All news related to the Covid-19 virus.

March 30: COVID, Immigration Status, and Hazardous Working Conditions

This week's webinar focused on how COVID-19 has impacted undocumented workers, the risks that undocumented workers face when they organize against unsafe conditions, and how workers are fighting back despite threats of retaliation. More than 40 people attended this webinar. Vineeta Kapahi, Policy Analyst with NJ Policy Perspective, offered context for why COVID-19 has hit undocumented New Jerseyans particularly hard. Undocumented workers make up a large portion of the workforce in industries deemed essential during the pandemic, and many have been forced to work in unsafe conditions, particularly in sectors already governed by poor or poorly enforced labor protections such as farmwork and warehousing. High rates of workplace exposure, as well as lack of access to health insurance and paid sick leave, have caused disproportionately high COVID-19 death rates in undocumented communities. Undocumented workers are also disproportionately represented in sectors that have experienced the most job losses due to COVID-19, yet they have been excluded from many forms of relief, including CARES Act payments. Immigration enforcement has also exacerbated the dangers of COVID-19 for many undocumented people. All four of New Jersey’s detention facilities have had COVID-19 outbreaks, meaning detention by ICE can be a death sentence. Enforcement also allows for employer [...]

By |2021-03-31T16:45:33-04:00March 31st, 2021|Covid-19, Covid-19 Webinars|Comments Off on March 30: COVID, Immigration Status, and Hazardous Working Conditions

March 16: COVID-19 and Paid Time Off for New Jersey Workers

We were joined by guests from the Center for Women and Work at Rutgers SMLR and the New Jersey Citizen Action Education Fund to learn about how paid time off intersects with community health and well-being - and worker health and safety - and where and when the NJ policies can be applied. Debra Lancaster from CWW summarized the body of research on the benefits of paid family and sick leave, including addressing gender and racial disparities as well as improving health outcomes and work-family balance. Yarrow Willman-Cole from NJ Citizen Action gave an overview of the overlapping web of job protections available at the national and state level and income replacement programs available at just the state level. They outlined current state and federal laws that make most employees in New Jersey eligible for Temporary Disability and Family Leave insurance (TDI/FLI), and discussed the positive impact these protections have for everyone, but especially for marginalized communities and women highlighting among other points: Longer leaves among new mothers is associated with fewer depressive symptoms When new fathers take paid leave, they are more likely to be engaged caretakers Lower odds of infants being re-hospitalized when paid leave is available to parents Decreased participation [...]

By |2021-03-23T14:10:32-04:00March 17th, 2021|Covid-19, Covid-19 Webinars|Comments Off on March 16: COVID-19 and Paid Time Off for New Jersey Workers

March 9: One Year of the COVID-19 Series – Lessons Learned & Looking Forward

  This week Todd Vachon, Rutgers, Learn, Debra Coyle McFadden, Executive Director, WEC, and Cecelia Gilligan Leto, Program Director, WEC reflected on the 42nd webinar episodes they have developed and hosted over the past year. Through those webinars, they were joined by 97 guest speakers and more than 4,000 attendees tuned in.Speakers included: Barry Kushnir, President, IFPTE Local 194 who spoke about how terrifying the start of the pandemic was because of all of the unknowns. Barry stated that “the webinars provided a hub of free resources which was very helpful.” Kushiner also expressed how wonderful it was to be able to collaborate with other organizations on this issue. Marcia Kleinz, UniServ Field Rep. Region 29, NJEA, works with higher education locals and spoke about how she was able to use the tools and ideas from the weekly webinars to support solidarity among members. She felt that “regardless of the topic, there was something I could take back.” Moving forward, Marcia said that she feels that stronger health and safety language is needed in contracts and that the information she received from the webinars will help her “advocate better for members and to negotiate for it.” Nancy Miller, Membership Assistant Program Coordinator, UFCW Local 1262 provides [...]

