“Many workers are being exposed to the deadly coronavirus just while doing their jobs,” said Steve Tolman, president of the Massachusetts AFL-CIO. “We have to do more to protect working people in Massachusetts,” Tolman told the participants in the state’s annual Workers’ Memorial Day.
In the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic, the recent event had to take place over Facebook due to the state’s social-distancing regulations. Speakers called for “essential workers” to get access to such benefits as workers’ compensation for COVID-19.
The COVID-19 crisis has deeply affected Local 888 members, particularly at the Holyoke and Chelsea Soldiers’ Homes. At least 84 caregivers at the Soldiers’ Home have tested positive for the coronavirus.
The event was spearheaded by the Massachusetts Coalition for Safety and Health, which Local 888 is a member of. A solemn part of the event was the reading of the names of workers who died in 2019 from injuries or illnesses sustained on the job in Massachusetts.
This memorial included a special tribute to that state’s frontline and essential workers — including six of whom have died from the COVID-19 disease they likely contracted on the job.
“May we honor the lives of those who have been lost due to workplace injuries by fighting for the safety for all workers,” said the Rev. Mariama White-Hammond of the New Roots AME Church in Boston.
MassCOSH gives Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker’s reopening plans failing grades. (For the full MassCOSH report card on Baker’s plan, see (https://tinyurl.com/888Baker).
MassCOSH had previously made a number of recommendations to Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker’s Reopening Advisory Board (http://masscosh.org/sites/default/files/documents/MassCOSH%20Reopening%20Advisory%20Board%20Comments%205.11.20%20%282%29.pdf).
MassCOSH has released a “COVID-19 Tool Kit for Essential Workers: Health and Safety Protections and How to Make Them Happen” (https://tinyurl.com/888essential). It includes sections particularly of interest for Local 888 members:
Yesterday, House Democrats led by Speaker Pelosi unveiled a fourth legislative package, “The HEROES Act,” to respond to the ongoing public health and economic crisis that has ensued as a result of the pandemic and the Trump Administration’s failure to adequately prepare for and respond to the threat COVID-19 poses to working people and our communities.
At almost 2,000 pages, this major piece of legislation is a step forward and includes many of the priorities SEIU and other union members have been fighting for. There are areas that need improvements and it will take all of us campaigning to get a robust version signed into law.
The House plans to take up the bill on Friday, and pass the bill by the end of the day. The Senate, as of right now, has no plans to act on additional legislation. Senator McConnell has instead filled the Senate’s schedule by lining up votes on inexperienced, unqualified and anti-worker nominees to the federal judiciary, rather than addressing the immediate needs of essential workers and local and state governments.
The President has also not indicated he will support additional measures to protect essential workers and working people. Our pressure campaign will be critical in forcing the Senate and Administration to act.
Linked HERE you will find a topline summary of The HEROES Act, including provisions that so many of you have fought for and advocated on.
Additionally, linked here is a statement by SEIU President Mary Kay Henry released yesterday about the legislation.
Please continue to reach out to your elected officials at all levels, let them know directly what your members are facing, the ways they are leading in this crisis, and that we need government and industry to act quickly to pass legislation to Protect All Workers.
As SEIU members fight on the front lines of this public health crisis and economic emergency, Local 888 and the labor movement will keep fighting until we win real, structural change that transforms our economy and our democracy so that we win racial and economic justice for all.
“Our members benefit from speaking with one voice, when dealing with Emerson,” said Shaylin Hogan, vice president of Local 888’s Emerson chapter. “We speak with members regularly and have developed a good working relationship with our Human Resource Department. That really helped us get members’ coronavirus concerns addressed.”
With the rapidly building crisis, “It was clear that management was tuning out our members,” said Aimee Slater, head steward for Local 888’s Brandeis chapter. “We quickly organized a meeting with management. It was amazing to see our members who haven’t spoken up much before, feel so empowered. We stuck together for the sake of our peers; and management saw the power of our union.”
With a voice at work becoming so vitally important for higher ed workers, Local 888 is convening its second annual Higher Education Labor Summit on June 20, 2020 to connect workers fighting to improve their work lives and share skills that it takes to win on campus. The summit will provide workers an opportunity to strategize and coordinate with other university workers on their organizing and contract campaigns. Higher ed workers can sign up here: http://www.tinyurl.com/higheredlaborsummit
“At American University, we were 10 months into a union campaign and building up a head of steam when the coronavirus hit,” said Sam Sadow, visual resources curator and adjunct professor. The lack of face-to-face contact has slowed recruitment down, but the campaign is still moving forward. The key issues remain the same during the crisis, they are just heightened. For example, they have been organizing for a say in policy changes and now, during the pandemic, those policy changes seem to be happening daily.
