had masks and other protective equipment for weeks while workers, who work elbow to elbow every day, don’t.    “Saying you are still scrambling for protective supplies when much of the supply chain has been protecting workers for weeks is a pathetic excuse for companies that make billions in profits annually. Our food processing members are the backbone of the supply chain in this country; and cramming them into poultry facilities with no protection is a death march, and it’s inexcusable.    “While some facilities are putting up barriers now, too many workers have already been infected and are suffering the consequences. The RWDSU is demanding the industry implement standards to put an immediate stop to this. Without swift action by the industry, our members will continue to die.”    The RWDSU’s Regional Council Presidents, which represent workers in poultry processing also called on the industry to act swiftly:  “What’s happening in Camilla, Georgia is a clear example of how not to do things. It’s too little too late here, and I hope sharing our story will help stop other communities from being exploited by corporate America. Our members have been pleading with the company for weeks, and the company has done nothing here. When I speak to our members I hear real fear in their voices, and their voices must be heard. The poultry industry can and must act now,” said Edgar Fields, President of the Southeast Council of the RWDSU, which represents 10,000 workers across the southeastern United States, many in food processing and distribution.    “Our members are scared, plain and simple. These are members who we routinely meet with at all hours of the day and night, and in this crisis we cannot hold them. What we can do though, is fight. The RWDSU is fighting to ensure that the tens of thousands of workers we represent in the poultry industry are treated with dignity and respect in this crisis. Our members are on the front lines, and their health and safety is critical, not just to them and their families, or the communities they live in, but to our entire nation’s food supply. The poultry industry needs to step up and treat their workers as heroes right now,” said Randy Hadley, President of the Mid-South Council of the RWDSU, which represents 15,000 workers across the southern United States, in food processing, distribution, and healthcare.     The RWDSU demands the poultry industry take swift action:  The poultry industry has both a contractual and legal responsibility to provide a safe and healthy work environment for its employees. The RWDSU intends to ensure that its companies comply with their legal and contractual obligations in this regard.  Accordingly, facilities must notify the RWDSU, local representative union and workforce immediately when an employee tests positive for COVID-19. The companies need to provide: The department(s) and shift(s) worked by the employees testing positive for COVID- 19. This is a continuing request for information if other employees test positive for the COVID-19 virus. The names of all employees who worked in those department(s) and shift(s) on days when the COVID-19 positive employees last worked. The date or dates last worked by the employees testing positive for the COVID-19 virus. Number of workers who failed the temperature check and were sent home. These workers should be paid at their regular rate of pay. In addition to the requested information, the RWDSU demands that the poultry industry take the following actions in order to protect the health and safety of workers at all poultry facilities. Immediately shut down for a minimum of 72 hours the department(s) in which the COVID-19 positive employees worked and clean and sanitize the department in accordance with CDC recommended guidelines. Workers in these departments should be paid at their regular rate of pay during the duration of the cleaning. Pursuant to CDC guidelines, require that any employee who worked in the same department(s) and shift(s) with the COVID-19 positive employees quarantine for 14 consecutive days. The RWDSU demands that the employees be paid during this period of quarantine at their regular rate of pay. Provide proper PPE for all employees including but not limited to gloves, masks, face shields, smocks and other appropriate PPE in order to prevent any transmission of the COVID-19 virus. Install Plexiglass shielding between workstations, especially on the deboning lines where poultry companies are currently forcing employees to work shoulder to shoulder without proper PPE. Employers should set a schedule to ensure that all frequently touched surfaces are sanitized on a regular basis during the work day. As this pandemic grows and wreaks havoc to our states, cities and communities, it takes great courage for workers to leave the safety of their homes to go to work, and in so doing, ensuring continuity of the nation’s food system. All essential workers deserve premium pay. It is absolutely perverse at this time to tie bonus or additional pay benefits to attendance.  Furthermore, vulnerable members of the workforce with underlying health conditions or over the age of 60 should be given the choice to take paid leave and not jeopardize their lives at this critical time.  

Attorney General calls for investigation into Alecto Healthcare Services

FAIRMONT – In tandem with a state probe, West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey has asked officials in Marion County and Fairmont to investigate whether the owner of Fairmont Regional Medical Center broke a federal law when it shut down on March 19. Curtis M. Johnson, director of communications for Morrisey, said 13 former employees of the shuttered hospital have contacted the attorney general’s office asking him to investigate whether Alecto Healthcare Services Inc. failed to comply with the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act of 1988 when it closed the facility on March 19. Citing losses of more than $19 million, on Feb. 18, FRMC CEO Robert Adcock gave the hospital’s 528 employees letters stating it would shut down in 60 days. Under the WARN Act, along with warning its employees, employers who conduct a mass layoff are required to also notify “the chief elected official” in which the layoffs are to occur. read more on this developing story at Times West Virginian

