What is COVID-19?
The most recent coronavirus, COVID-19, is a new strain of virus that hasn’t been identified before in humans. The COVID-19 virus is a respiratory pathogen that is highly contagious, and it is far more lethal than the flu virus.
Some symptoms of coronavirus include – fever, cough, body aches and tiredness and they can worsen and cause pneumonia, fluid in the lungs that leads to shortness of breath. The COVID-19 illness is more severe than the flu, and the chance of dying from it is greater than the seasonal flu, estimates up to 30x greater risk of death. COVID-19 has been able to spread from person to person very easily and requires an immediate response to protect workers and the general public.
The best way to prevent illness is to avoid being exposed to this virus. Some recent studies have suggested that COVID-19 may be spread by people who are not showing symptoms. The virus is thought to spread mainly from person-to-person, between people who are in close contact with one another (within about 6 feet), through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes or talks because these droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs.
Steps to Take to Protect Yourself
Below are some steps you can take to protect yourself at work or in your daily life. This is not a comprehensive list. It is important to note, as more is learned about COVID-19, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) continues to update their guidance on how to protect yourself. For the most recent updates, visit the CDC website.
- Stay at home — except to get essentials like food and medicine.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
- Social Distance – if you have to go out, keep your distance — stay at least six feet away from others.
- Cover your mouth and nose with a cloth face covering when you are around others AND still social distance.
- Make a plan, so you only visit the grocery store or pharmacy once a week during off-peak hours for the shortest amount of time possible.
- Do not gather in person. Stay in touch with friends and family over the phone or online.
- Don’t touch your eyes, nose, and mouth.
- Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
- If you’re sick, stay at home! (Unless it’s to get medical care)
- Only go to the hospital for urgent symptoms.
- Self-isolate if you have mild symptoms.
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
- Clean and disinfect objects and surfaces you touch often.
Employers should follow the MOST protective guidance and standards issued by state or federal agencies. If guidance contradicts each other, the MOST protective should be implemented.
COVID-19 Weekly Updates: Saving Lives, Protecting Workers
In this weekly series, we will hear from and talk with public health experts, government officials, medical personnel, front-line workers and worker representatives about the latest developments in the fight against COVID-19. The series is sponsored by WEC, Rutgers Learn and Jersey Renews and airs on Tuesday @ 10am.
Next Webinar – July 14: Student Health, Worker Safety, and Funding Challenges for Higher Education in a COVID-19 World REGISTER HERE
June 30: Update on the Updates
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.
June 23: Working Parents Need Child Care: An Update on the Reopening
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 childcare programs were already run on a “shoestring budget,” now, because of closures due to COVID-19, an estimated 50 % will either never open or will open and not be able to stay open. For providers, class size reduction due to safety also means a reduction in funding. Due to lost revenue, many families simply cannot afford childcare, preventing them from returning to work.
Dr. Beverly Lynn, CEO of Programs for Parents, the largest childcare and resource and referral agency in the State of New Jersey. PIP provides services to over 800 childcare providers in Essex County and financial assistance to the parents of over 10,000 children on a monthly basis to ensure that they have access to childcare in their communities Despite the pandemic, Dr. Lynn shared that 500 childcare leaders and directors remained open for essential workers, adapting to changes in the admissions process, temperature checks, having a group size of 10, extensive cleaning, face masks for staff, social distancing and decreased center capacity were some of the challenge’s centers faced.
In addition, we also received an update from Trina Scordo, Executive Director of NJ Communities United of their organization’s partnership with CWA 1037 on childcare issues to assist some of the most vulnerable families and to work with childcare providers to increase the grassroots organizing work needed to ensure health and safety for all. Trina spoke about how the pandemic has pushed issues of inequality to the forefront, particularly structural racism, poverty, and inadequate healthcare. She was joined by Shaniya Hargrove, an in-home provider, and shop steward for CWA 1037, who focused on health and safety issues. They highlighted that to have safe and healthy facilities, workers must have stakeholder involvement whether they are home or center based.
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 Governor’s office to promote and enforce the use of masks while using public transportation. Our transportation workers need support and protection in order to remain safe and healthy, too many lives have already been lost. In order to address the health and safety of NJ Transit, more must be done to secure funding, an issue which existed long before COVID-19. More than 95 people attended this webinar.
June 9: COVID, Social Distancing, and the Economy: What Can We Learn from the Swedish Experience
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, fully automated nucleic acid extraction test developed by Rutgers’ RUCDR Infinite Biologics (i.e., the Rutgers “saliva test”) will be a “game changer,” if it can be made widely available. He also believes that reliable antibody tests will be helpful. Researchers in Sweden, as in the U.S., continue to work around the clock on vaccine and testing development. More than 103 people attended this webinar.
June 2: The Impact of School Closings & The Challenges of Reopening
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 Antonelli were joined by Bill Henning, Business Manager, OPEIU Local 32. They spoke about the need for strong safety protocols to be in place to ensure that schools are safe and healthy for everyone as we look to reopen.
