This appeared in The Amsterdam News by Stuart Appelbaum President, RWDSU In America—and indeed the entire world—an unprecedented and long overdue conversation on racial justice is happening. We are seeing sweeping changes in the way people from all sorts of different backgrounds view ingrained racial injustices and the consequences that result for people of color. It’s a societal reckoning the likes of which we have never before seen. And while the changes being made around the country show that the protest movement is making a significant difference, it’s important that we also focus on the economic issues that contribute to systemic racial injustice in the U.S. It’s clearer than ever that to achieve true racial justice, we need to address the underlying economic conditions under which so many people of color live. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the poultry processing industry, a low-paying, dangerous job performed almost exclusively by people of color. The poultry workers who feed everybody from California to here in New York face blinding fast line speeds, extreme temperatures, dangerous, repetitive cutting motions that often lead to debilitating injuries, and for the majority of them, who do not have union representation, no voice to help make their jobs and their lives better. Poultry workers have gone so far as to call themselves “modern day slaves,” and say management only cares about corporate profits at the expense of the health and welfare of their workers. The COVID-19 crisis shed a harsh new light on the treatment of workers at these “modern day plantations,” with dozens of workers dying and thousands infected. And while unions like the RWDSU have been able to improve working conditions in union plants—forcing implementation of better social distancing, more PPE, and policies that encourage sick workers to stay home—the industry as a whole has failed terribly when it comes to prioritizing safety during this pandemic. And that must change. America needs to start treating all its workers—including people of color—with dignity, not just in poultry, but in all industries across the country. That’s just one of the many reasons that we support the Black Lives Matter movement. We embrace this movement because it is the morally right thing to do, and long overdue. Unions fight for economic equality and for racial equality. We know that these two things are intertwined, and we can’t have one without the other. The RWDSU has a proud history of fighting for racial justice. Today, we are proud to be part of the BLM fight. All workers, from poultry workers in the South to car wash workers here in New York, deserve economic and racial justice. We will not stop fighting until they are achieved. Stuart Appelbaum is the president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. www.rwdsu.org, twitter: @sappelbaum
Coronavirus infection rates at an Amazon warehouse in Minnesota were far higher than the surrounding community, according to an internal memo obtained by CNBC. The memo contradicts Amazon’s previous messaging about infection rates. Top executives including Dave Clark, senior vice president of global operations, have said infection rates at warehouses match or are lower than the cities they’re in. Amazon has repeatedly declined to disclose how many of its workers have been infected by Covid-19. Read the story at NBC News here
Throughout the industry this spring, bonuses of steak and cash were instrumental in keeping workers on the job as the coronavirus rampaged through U.S. meatpacking plants. The payouts forced people on the lowest rung of the economic ladder to assess their pocketbooks against the health of their families and themselves. Yet when the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told JBS and other meatpackers to stop offering incentives based on attendance, lest employees come to work sick, the companies didn’t listen. Why should they? The CDC has no legal authority over the industry, so even in the grip of the pandemic, adherence to its directives was purely voluntary. “CDC was requested to do initial inspections and offer recommendations,” wrote Jason McDonald, a CDC spokesman, in an emailed response to questions. Any follow-up inspections would have to be done by other agencies, he wrote. Asked about the CDC’s report, JBS said bonus eligibility was not tied to sick days. “Throughout this pandemic, we have prioritized team member health and safety above everything else,” a spokesperson wrote in an emailed response. Read the rest at Bloomberg
Amazon warehouse workers in New York are getting help from unions in their fight for better pandemic working conditions. The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union is joining with European unions that have been battling Amazon over warehouse conditions there. These unions are joining lawmakers including Rep. Pramila Jayapal in asking a court for an injunction. Together they are asking a district court in New York to compel Amazon to improve working conditions inside warehouses. “People are getting sick now and dying in the Amazon facilities and we can’t waste any time," said Stuart Appelbaum, who leads the leads the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU). “Greater health and safety protections need to be provided by the wealthiest man in the universe.” read more at KUOW
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
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 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.
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.
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“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).