A worker organizer at Tufts said, “I really like Tufts, but I want it to do better by its workforce.” He said the university staff’s COVID-19 transformation of the workplace shows: “We are awesome. I’m proud of my co-workers for all they’ve done. It’s important to remind ourselves: We are a skilled and flexible workforce. We deserve to have a real voice in our future.”
“Winning isn’t easy, but with a union, you’re not by yourself,” said Hogan. “Now speculation about what will happen after the coronavirus crisis is over — abound. We don’t know what the new normal will look like. But you have to tell the administration that they’re going to have to listen to us. We are leaders on our campus, and we must demand a voice to help shape new policies.”
Visit this Facebook group for discussion of clerical, technical and professional staff employment issues.
“Many workers all over the world are struggling with the question of how to do their job if … they don’t go to the office. So, how do lawyers get their work done if they can’t go to the courthouse?
Workers in the Massachusetts public defenders agency are deemed “essential.” At the same time, many Massachusetts courthouses are closed and lawyers may not be able to actually meet with clients.
“Meanwhile, people still get charged with offenses,” said Rachel Scotch, president of the MassDefenders, a Local 888 affiliate. So, workers for the Committee for Public Counsel Services, the official name of the agency, had follow-up questions about how that was all going to happen.
The MassDefenders Executive Board came up with an array of situations that had to be dealt with and sent them in a letter to management. Even better, the state agency dealt with them.“We got a great response,” said Scotch. “It was significant that, although we are not officially recognized as a union, we did a good job of acting like one. It was a real win for us that the exact issues we brought up in our letter to management were dealt with — and broadcast to the entire agency — the next day.”
The issues covered by the MassDefenders’ letter included identifying which are specifically required to go into the office.
For her part, Scotch speaks to clients while working from home. She can’t visit them, in part due to of a lockdown of some state facilities. She can file motions for clients via email. This method, one she hopes will continue into the future, is now more widely available across the state.
For more information on the COVID-19 resources, see Local 888’ website http://www.seiu888.org/coronavirus-covid-19/.
The COVID-19 crisis with its stay-at-home orders have the economy reeling, and Local 888 members dealing with a range of situations. Gov. Charlie Baker shut down the schools starting March 17, St. Patrick’s Day.
“We’ve been doing quite well — so far,” said Pegge Minkle, chapter president for the Hopkinton cafeteria workers. So far, everyone’s getting paid while doing online training in food service work. Courses range from sanitation to what meets the portion size and nutritional requirements — across a wide range of ages — for the federal lunch program.
The Hopkinton cafeteria workers, like most SEIU Local 888 members, were still getting paid as usual as April began. Arrangements vary — from custodians working 20 hours per week, to other custodians working full time on jobs that had been on the back burner, to Department of Public Works employees coming to work on a rotational basis.
In Hopkinton, the food service director has been taking care of the small number of requests for federally subsidized breakfasts and lunches. Cafeteria workers are ready to come in if more help is needed.
“We’ve been so short-staffed in the cafeterias that we have not had the time to take part in trainings,” said Minkle. “Now, staff has the time to do it. It’s a win-win situation for everyone. It’s nice to be able to absorb the material without answering to a crazy schedule.”
Staffers take the courses online, and when they finish a given section are tested and given a certificate. Cafeteria workers return the certification to the food service director.
When Local 888’s school cafeteria, maintenance and clerical chapters were notified about looming layoffs, they fired off letters of protest.
Randolph School Committee members are “targeting their lowest-paid employees and inflicting economic hardship upon them during this national crisis,” said Lisa Routson, of the school cafeteria chapter. “The governor and the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education both recommended and encouraged school committees to continue to pay their hourly workers. Instead, Randolph has decided to punish their most vulnerable employees.”
In the end, the three chapters were able to use their union grievance and bargaining rights to reach an agreement with the Randolph School Committee that members were happy with — at least given the health crisis that grips the country.
Local 888 members were given the choice of moving to a 30-hour-per-week schedule or a furlough with Randolph schools paying the employer part of the health insurance while the employee is on furlough.
For more information on bargaining during the COVID-19 crisis, email firstname.lastname@example.org
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced people around the globe to radically alter their behaviors. Sometimes, that could be a good thing.
For two elections at Boston’s Department of Neighborhood Development, Local 888 members used “OpaVote,” an online voting utility. The chapter is voting to approve their bargaining committee members and whether to switch back to having a separate contract. Membership participation was 68 out of 92 eligible members voting.
Results won’t be available until April 20.
OpaVote’s website says the company maintains voter privacy: “Voter emails are used only for your election.” The company says it uses encryption to “provide top-notch security and reliability.” For more information, go to https://www.opavote.com/.
ALWAYS ESSENTIAL: The Marlborough cafeteria staff is working away in the kitchen. With the COVID-19 crisis, they are making lunches and breakfasts that are delivered to bus stops for the city’s children.