Child labor laws have been passed, a minimum wage has been set, overtime laws are in place, and there is a federal agency dedicated to occupational safety and health, OSHA. “So, what do we need unions for?” This is a common refrain uttered by opponents of unions as well as many workers who have never belonged to a union. Welcome to the pandemic terrordome. Since the arrival of COVID-19 earlier this year, the need for unions has become more apparent than ever. From the very start, essential workers in retail, warehouses, assembly lines, nursing homes, and hospitals were some of the most vulnerable, typically working with woefully inadequate safety protections and often at wages that do not begin to reflect the value their work adds to society each day. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has been missing in action, refusing to issue an emergency infectious disease standard for healthcare workers. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued inadequate guidance, which employers could choose to follow but could also ignore since it is not enforceable. The voluntary nature of this guidance has created an uneven playing field, pitting good employers who do the right thing against bad actors who ignore [...]
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.
This past week, WEC placed an op-ed outlining how a state-chartered public bank can help us achieve safe, secure jobs and a healthy sustainable environment for New Jersey. "If the past three months have proven anything in New Jersey, it’s that we need money. Not “we,” meaning our millionaires and billionaires and Wall-Street backed corporations. “We,” meaning workers. “We,” meaning communities of color. “We” means the poor, the working class and the near-mythical middle class. “We” means the people hit hardest by the health and economic devastation brought by COVID-19. “We” have big problems, and you can’t fix big problems without money. We need the state to invest money into accomplishing good things for the public. To do that most effectively, we need a state-chartered public bank in New Jersey, and we need it fast because it can provide the resources we need quickly and efficiently, and it can stop Wall Street from getting its grubby little mitts on the profits." Read the full piece here!
Reality check: No one is safe from the ravages of COVID 19. After all, nurses, warehouse workers and celebrities like Tom Hanks alike are getting sick. Actually, if you work for low pay, are a person of color, or live in a crowded urban area, you’re more likely to get sick and less likely to be able to get the treatment you need. It’s no coincidence these people are the most vulnerable. The air is worse to begin with in struggling communities, causing pre-existing conditions that heighten susceptibility to the virus. No, this isn’t a “we’re all in this together moment.” Unfortunately, the coronavirus exposes our unpreparedness for a health disaster, and longstanding fault lines between the haves and have nots. Read the full opinion-editorial from the Satr-Ledger by Debra Coyle McFadden, executive director, WEC.
According to a recent Gallup poll, 42% of parents worry about the impact COVID-19 will have on their children’s education. Despite the fact that New Jersey school districts are adapting and educators have gone above and beyond, altering lesson plans and creating virtual classrooms overnight, students have encountered difficulties learning in this current climate. In response, New Jersey lawmakers have developed a task force to follow the impact of education from COVID-19. There are a number of issues this pandemic has brought to the forefront that the task force should address to ensure all students are receiving an equitable education. New Jersey school districts first faced the challenge of providing computers to students in order to access online learning. While wealthier districts were able to fulfill this request, low- and moderate-income districts have struggled to supply this resource, further contributing to inequity in the classroom which already exists. Even once supplied, parents who lack computer knowledge have struggled to assist their children as they navigate new online learning programs. This, coupled with internet access and internet stability, has made distance learning a virtual nightmare for many families putting at-risk students at an even greater disadvantage. Read the full Opinion-Editorial in northjersey.com from Heather Sorge, HSN Campain Manager, WEC [...]
COVID-19 is our World War II – to fight it, we need to reconnect to our sense of social responsibility.
Coronavirus is an existential threat that could inspire individuals, businesses, and governments to act like they haven’t since World War II. In 1943, Eleanor Roosevelt planted a “Victory Garden” on the White House’s lawn, with the intention of encouraging Americans to grow their own vegetables, to reduce food and labor shortages as a result of World War II. By the end of World War II, some 40% of all vegetables consumed in the United States were grown in Victory Gardens. One poster read: “PLANT A VICTORY GARDEN. OUR FOOD IS FIGHTING.” Social responsibility is in our veins. Our concept of connectedness after World War II, while notably racist and exclusionary (something that should always be addressed and considered when forming new policies), allowed us to build some of the most effective social infrastructure the world had ever seen in the 20th century. The financialization of our economy and our political lives in the 1980s tricked us. After the Civil Rights movement won many of its battles to include everyone in that incredible social infrastructure, we were suddenly told it doesn’t matter. That every individual is an island. That government was the problem, and that there was no such thing as “society.” [...]
