This week Deborah Cornavaca, Deputy Chief of Staff, Office of the Governor, State of New Jersey joined us to give an update on the Governor’s response to COVID-19. Deborah spoke about the Governor’s proposed budget, which has significant cuts compared to the budget that was presented in March due to the economic crisis caused by COVID-19. She also spoke about the importance of addressing race and economic inequality in the budget through fair and progressive taxation. Deborah also spoke about the state’s schedule and plans for gradual reopening and steps the Governor has taken regarding health and safety in the workplace during the COVID-19 crisis and additional measures they are exploring. Deborah addressed concerns and challenges regarding enforcement of COVID-19 Executive Orders and school reopening. More than 76 people attened this webinar.
This week we discussed how stress during the COVID-19 crisis can affect your mental health and the wellbeing of your family, friends, work colleagues and community. We were joined by Ashlee Fitch, Director, United Steelworkers’ Tony Mazzocchi Training Center, who discussed the importance of recognizing different kinds of stress, stressful and life-altering events, symptoms of mental health problems and post-traumatic stress disorder, and how important it is to take action to protect your mental health. Ashlee made us aware of International Overdose Awareness Day to be held on August 31, 2020. We were also joined by Tracy F.H. Chang, Ph.D., M.B.A., Associate Professor, School of Management and Labor Relations, Rutgers University, who discussed ways in which workers can equip themselves to deal with the stresses of modern workplaces, especially under COVID19. This included equipping ourselves with “inner PPE”- tools for buffering the physical and psychological impact of COVID-19 and to take the time to “Close Our Eyes and Look Inside.” Just as we need safety and health training, we need training on how to properly use inner PPE and yogi sciences. Both panelists spoke to the importance of mental health and work-life balance in coping with the stressors of a modern workplace under the [...]
This week’s topic addressed State Action on Covid-19 Worker Protections. As the federal government continues to shirk its responsibility to protect workers, advocates across the country have turned their attention to states and local municipalities to demand action. Many states, like NJ, currently only have executive orders regarding COVID-19 which are very difficult to enforce and provide little to no worker protection. We welcomed Debbie Berkowitz, Worker Health & Safety Program Director, National Employment Law Project who has deep legal and policy expertise, and works on and promotes policies that improve workers’ lives. “In this crisis to protect the public you have to protect the workers. Worker health is public heath.” Thus far, OSHA has refused to issue any emergency standards leaving workers at risk. To date, NJ has received 400 complaints from workers regarding social distancing, masking, access to soap, and worker retaliation. In response to these complaints, OSHA has only sent a letter to employers asking them to follow the guidance with no on site inspections, leaving workers in crisis. Jason Yarashes, Lead Attorney and Program Coordinator, Virginia Justice Project for Farm and Immigrant Workers works to address the systems which keep people impoverished. Through early intervention and community efforts, Virginia has been able to adopt standards in regard to COVID [...]
This week we spent the hour with Dr. David Michaels, epidemiologist, professor and former Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA under the Obama Administration. Much of Dr. Michaels’ work has focused on protecting the integrity of the science underpinning public health, safety and environmental protections. He is the author of Doubt is Their Product: How Industry’s Assault on Science Threatens Your Health and The Triumph of Doubt: Dark Money and the Science of Deception. It couldn’t be a more relevant moment to hear from Dr. Michaels, as public health guidance in our country is politicized and health experts and policymakers face backlash for advocating for sufficient protections. Dr. Michaels covered a breadth of topics including discussing our broken regulatory system and the opportunity for states to take bold action to protect workers. He emphasized the need for OSHA to issue a temporary emergency standard, explaining that it is difficult for OSHA to issue citations without a standard – as evidenced by the shockingly small number of citations, countable on one hand, issued since the beginning of the pandemic. Dr. Michaels also referenced a study from Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University, indicating that one press release naming a company that has violated workplace health and safety [...]
This week’s topic addressed our state’s pre existing issues with equity, taxation, and funding, and how those issues have been deepened by the COVID-19 crisis. Brandon McKoy, President at New Jersey Policy Perspective, spoke on New Jersey’s state tax policy’s direct link to issues of equity, and how the Covid-19 crisis has impacted working class communities and communities of color most aggressively. Brandon McKoy emphasized that New Jersey needs to avoid massive cuts to public assets at all costs, and that the consequences of austerity will be dire for our most vulnerable communities. Brandon outlined a range of strategies for bringing in new revenue, underscoring the urgent need for bonding, but also driving home that equitable taxation measures such as a millionaires’ tax must be part of the picture. Brandon Castro, Campaign Organizer and the Work Environment Council, spoke on WEC’s efforts over the past three years to create a common analysis among workers, activists and organizers around the common obstacle of Wall Street’s looting of our economy, and to mobilize those advocates into a fighting force for a more equitable New Jersey. Brandon Castro touched on public banking as a way for the state to reassess its values and to invest [...]
