Workers ‘think outside the box’ in Covid-19 fight

Jodi Nesbitt, President Unifor Local 240 part of sanitizer distribution team

BOSSES SAY “YOU’RE NOT PAID TO THINK”. But workers always do. They’re proving that right now. The results can be inspiring, provocative and unsettling. Here’s a sampling of what happens when workers think for themselves.


--------------- APRIL 9 2020 ---------------

Workers urge using empty
Oshawa GM plant to produce
medical equipment

Activists in Oshawa, Ontario held a joint online news conference April 9 to propose that the empty General Motors plant in Oshawa be converted to produce personal protective equipment, testing kits and ventilators and other  medical supplies crucial to the COVID-19 fight.

“That would be such a fantastic development,” said Michael Hurley, President of the Hospital Division of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), “if we used the unused capacity and turned it around – which we could do quickly – to direct this equipment to the front line.”

“This is good for the community of Oshawa, this is good for Ontario, this is good for Canada…I call on all levels of government to make this happen,” said Patty Coates, President of the Ontario Federation of Labour.


--------------- APRIL 5 2020 ---------------

OPSEU members chip in
to serve up 300 meals

The Beacon Restaurant in Thunder Bay is giving back to the community by preparing and donating 300 meals, paid for by Ontario Public Service Employees Union Local 720, to the Regional Food Distribution Association of Northwestern Ontario (RFDA).

“The idea is to support small businesses, but to also help people who are struggling in our community as we all navigate our way through the COVID-19 pandemic,” says Colleen Arvelin, president of Local 720.

OPSEU President, Warren (Smokey) Thomas, applauds the locals for going the extra mile to help their communities.

“Our members from across Ontario are rolling up their sleeves and being good citizens, neighbours, and friends,” he says. “This is no surprise, but it is great to see during a time of such need. OPSEU has, and always will, support Ontarians.”


--------------- MARCH 31 2020 ---------------

Unifor members produce,
distribute hand-sanitizer

Close to 160 Unifor members working at Hiram Walker & Sons Distillery in Windsor switched from producing alcohol to producing hand sanitizer.
Unifor members from eight locals distributed about 5,000 litres of the first batch of alcohol-based hand sanitizer to area hospitals, long-term care facilities, and nursing homes over the April 4 weekend. Plans are in place to ramp up production of hand sanitizer to more than 20,000 litres per week.

“I am incredibly proud of our members at the Windsor distillery. This kind of community response to a global crisis is incredible to see,” said Jerry Dias, Unifor National President.


--------------- APRIL 5 2020 ---------------

Workers want to go back
to work to make ventilators

On April 8, workers protested at four General Electric factories in four US states demanding to be called back from layoff to make ventilators to fight coronavirus instead of airplane parts.

The protesters, all members of IUE-CWA (Industrial Division of the Communications Workers of America), want the company to convert its workforce and unused manufacturing capacity to “accelerate the production of life-saving ventilators” for coronavirus patients.

The workers are also asking for better protections at factories that are still running.

“We have the knowledge and the skills to get the work done,” said Carl Kennebrew, president of IUE-CWA. “I think we could meet whatever demands we’re asked about, we just have not been provided the opportunity.”

GE says it plans to reject funds from the recently passed coronavirus bailout package that might help prevent such layoffs.

GE has entered multiple partnerships with Ford that use the automaker’s plants or workers to produce ventilators designed and initially created by GE’s Healthcare Division.


--------------- APRIL 2 2020 ---------------

Employer uses virus fears
to drive home anti-union message

On March 23, as the coronavirus pandemic put grocery workers on the front lines of a public health crisis, USA grocery chain Trader Joe’s sent a memo to direct store managers to remind employees: Joining a union might be a bad idea.

Workers hoping to form a union recently circulated a petition calling for Trader Joe’s to offer “hazard pay,” or an hourly rate of time and a half. And over the last few weeks, the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union has held talks with employees.

Workers say it feels like the chain was taking advantage of a moment of anxiety to drive home an anti-union message.

“They are sitting around there worried about it because they are anti-union and this is the perfect time for us to unionize,” said Kris King, a longtime Trader Joe’s employee in Louisville, Ky. “They feel vulnerable.”

King started a Facebook group for workers to discuss how the store was handling the pandemic. He was fired a few days later.

His store manager told him: “This is not how we operate. We don’t operate by letting crew talk amongst themselves.”


--------------- MARCH 30 2020 ---------------

Growing anxiety brings
growing worker solidarity

Growing anxiety has resulted in growing solidarity among a variety of workers in the USA.

On March 30, a contingent of workers who fulfill orders for the grocery delivery service Instacart stayed off the job, demanding greater pay and better access to disinfectant, paid sick leave and hazard pay of an extra $5 per order.

Also on March 30, a group of workers walked off the job at an Amazon warehouse in Staten Island, while Whole Foods Market workers planned a “sickout” for March 31.

Nurses in the Bronx neighbourhood of New York City protested a lack of protective equipment in late March, and sanitation employees in Pittsburgh staged a protest over working conditions.

 “Whether they’re an employee of a grocery store, or an Instacart worker, they all have the same concerns,” said Bob O’Toole, the president of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1546 in Chicago.

Though the size of the Instacart walkout was unclear, organizers said they believed that thousands of the company’s 200,000 workers were refusing to report to the job.

Several Instacart workers said it was notable that the walkout appeared to unite those who are classified by the company as independent contractors with those who are employees and only prepare orders within stores.

Christian Smalls was one of the leaders of the Amazon walkout. He had become alarmed to find a co-worker with puffy red eyes who was visibly ill.

Organizers said several dozen workers had taken part in the protest.

Not long after the protest, Smalls was fired.


--------------- APRIL 8 2020 ---------------

California nursing home workers refuse unsafe work

They felt it was just too risky to go to work—so they didn’t. Only one out of the 13 certified nursing assistants scheduled to work at the Magnolia Rehabilitation and Nursing Center, in Riverside, California showed up for work on April 8. More than 80 patients had to be evacuated to other healthcare locations in the county.

On April 8 there were at least 34 confirmed cases of COVID-19 infection among residents and five among thee 13 employees.

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