May 26: Public Sector Employee Safety and Health in the Age of Covid
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.
May 19: Workers’ Rights, Worker Safety and Workplace Justice
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 conditions during the COVID-19 crisis in New Jersey.
May 5: Worker and Community Health
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 reported that research has found an association between disasters and increased domestic violence. On average, one in four women and one in ten men are victims of domestic violence. She also discussed the impacts of domestic violence in the workplaces. She reminded us that many local domestic violence shelters are still operating in creative ways during COVID-19. Her presentation also contains a number of resources.
April 28: NJ Whistleblower Protections – what is says, what it doesn’t, and how to use it
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.
April 7: Recap From the Front Lines: Heroism, Shortages and Best Practices
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 membership-based organization of mostly low-wage immigrant workers in New Jersey about the issues their members are facing in the face of Covid-19.
March 17: Recap Coronavirus: Protecting and Educating Workers
Union, state and federal officials joined us for this webinar to give updates on COVID-19. There was an overview of what is cornavirus and how you can protect yourself, update on actions that Governor Murphy is taking to protect the public, an overview of the response from the Department of Labor and Workforce Development, Department of Health and a review of guidance issued from OSHA on protecting workers. More than 150 people participated in this webinar. Speakers Included:
- Deborah Cornavaca, Deputy Chief of Staff of Outreach for Governor Murphy
- Robert Asaro-Angelo, Commissioner, NJ Department of Labor and Workforce Development
- Chris Neuwirth, Assistant Commissioner, NJ Department of Health
- Steve Kaplan, Deputy Regional Administrator, US-DOL, OSHA
- Laura Kenny, Assistant Regional Administrator for Technical Support, US-DOL, OSHA presented Protecting Workers from 2019-nCoV
- Barbara Rosen, Vice President and Nurse Educator, Health Professionals and Allied Employees presented Understanding Infectious Disease
The COVID-19 webinar series is sponsored by
Benefits for Workers
NJ Department of Labor and Workforce Development Resources
- What NJ Workers Need to Know about the Families First Coronavirus Response Act Factsheet
- NJ Division of Unemployment: https://myunemployment.nj.gov/
- Guidance for Self-Employed Individuals Filing a Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Claim and FAQs
- NJ Family leave Insurance: https://myleavebenefits.nj.gov/labor/myleavebenefits/worker/fli/index.shtml
- NJ Earned Paid Sick Leave: https://www.nj.gov/labor/worker-protections/earnedsick/law.shtml
- NJ Temporary Disability Insurance: https://myleavebenefits.nj.gov/labor/myleavebenefits/worker/tdi/index.shtml
Federal Paid Sick Leave and CARES act expansions and stimulus
- US Department of Labor: Families First Coronavirus Response Act: Employee Paid Leave Rights
New Jersey 24-Hour Public Hotline -1-800-222-1222
Text “NJCOVID” to 898-211; text your zip code to 898-211 for live text assistance
- NJ Daily Updates: Covid19.nj
- NJ COVID-19 Dashboard: https://www.nj.gov/health/cd/topics/covid2019_dashboard.shtml
- New Jersey Department of Health – http://nj.gov/health
- New Jersey Paid Family Leave: https://www.nj.gov/labor/worker-protections/earnedsick/covid.shtml
- NJ Department of Education Resources: https://www.nj.gov/education/topics/index.shtml
OSHA’s primary resource is the OSHA COVID-19 Official Webpage. This page is routinely updated.
- Short video: Higher Risk Jobs Need Extra Protections to Keep Workers Safe
- Poster: Steps All Workplaces Can Take to Reduce the Risk of Exposure to Coronavirus (Spanish)
- Visit OSHA’s Publications webpage for other useful workplace safety information.
- Center for Disease Control and Prevention – http://cdc.gov
- For Mental Health and Coping: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/about/coping.html
- For Mental Health and Coping: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/about/coping.html
- National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences: https://www.niehs.nih.gov/
- US Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division’s (WHD) primary resource is the WHD COVID-19 Official Webpage
- US Environmental Protection Agency: https://www.epa.gov/coronavirus
- EPA Expands COVID-19 Disinfectant List: https://www.epa.gov/newsreleases/epa-expands-covid-19-disinfectant-list
- WEC & National COSH Resources
- National Council for Occupational Safety and Health: https://nationalcosh.org/coronavirus
- National Domestic Violence Hotline: https://bit.ly/39O8P89
- New Jersey Education Association: https://www.njea.org/covid-19/
- AFL-CIO – https://aflcio.org/covid-19
- AFGE – http://www.afge.org/coronavirus
- AFSCME – https://www.afscme.org/covid-19
- Transport Workers Union of America – http://www.twu.org/health-safety/
- NJ PTA: https://www.njpta.org/education/
- National PTA: https://bit.ly/2WlGCCv
- NAACP: https://www.naacp.org/coronavirus/
- SEIU: https://www.seiu32bj.org/coronavirus-guidance/
- SEL4US (Social & Emotional Learning & Mental Health for the US) : https://bit.ly/2V5SZ3i