Here in New Jersey, warehouse workers have been classified by the state as essential workers. It’s not hard to understand why. As COVID-19 spreads, these workers are the ones ensuring that food, cleaning products, medicine, and other vital goods are distributed to millions of people. But while the state government rightly considers warehouse workers essential, their employers treat them as disposable. That’s wrong and unacceptable, especially during this pandemic. Too many New Jersey residents employed in warehouses are still not given the protection and respect they deserve. According to news reports and first-hand accounts, COVID-19 is spreading quickly in New Jersey warehouses, because owners and operators of these facilities are not implementing rigorous cleaning measures, health and safety protocols, and other measures. Read the full opinion-editorial in the Star-Ledger by Alberto Arroyo is co-manager of the Laundry, Distribution and Food Service Joint Board (LDFS Union), Workers United, SEIU and Debra Coyle McFadden is executive director of WEC.
PES explosion on June 21, 2019. Photo credit to NBC Philadelphia. In South Jersey, this year we have a big reason to be grateful. In June, according to a recent report from the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB), a million residents of South Jersey and Pennsylvania narrowly escaped exposure to hydrofluoric acid, a highly toxic gas, after a preventable series of explosions at the Philadelphia Energy Solutions refinery. When the explosion took place at 4 am, a control system operator immediately hit a switch to move the deadly hydrofluoric acid into a separate drum out of danger. Three other refinery workers fought flames to shut valves supplying fuel to the fire. The reward for these brave workers, all members of United Steelworkers Local 10-1? They lost their jobs, along with over 1,000 others. We’re lucky this disaster did not cause any loss of life. But it’s inexcusable that so many residents were put at risk and so many workers lost their livelihoods due to apparent negligence by company executives — who paid themselves $4.5 million in bonuses just two weeks after the incident. Read the full opinion-editorial piece in the South Jersey Times by Debra Coyle McFadden, WEC Executive Director here. [...]
This week marks the seventh anniversary of Hurricane Sandy. We all remember the fear and anxiety that gripped communities as we faced winds up to 90 miles an hour and sea levels 14 feet higher than normal. The storm claimed hundreds of lives and cost tens of billions of dollars in New Jersey, New York and up and down the East Coast. Health-related costs in New York and New Jersey alone were more than $3 billion. Is New Jersey ready for the next Sandy? The oil and chemical industries are important to the New Jersey economy. But we must not lose sight of the health and safety of workers in those industries, or the well-being of residents in surrounding communities. No one knows when the next storm might hit, when flood waters might rise, or when extreme heat might cause a disaster we can’t foresee. That’s why it’s more important than ever that industries that handle hazardous substances operate with full transparency and take steps to prepare for emergencies. Read the full Opinion-Editorial in The Star Ledger from Debra Coyle McFadden, WEC, Executive Director here.
The warehouse sector that supports the multibillion dollar e-commerce economy is booming. New Jersey shouldn’t give tax breaks to corporations that exploit the warehouse workers who make it happen. There are major problems with our state’s controversial tax incentive program, administered by the New Jersey Economic Development Authority. Over the past year, alarming reports of a lack of oversight and a tangled mess of corporate cronyism at the NJEDA have become a symbol for economic and political dysfunction in New Jersey. NJEDA reform must focus on the quality of jobs we incentivize with our limited taxpayer resources – a topic largely missing from the tax incentive debate. Read the full Opinion-Editorial on NJ.com from the Star-Ledger by Alberto Arroyo is the International vice president of Workers United, SEIU. Brandon Castro is the campaign organizer for NJ Work Environment Council.