By |2021-03-23T14:19:46-04:00March 10th, 2021|Covid-19, Covid-19 Webinars|Comments Off on March 9: One Year of the COVID-19 Series – Lessons Learned & Looking Forward

March 2: Collective Bargaining & COVID-19

This week, two experienced labor representatives and collective bargainers -- Peter Dooley, Industrial Hygienist with National COSH, and Jim Howe, President of Safety Solutions -- facilitated an interactive workshop on best practices for collective bargaining in the age of COVID-19. Peter and Jim have compiled a shared Google Doc with collaborative notes from our session and a comprehensive set of instructional resources and sample documents that cover pre-planning and information gathering ahead of the bargaining process, writing effective proposals, and bargaining itself. Participants are invited to reach out to Peter ( or Jim ( to request editable copies of any of these documents for use in their own workplaces. Some take-away points from Peter and Jim: It’s important to have worker engagement in the collective bargaining process. The more your demands are based on what workers want, the more powerful they will be to management. There are tremendous opportunities to gain improvements in Health and Safety issues through bargaining with employers. It’s important for H&S representatives to help the union or worker organizations recognize and realize these improvements. The bargaining process in health and safety should be happening all the time with the employer. The most important part of the process is to have any [...]

By |2021-03-03T15:08:55-05:00March 3rd, 2021|Covid-19, Covid-19 Webinars|Comments Off on March 2: Collective Bargaining & COVID-19

February 23: COVID-19 Vaccines and the NJ Vaccine Distribution Program

Today we heard from two public health experts helping to guide the planning and execution of New Jersey’s COVID-19 vaccination program. Dr. Eddy Bresnitz, Medical Advisor to the NJ Department of Health and chair of the state’s Professional Advisory Committee, began by summarizing what New Jerseyans need to know about the two available FDA authorized vaccines (Pfizer and Moderna mRNA), including the following: Both vaccines are approximately 95% effective. Adolescents ages 16 and 17 are eligible to receive the Pfizer Biotech vaccine. It is not yet known how well the vaccine prevents COVID-19 transmission, so those vaccinated should still mask, social distance and take other measures to protect others. The vaccine’s durability is not yet known - it may require booster doses. The vaccine may be administered to people with underlying conditions who have no contraindications to vaccination. Those who are immunocompromised or have autoimmune disorders should consult with their doctor before vaccination. Dr. Bresnitz also provided an update on New Jersey’s tiers for priority vaccination: in Tier 1A, which includes those working or volunteering in healthcare with potential for direct or indirect exposure and all residents and workers of long-term care facilities, “everyone who wants a vaccine has gotten one.” Those now [...]

By |2021-02-24T16:25:59-05:00February 24th, 2021|Covid-19, Covid-19 Webinars|Comments Off on February 23: COVID-19 Vaccines and the NJ Vaccine Distribution Program

November 10: A COVID Health & Safety Conversation with Peg Seminario

This week, we were joined by Peg Seminario, Former Director of Occupational Safety and Health for the AFL-CIO from 1990 until her retirement in 2019. Peg talked about the failure of federal OSHA to protect workers from not issuing an emergency infectious disease standard to not requiring employers to report workplace COVID cases and the general lack of inaction in the early days. She also noted  that neither the federal or state governments have established data collection systems to track COVID cases in the workplace. Recommendations she made for OSHA included issuing an infectious disease emergency standard, using the Illness and Injury Reporting and Record Keeping rule to report COVID cases in the workplace, and, most importantly, aggressively enforcing standards and protections for workers that are already in place. She emphasized the important role of educating and empowering workers and how local communities can come together to demand change. More than 85 people attended this webinar. RESOURCES Here is the NJ DOL factsheet on COVID-19 Scenarios & Benefits Available Join WEC at COSHCON 2020 hosted by the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health December 1 - 3 and 8 - 10.

