This week we were joined by Professor Aman Russom, head of the bionanotechnology division at the KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, who works on the development and delivery of low-cost medical testing and technology for public health. Since March, Sweden has been functioning more or less the way New Jersey will function when it reopens. Unlike the United States, Sweden never applied a total lockdown during COVID-19. Instead, relying heavily on voluntary stay at home protocols, hand-washing and recommended social distancing, Sweden focused on asking those who had even mild symptoms to stay at home and provided immediate income support to enable workers to do so. The authorities hoped thereby to prevent spread. Professor. Russom felt that Sweden’s approach had failed in regard to protecting the elderly, stating they should have done more to protect the elderly, and vulnerable populations, as 50 percent of those lost to COVID-19 were in eldercare. Also, Sweden’s incidence of cases and death was much higher than their Nordic neighbors. The Swedish experience underscores the importance of being on guard for a resurgence of COVID as the state reopens. Professor Russom stated that while a vaccine is of course the “ultimate goal” in the fight against COVID-19, the self-collected, [...]
This week we were joined by 292 participants for an update which focused on K-12 schools. We discussed the impact of shutting schools down on teachers, staff, parents and students and the challenges of reopening our schools. We were joined by Cary Booker, Assistant State Education Commissioner, State of New Jersey who acknowledged the sacrifices of educators and their families to meet the needs of their students. Assistant Commissioner Booker spoke to the inequities that plagued our education system long before COVID-19, their effect on remote instruction and food instability, and the state’s efforts to address them. As we look to reopen, Assistant Commissioner Booker emphasized the importance of addressing students’ social and emotional needs, that measures are being taken to reopen safely and that “the way forward is together.” Rosie Grant, Executive Director. Paterson Education Foundation spoke to her organization’s efforts. Lack of internet and electronic devices have left many students behind in Paterson, 11,000 students still have no ability to access online learning. In addition, Paterson is addressing a 16-million-dollar loss in state aid, creating a budget shortfall that may tragically result in staff cuts in a time when we need more staff, not less. NJEA Organizational Development Field Representatives Michael Rollins and Robert [...]
This week we heard from Jerome Johnson, General Chairman of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail, and Transport (SMART) Local 60 (United Transportation Union [UTU]) who gave an update about conditions on NJ Transit trains and buses. The transportation sector will be the exclusive focus of an update in the near future. PEOSH (DOH and DLWD) also joined the call with a report on their activities. During the first 11 weeks of the emergency, the agency has received approximately 60 COVID-19 related complaints. During the emergency, it is not conducting onsite investigations. Instead, it relies on initial virtual investigations over the phone, with onsite followup visits as necessary. PEOSH affirmed that a COVID-19 case is OSHA-reportable, but only if it is work-related, of which there is no presumption. If whether a case is work-related is disputed, the burden of proof falls on the victim or their representatives. It is worth noting that there are only four PEOSH inspectors for the entire state. Here is their presentation. More than 200 people attended this webinar.
This week we were joined by more than 165 participants, who heard from Marcy Goldstien-Gelb, Co-Director of National COSH and Nancy Lessin, retired United Steelworker and COSH fellow on the Safe and Just Return to Work report; a blueprint for opening the economy with worker protections and worker justice in the forefront. We were also joined by Lou Kimmel, Executive Director, New Labor to discuss a proposed Executive Order: COVID-19 Worker Protections that would implement a meaningful and enforceable right to refuse work in violation of mandated pandemic protections now before Governor Murphy.
May 12: Working Safer in Unsafe Times: What’s Happening in the Construction Industry and at Distribution Centers
This week, WEC welcomed a panel of guests who are organizing and representing workers deemed essential during the COVID-19 crisis. Anthony Abrantes, Organizing & Political Director for the Eastern Atlantic States Regional Council of Carpenters; Christian Smalls, an organizer and Former Warehouse Assistant Manager at Amazon; and to welcome back Dave Hancock, Warehouse Campaign Director with the Laundry, Distribution and Food Service Joint Board, Workers United, SEIU. Anthony Abrantes, Organizing & Political Director for the Eastern Atlantic States Regional Council of Carpenters, spoke to the importance of health and safety measures for their members, steps the union has taken to ensure their safety, and what a just reopening of our economy might look like to the Carpenters. Christian Smalls, an organizer and Former Warehouse Assistant Manager at Amazon, spoke about conditions inside of Amazon warehouses during the COVID19 crisis, negligence towards the health and safety of workers on Amazon’s part as an employer, and efforts to organize Amazon workers on the frontlines. And, we heard from Dave Hancock, , Warehouse Campaign Director, Laundry, Distribution and Food Service Joint Board, Workers United, SEIU, who spoke about challenges faced by Barnes and Noble warehouse workers, negligence on the part of Barnes and Noble as an employer, and efforts to organize workers for better [...]
