Teamsters Stand with All Frontline Workers
In a few short months, a global pandemic has devastated and reshaped the lives of workers in America. While the infection has suffocated large parts of the economy, it has produced another symptom: worker unrest.
The coronavirus has put a spotlight on the essential labor American workers perform to keep society running. At the same time, it has also exposed the vulnerability of nonunion workers who have been stripped of so many rights and protections on the job. The crisis has forced too many working people to the front lines without adequate health and safety standards, at the mercy of business decisions and bosses who often are more interested in profit than protecting the lives of their employees.
Fortunately, many Teamsters and other union members have the benefit of strong collective bargaining agreements that include strict workplace safety measures. But most workers in America are unprotected. Meanwhile, the federal government is also failing in many ways to step up for workers’ safety. The result has been an upsurge of collective action by both union and nonunion workers.
“As Teamsters, we stand shoulder to shoulder with all workers fighting for safety, dignity and respect on the job, and this can only be won through solidarity,” said Teamsters General President James P. Hoffa. “Now, more than ever, workers need to speak up and take action to protect themselves, their families and their communities.”
On May 1, marking International Workers’ Day, Teamsters launched www.SolidarityIsEssential.org, a comprehensive online resource guide for nonunion workers to take action and fight for safer working conditions for themselves and their co-workers. The site provides information on workers’ legal rights on the job, information on filing complaints with federal and state regulators, and technical information on occupational safety and health during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been more than a hundred walkouts and strikes by workers who are demanding appropriate safety protections,” said Iain Gold, Director of the Teamsters Strategic Research and Campaigns Department.
The “Solidarity Is Essential” website lays out a set of basic protections that should be guaranteed to every worker, including the right to be kept safe from illness, injury or death at work and access to the personal protective equipment (PPE) they need to do their jobs safely.
The website includes resources for workers to take action, including steps to build a network, understand workers’ rights under federal labor law, come up with demands, and take actions like blowing the whistle or, if necessary, going on strike. It also provides health and safety tips for workers trying to stay safe on the job.
“The pandemic has created an environment where workers fearful for their lives are taking action with their co-workers that they hadn’t contemplated before,” Gold added.
Teamsters Help Workers Fight Back
The new wave of worker-led activity has taken place especially among nonunion, low-wage workers in the logistics sector. Food industry workers and warehouse workers keeping critical supply chains moving for a nation under stay-at-home orders have found themselves at heightened risk of infection and are demanding more protection and hazard pay.
A major flashpoint of worker activism has been at Amazon. While the rest of the economy has felt the crush of the pandemic, the online retail goliath has enjoyed the booming business of Americans forgoing trips to the store in favor of online shopping.
In April, workers at a Minnesota Amazon facility staged a walkout and won the reinstatement of one of their co-workers who was fired for refusing to report to work due to concerns about the virus and the company’s failure to ensure safety.
Across the country, Teamsters, along with other labor and community organizations, have been responding to worker calls for assistance to help assert their rights for safer working conditions during the health crisis. This includes helping Amazon workers file OSHA complaints, demanding PPE and transparency about worker infections, and calling for continued hazard pay.
In California, Teamsters have been supporting Amazon workers and community members in the Inland Empire who are demanding higher standards at warehouse facilities, including a planned air freight terminal being developed for Amazon in San Bernardino. And not far from there, misclassified port truck drivers who have long been supported by Teamsters are facing similar challenges from unsafe working conditions during the pandemic.
“Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, my work at the port has slowed down and it’s become nearly impossible to support my family,” said Juan Giraldo, a misclassified port truck driver from Los Angeles. “We haven’t been provided with the masks and gloves necessary to stay safe, and if I got sick I’d be in an even tougher situation since my company doesn’t provide me with paid sick leave.”
In May, Teamsters and community allies joined truck drivers who circled the Port Administration Building at the Port of Los Angeles. The drivers delivered a petition demanding proper PPE, paid sick leave, immediate cash assistance, free COVID-19 testing, social distancing procedures and a suspension of payment requirements related to truck loans and leases.
“There is an unprecedented amount of organic, worker-led activity taking place right now and the Teamsters Union wants to provide as much support as we can to these workers,” Gold said. “We are saying, in this period of crisis that is affecting all workers, solidarity is absolutely essential.”