A different kind of May Day
Keeping the American worker safe involves protective equipment, unemployment assistance
IN THE US, labor unions and progressive groups typically celebrate May Day, or International Workers Day, with rallies, while the rest of the general public leaves its commemoration of workers to Labor Day, the first weekend in September. But as with everything, coronavirus will change that.
Instead of the chants of “Solidarity Forever” and the usual strikes, most union members will find themselves shuttered at home. Essential workers, like those at Whole Foods, Amazon, Target, and Instacart (a grocery delivery and pick up service), are striking and holding socially distanced picket lines in protest of their companies’ policies around sick time and personal protective equipment. Three grocery workers have died so far from COVID-19.
In Boston, some Whole Foods employees are engaging in a “sickout,” a day of protest where workers call in sick and picket for the reinstatement of health coverage for part-time and seasonal workers, and the shutdown of any location where someone has tested positive for COVID-19 until deep cleaning can occur. There are over 40 cases of coronavirus at Massachusetts Whole Foods locations, according to a nationwide tracker of cases put together by employee advocacy group Whole Worker. Three Massachusetts grocery store workers from Whole Foods, Star Market, and Market Basket, have died so far in the pandemic.
Protecting the American worker has become a two-pronged crisis management plan — keep the ones who still have jobs safe, and throw a life raft to the ones who don’t so they can keep swimming until the economy improves.
For those who still have jobs, like restaurant workers donning masks as they fill take-out containers, questions about adequate employer-provided PPE and sick time remain, especially as states begin to consider reopening these businesses for dine-in service, exposing employees to more and more people.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren is joining restaurant employees from Massachusetts, New York, and other states in an online rally on Friday, asking Dine Brands, the parent company of Applebee’s and IHOP, to provide paid sick leave, paid family and medical leave, and income relief.
But it’s not all bad news. For health care frontline workers, getting personal protective equipment was a challenge at first, something that is being leveled out by donations and employers cooperating with new rules and regulations.
In honor of USPS employees, who have been receiving PPE and continue to deliver packages and mail, The Greater Boston Labor Council and the Massachusetts AFL-CIO are donating extra union-made PPE today to those mail employees in Boston.Companies are also facing major challenges. Firms starting to plan for reopening are bracing for a flood of coronavirus-related litigation, writes Jon Chesto in the Boston Globe. Elizabeth Levine, an employment lawyer at Goulston & Storrs, said the coronavirus creates a new kind of “minefield for employers.”
Workers who think they caught COVID-19 on the job might file a workers’ compensation claim or make an Occupational Safety and Health Administration complaint, especially if the employer didn’t require them to wear a mask or provide PPE.