This Week’s update focused on family safety, health and well-being, how to protect children and families, and what we can expect from State agencies and their service provider partners. We were joined by Katherine Stoher, Deputy Commissioner of Operations, New Jersey Department of Children and Families (DCF) and Laura Johnson, Assistant Research Professor at the Center on Violence Against Women and Children (housed within the Rutgers University School of Social Work) to discuss family well being during COVID-19. More than 140 participants attended this webinar. Deputy Commissioner Stoher provided an overview of the types of services families can access. Additional challenges families are facing due to COVID-19 are access to food, financial insecurities and housing needs. Additionally, parents having to take on the extra task of schooling at home can add additional stress to an already stressful situation. She also talked about child care for essential workers, the importance of staying connected while we are social distancing, and strategies for resilient families. Her presentation includes a number of resources. And while reports to DCF of domestic violence and child maltreatment may be down during COVID-19, this is more likely and indicator of hidden abuse than of a decline in abuse. Dr. Laura Johnson [...]
This week’s update featured labor and employment attorneys Rosemarie Cipparulo and David Tykulsker discussing whistleblower protections in New Jersey, including the Conscientious Employees Protection Act (CEPA). 130 participants joined us for the discussion. Rose and David gave us an overview of the law and discussed its relationship to other available remedies and protections. We learned: that to qualify for CEPA protection the specifics of the correction required must be first submitted in writing to one’s employer or agency; that the situation to be corrected must be in violation of an existing law or binding regulation (such as the governor’s recent executive orders or the new law prohibiting the dismissal of employees who miss work for medically-recommended COVID-related reasons); that CEPA specifically protects a complainant or whistleblower against retaliation; that it protects both private and public sector workers; and, that its protections must be invoked within one year of the last retaliatory act suffered. We also learned how union grievance procedures and collective actions can often get results much quicker than a whistleblower complaint; and, that while a CEPA complaint supersedes a union grievance, an NLRB, OSHA, PEOSH, or other official complaint can be filed concurrently.
Yana van der Meulen Rodgers, Director of The Center for Women and Work at Rutgers University spoke about a report she co-authored about the causes for PPE shortages in the U.S, Personal Protective Equipment Shortages during the COVID-19 Pandemic: Structural Weaknesses and a House on Fire. Structural flaws in the market for US medical supplies and equipment has contributed to extreme shortages of PPE for health care practitioners during the COVID-19 outbreak. To avoid continuing shortages, we need to change the incentives for healthcare facilities to acquire and for domestic firms to produce the required supplies. We heard from Laura Kenny, Assistant Regional Administrator for Technical Support, US-DOL, OSHA and Steve Kaplan, Deputy Regional Administrator, US-DOL, OSHA about the importance of employers conducting risk assessments, how Executive Orders from the State of NJ are not enforceable by OSHA, and facemasks are not considered PPE. Since the COVID-19 crisis began the region has received approximately 600 complaints and conducted 55 fatality investigations. More than 220 participants joined the webinar.
April 12: Question & Answer Session with Deborah Cornavaca, Deputy Chief of Staff for Governor Murphy
For the third webinar in this series and were honored to welcome Deborah Cornavaca, Deputy Chief of Staff for Governor Murphy. Ms. Cornavaca spent the entire hour with us for a virtual question and answer session regarding safety measures taken by Governor Murphy to prevent the spread of COVID19 including recently signed Executive Order 122 that requires certain essential businesses to take additional safety measures. We’d like to thank Ms. Cornavaca for joining us, and for offering her enormous wealth of insight on our state government’s efforts to mitigate this crisis and her willingness to answer so many questions and listen to the concerns of COVID-19 frontline workers. We’d also like to thank all of the 175+ participants who joined us, and who are putting in the work every day to fight this disaster- either on the frontlines or by social distancing at home.
From the current shortage of PPE to the coming hospital bed shortage, we heard what it is like for employees to go to work during this pandemic. Some employers have not implemented or enforced social distancing guidelines or provided proper PPE, while other employers have enacted stronger safety and health measures. We discussed best practices employers can implement, victories won by unions to improve worker protections and what needs to be done to protect workers and their families. There were 100 attendees that participated. We heard from: Darren A. Spielma, PhD, Executive Director of The Senator Walter Rand Institute for Public Affairs (WRI) at Rutgers-Camden and an author of Timing County Hospital Bed Shortfall during COVID-19. Barbara Rosen, Nurse Educator, and Vice President of the Health Professionals and Allied Employees – AFT about Protecting those Who Care. Helen Polizzi Ireland, Director of Community Affairs and Education, United Food and Commercial Workers Local 360 and UFCW Representative Michael O’Brien about the concerns and demands of grocery store workers. Dave Hancock, Warehouse Campaign Director, Laundry, Distribution and Food Service Joint Board, Workers United, SEIU and warehouse worker Maria Ortiz about some Best Practices and Ongoing Concerns of Warehouse Workers. Lou Kimmel, Executive Director, New Labor, a [...]