Labor Roundup | June 2020

Meatpacking plants must remain open despite COVID-19 sickening workers. The virus forced some plants to close, but they reopened under an order from President Trump using the Defense Production Act.

Employers haven’t properly safeguarded workers with the tests, protective gear and safe distancing the government recommends. The United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) and its Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union division have allied with communities to protest conditions and pressure the White House to mandate compliance with its own standards.

Involved are these companies and communities (since the virus’ spread threatens the towns where they’re located): Hormel, JBS, Koch Foods (headquartered in Park Ridge, Ill.); Kraft-Heinz, Perdue, Smithfield (which had to shut down multiple sites, including a 1,700-worker facility in Monmouth, which the corporation reopened May 2), Sioux Falls, S.D. (where about 900 of 6,700 workers were sickened, with two dying), and Tyson.

Marc Perrone, president of the UFCW, which represents thousands in the country’s beef, poultry and pork processing plants, is demanding Trump ensure workers are protected from the pandemic. Perrone’s demand came as 17 U.S. packing plants had shut down due to the threat and as 5,000 workers testing positive for COVID-19 were ordered to self-quarantine or be hospitalized. Twenty meatpacking workers have died as of press time.

“To protect the food supply and ensure these safety standards for workers are enforced, these plants must be constantly monitored by federal inspectors and workers must have access to representation to ensure their rights are not violated,” Perrone said.

Trump’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration fails to force firms to protect workers – and the public — against the coronavirus pandemic, activists say. Results are needless deaths and illnesses among workers and in the nation, due to “community spread” when workers unknowingly catch the virus on the job and then have contact with others.

Unions have been keeping running lists of their members who die from the coronavirus pandemic; they number in the thousands, including nurses, teachers, bus drivers and others in trucking, groceries, warehouses and at Steelworkers-represented refineries and chemical plants.

OSHA is only issuing “guidance” to employers on how to protect workers.

“OSHA is missing in action,” said Jason Walsh, director of the BlueGreen Alliance founded by Steelworkers and the Sierra Club. OSHA’s directives are “non-enforceable by design while workers are putting their lives on the line.”

With Postal Service’s losses due to the pandemic, the AFL-CIO and other progressive groups are petitioning lawmakers to save it.

Without the USPS, supporters warn, people would be unable to get needed food, medicines and packages, because its nationwide delivery system – the only one reaching every address in the United States – would collapse.

Trump and ideologues in the White House want to privatize the USPS, ripping up union contracts and trashing its 630,000 workers.

The immediate problem is so bad that Postmaster General Megan Brennan says USPS needs $25 billion in cash, $25 billion for modernization, and a $25 billion line of credit. If not, she says USPS would financially collapse by Sept. 30. One of its big unions, the Postal Workers, puts the drop-dead date at July 31.

“In March, President Trump personally rejected emergency Postal Service funding, and his administration even suggested it would block the stimulus package Congress approved if it included help for the USPS,” said Richard Fiesta, director of Alliance for Retired Americans.

Thirty-nine labor-oriented progressives in the European Parliament outlined a plan to help workers cope with the coronavirus pandemic and particularly its economic impact.

Among their measures proposed this month are strengthening collective bargaining rights for European workers, “maintaining work and income,” guaranteed housing for all, dumping the Euro Zone’s “austerity” limits on budget deficits, and adding a coronavirus wealth tax on the rich and a financial transactions tax on investment transactions.

Whether the European Parliament, headquartered in Strasbourg, France, will agree is uncertain since the progressive coalition is the smallest among the 705 members of the European Parliament.

News briefs courtesy of The Labor Paper

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