AMAZON STATEMENT FROM RWDSU PRESIDENT STUART APPELBAUM

(NEW YORK, NY) – Today, in support of the Amazon workers walking out today in Staten Island, New York at Amazon’s JFK8 fulfillment center, Stuart Appelbaum, President of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) issued the following statement:    “RWDSU supports Amazon workers’ demands for stronger protections at the Staten Island facility and at all facilities in the United States. Amazon workers have walked out again today in New York because of an increased number of COVID-19 cases at the JFK8 facility. Workers have repeatedly reported their concerns about serious issues impacting their own health and safety at this and many other Amazon facilities. The RWDSU continues to support their voices speaking out on this issue.    “Amazon workers are speaking out across the globe because they need a real seat at the table in expressing their concerns. It took an 11-day strike for workers at one fulfillment center in Italy to win increased daily breaks, a detailed agreement on cleaning and sanitizing practices at the facility, and staggered break times and working distances. We demand that Amazon, at a minimum, listen to their own employees’ voices and make appropriate policy changes. If they were willing to do that in Italy, they have no justification for refusing to negotiate with their employees here in New York or at any of their facilities across the U.S. The number of Amazon’s Covid-19 cases continues to grow at staggering rates.    “Clearly Amazon must do better for its workforce. Amazon needs to listen to its workers who are at risk during this global pandemic. Amazon needs to understand this is a matter of life and death for its employees - and not just another public relations problem.”   More information on the agreement reached by workers in Italy:  The strike in Castle San Giovanna, Italy began when workers reacted to discovery of a COVID - 19 positive worker and poor sanitation and prevention policies by Amazon management. Following 11-days on the strike line at the fulfillment center in Italy, workers reached an agreement on April 2, in which Amazon agreed to several health and safety provisions.    Supported by their national unions and the health authorities of the regional government, workers were successful in negotiating an agreement on health and safety conditions at their facility. The agreement was negotiated by workers being directly affected by working conditions during the COVID-19 pandemic. Amazon needs to negotiate with all of it’s workers on the front lines of this global pandemic, including ones at JFK8.    While the agreement covers only this singular Amazon fulfillment center in Italy, the RWDSU believes that if they can do this in Italy they need to do it in the U.S. as well.    Workers in Italy won many provisions that workers in the U.S. have yet to see, including:   Increase in daily paid break period for each shift.  Detailed agreement on now daily cleaning and sanitizing practices in the facility. Shift and break times further staggered to facilitate physical distancing.  Social distancing measures between workers while at work.  # # #  

STATEMENT FROM RWDSU PRESIDENT STUART APPELBAUM HOSPITAL CLOSURE - RWDSU TO FILE WARN ACT SUIT

(FAIRMONT, WV) – On March 19, 2020 Alecto announced the company would close Fairmont Regional Medical Center without any warning, in direct violation of the federal WARN Act. The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU), which represents 120 workers at the facility announced today that it intends to file suit against the company in the coming days.     Stuart Appelbaum, President of the RWDSU issued the following statement on the closure of this critical medical facility in Fairmont, West Virginia:    “We are in the middle of a pandemic the likes of which our country has never witnessed. We are opening field hospitals across the country to ensure we have enough beds for potentially hundreds of thousands of patients who will succumb to the COVID-19 virus. It is outrageous that Alecto would choose to close this facility now, with no warning, in the middle of this national crisis. 120 critical care professionals who need to be on the front lines of this epidemic aren’t able to care for their now hospital-less community.    “Our union will not stand for this, and we are swiftly filing suit against this company for failure to follow a just path to closure under the WARN Act. This community will need a hospital, and I am hopeful that with the support of local elected officials we can ensure this community keeps its healthcare facility through this pandemic,” said Stuart Appelbaum, President of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union.   

AMAZON MEMO STATEMENT FROM RWDSU PRESIDENT STUART APPELBAUM

(NEW YORK, NY) – Today, Stuart Appelbaum, President of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) issued the following statement on the leaked Amazon memo designed to smear a fired warehouse organizer.    “Amazon’s behavior is disgusting! Rather than focusing on trying to fix the serious COVID-19 safety issues which threaten their own employees, they choose instead to smear the courageous whistle-blower.”    The memo, was written and distributed across the company by Amazon’s General Counsel David Zapolsky. # # #  

NY PAID SICK LEAVE STATEMENT FROM RWDSU PRESIDENT STUART APPELBAUM

(NEW YORK, NY) – Today, in response to the inclusion of permanent paid sick leave in the New York State budget. Stuart Appelbaum, President of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) issued the following statement:   “With the passage of permanent paid sick leave, New York state is continuing its proud tradition of standing up for workers and protecting those most vulnerable in our community. We applaud Governor Cuomo for his leadership. Now more than ever, we need to lead the way on workers’ rights and strengthening our social safety net.”    # # #    

Leaders of nation’s largest labor unions pressure Amazon, CEO Jeff Bezos on coronavirus response

Leaders of America’s largest labor unions, 45 New York elected officials and a group of Amazon employees called on Amazon to change its warehouse policies and practices in response to the novel coronavirus outbreak. Their letter, to Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos and other senior executives, amplifies calls made by Amazon warehouse workers, including some who went on strike in New York on Monday to protest the company’s handling of the outbreak. An unknown number of Amazon employees around the company’s fulfillment and delivery network — including a confirmed coronavirus case at a Seattle-area warehouse last week — have fallen ill with COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, as the pandemic has strained its operations like never before. The letter marks a new level of focus on Amazon by organized labor, which previously has had little success organizing the company’s workers outside of Europe, and comes amid growing unrest among gig economy and warehouse workers whose services have taken on new importance amid widespread stay-at-home orders and economic disruptions. Read the whole story at Seattle Times