By |2020-11-12T16:16:53-05:00November 12th, 2020|Covid-19, Covid-19 Webinars|Comments Off on November 10: A COVID Health & Safety Conversation with Peg Seminario

No ventilation, poor air quality pushed many districts to go remote

“Your average school building that you’re going to walk into today is not a commercial facility where you go to do your grocery shopping, or retail shopping, or even a lot of the office spaces that folks are used to going into every day. And even if you want to, it’s really difficult and expensive to retrofit these buildings with the controls needed,” he said. Barkkume discovered guidance for clean air even from the CDC has fallen short. “From the beginning and up until today, the CDC does not recognize full aerosol transmission of the virus and this trickles down to the state level and it informs the requirements the Department of Education places on school districts and it changes the way they do their planning,” he said. He is now working with teachers unions to raise a red flag about air quality in schools. He believes aerosol droplets can escape even when a person’s wearing a mask. And Barkkume says the state has no measurements to prove a school’s met the required clean air standards. There’s been a big focus on filters lately, with some districts investing in MERV filters. But Barkkume says that’s less important than ventilation. And it [...]

By |2020-09-14T11:19:01-04:00September 14th, 2020|Covid-19, Highlights, WEC in the News|Comments Off on No ventilation, poor air quality pushed many districts to go remote

Representative Norcross Discusses School Reopening With NJ Education Leaders

Heather Sorge, Campaign Organizer, Healthy Schools Now, WEC had an open conversation with Congressman Norcross to discuss school reopening and staff and student health and safety alongside Marie Blistan, President, NJEA, and Tina Dare, teacher and GR Representative, NJEA.  School buildings must be safe for in-person instruction to resume.  Watch the video here.  

By |2020-09-09T14:04:33-04:00September 9th, 2020|Covid-19, Highlights, WEC in the News|Comments Off on Representative Norcross Discusses School Reopening With NJ Education Leaders

Back to School, or Something Like It: Local District Plans in a Pandemic

‘If you want to do it, do it right’ Last month, in conjunction with the Coalition for Healthier Schools, the New Jersey Work Environment Council (WEC) issued “The Pandemic vs. Schools,” a national call to action emphasizing the importance to districts of having a solid plan before reopening. WEC is a Trenton-based labor coalition that typically concerns itself with workplace health and safety issues. “Schools can either slow the spread of the virus or speed it up,” the report reads. “Right now, schools across the country are struggling to come up with these plans on their own,” a task, it argues, for which many are ill-equipped to respond on the fly. Healthy Schools Now campaign organizer Heather Sorge said an unprecedented absence of federal guidance for public school re-openings has resulted in uneven school re-openings across the country. She hopes that districts will take the time to create rigorous health and safety plans before returning to in-person instruction. “I know there’s a big rush to return to normalcy,” Sorge said. “However, if you want to do it, do it right. “We don’t want to go backwards, and we certainly don’t want to rush to find out that we were wrong, and that we started too [...]

By |2020-08-13T12:19:27-04:00August 13th, 2020|Covid-19, Highlights, WEC in the News|Comments Off on Back to School, or Something Like It: Local District Plans in a Pandemic

Schools shouldn’t open unless they have effective plans to prevent infection | Opinion

There have been nearly 5 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the United States, and this virus has no intention of going away anytime soon. As New Jersey plans to reopen schools, health and safety must be at the forefront. We cannot reopen schools without strong health and safety measures in place to protect our students and school staff. Given the lack of strong federal guidance, The New Jersey Work Environment Council, Healthy Schools Now coalition and the national Healthy Schools Network released A Call to Action. It calls on states to produce authoritative school infection, prevention, and control plans which local schools can adopt. This report, backed by science and developed alongside health experts, school advocates, and worker representatives is the first report that simultaneously prioritizes school staff and student’s health.  Read the entire op-ed here.

By |2020-08-07T12:40:39-04:00August 7th, 2020|Covid-19, Highlights, Opinion Pieces, WEC in the News|Comments Off on Schools shouldn’t open unless they have effective plans to prevent infection | Opinion
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