This week’s topic, Protecting and Celebrating Facility and Manufacturing Workers During Covid-19 welcomed a panel of guests who represent property service, essential manufacturing, and facility operations workers who have worked hard to keep public and private buildings functional during the pandemic. Aaron Jones and Carla Thomas, Service Employees International Union, Local 32BJ (SEIU); Mike Fisher, Sub-District Director, United Steelworkers (USW); and Frank James, Financial Secretary, International Union of Operating Engineers, Local 68 (IUOE) spoke to the occupational safety and health challenges confronting workers during the COVID-19 health crisis. Our panelists shared their members’ struggle to access and maintain a stable supply of PPE as well as grave concerns regarding health and job security. These essential workers rose to the occasion from the start of the COVID-19 crisis, at times remaining quarantined within facilities to do the work necessary to keep buildings running. We learned how workers have adopted new health and safety protocols, including wearing PPE, intense cleaning, temperature checks and health screenings. Keeping these workers safe is essential to keeping our facilities operational. Here is the presentation from SEIU 32BJ. More than 60 people attended this webinar.
July 14: Student Health, Worker Safety, and Funding Challenges for Higher Education in a COVID-19 World
This week’s topic focused on student and worker safety in the tumultuous and ever-changing landscape of higher education. We heard from three inspiring women who have been organizing higher education faculty and staff across departments and sectors for conditions where every single worker can work safe and receive just compensation. Christine O’Connell, President of the Union of Rutgers Administrators (URAAFT), began our panel with the story of the Rutgers Coalition of Unions, a network of all unions representing Rutgers employees which formed to help workers support one another across union lines. The Coalition has put forward a joint proposal that includes no layoffs, continued health benefits for furloughed employees, and hazard pay for those who worked through the crisis. Successes achieved so far, including the statewide closing of libraries, demonstrate the power of organizing around common demands that address the needs of all workers across union, department or sector. Here is the presentation. Rebecca Kolins Givan, Vice President of the Rutgers AAUP-AFT and Associate Professor of Labor Studies and Employment Relations at Rutgers, shared her experience organizing alongside Christine with the Rutgers Coalition of Unions. “We’ve made things non-negotiable by having a coalition of 20,000 workers rather than chipping away at things separately,” said Rebecca. Rebecca also emphasized the importance of organizing both at the bargaining table and in the political arena, pointing out that many recent victories have been signed off on not [...]
This week’s topic, Update on the Updates, we checked back in with several of our previous webinar participants for a roundtable discussion. We were joined by Marcia Kleinz, Field representative for Higher Education, NJEA, Barry Kushnir, President, IFPTE Local 194, and Hudson County Central Labor Council and Nancy Miller, membership assistance program coordinator, UFCW Local 1262. They gave updates on the continued challenges COVID-19 presents for their members in higher education, Turnpike toll takers and retail. Nancy discussed UFCW’s ongoing campaign to support Covid 19 Hazard Pay for essential grocery store workers, and encouraged attendees to let management at their local union supermarkets know that they support stores’ continuing hazard pay for workers. We also wished Mike Merrill, PH.D, director at Rutgers LEARN a happy retirement, and heard touching stories about Mike’s career from a few colleagues. Mike stressed the importance of continued labor education and the importance of forums like this to bring workers and community members together to have conversations and learn from each other. Thank you, Professor Merrill and best of luck to you! More than 96 people attended this webinar.
This week 110 participants joined the discussion focused on access to affordable quality childcare. As child daycare and early childhood programs reopen, we must address the complex issues surrounding capacity, safety, staffing, economic viability, and program effectiveness under new, ever changing guidelines. Debra Lancaster, Executive Director, Rutgers Center for Women and Work co-moderated the following speakers: Meghan Tavormina. President of the New Jersey Association for the Education of Young Children and the Executive Director of the Learning Path in Chatham. Ms. Tavormina highlighted the importance of childcare as our NJ families head back to work and our childcare centers reopen. Meghan spoke about the intense demand for childcare, and the difficulties in providing it. Attendance vs. enrollment pay, maintaining teaching staff due to poor pay and lack of benefits, understanding and meeting reopening guidelines and practicing social distancing while caring for infants and toddlers are just some of the struggle’s providers face. Cynthia Rice, an attorney and Senior Policy Analyst with the Advocates for Children of New Jersey works with local, state, and federal leaders to identify and implement changes that will benefit New Jersey’s children. Ms. Rice spoke of the uncertainty concerning the access and availability of childcare. Cynthia pointed out that [...]
June 16: Public Health, Worker Safety, and Funding Challenges for Public Transportation in a COVID-19 World
This week’s COVID-19 update focused on the NJ public transit system which puts hundreds of thousands of commuters and thousands of transportation workers at risk for sustained, exposure to the coronavirus and other pathogens, and what is needed to reduce risk. We had the opportunity to hear from Nick Sifuentes, Executive Director of Tri-State Transportation Campaign and he spoke about what riders need to feel safe in order to continue to use public transportation and how to help make public transportation as safe and effective as possible during the pandemic. Our second panelist, Orlando Riley, Chairman, Amalgamated Transit Union, NJ State Council gave insight into issues surrounding workers on their over 2000 buses and some of the steps that have been taken to increase protections. These steps have included rear door boarding, digital ticketing, enhanced cleaning, reduced capacity, and masking. We also heard from Jerome Johnson, General Chairman of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail, and Transport (SMART) Local 60 (United Transportation Union [UTU]) who spoke to the need for a public campaign to support health and safety on public transportation. More needs to be done to ensure that riders wear masks, as mandated by the Governor’s Executive Order. Mr. Johnson called on NJ Transit, community leaders and the [...]