Workers demanding pandemic protection

by Wade Rathke

September 18, 2020

New Orleans   Local 100 United Labor Unions members continue in Arkansas, Louisiana, and Texas to speak up and confront their employers, both public and private, about the inadequate health and safety plans at their workplaces. Having written requesting copies of the plans with most employers not responding, last week members and leaders demanded to see mandatory plans that the Occupational Health and Safety Agency requires be placed in all worksites for worker inspection. Two-thirds of the sixty employers and the almost 500 worksites where Local 100 represents 25,000 workers could not produce a plan.

Local 100 has now attempted to file charges at OSHA offices in Little Rock, as reported by the Arkansas Times, Houston, and Baton Rouge naming specific employers, including the state of Arkansas, where this is an issue. There no longer is an office in New Orleans, so for Louisiana, members needed to file the complaint in the Baton Rouge office. Despite the fact that it was 2:30 in the afternoon, the office was shut tight as a drum. Notes on the door reminded the public that there was a pandemic and masks were required, but there was no notice indicating the office was closed, or what hours it might have been open. Houston and Little Rock had a little more luck.

The differences in employer attitudes and plans for their workers can seem like night and day. At Caddo Parish Community Action Agency, where we represent Head Start workers in the Shreveport area, when we requested the plan, we almost immediately received a 78-page document. The agency is requiring staff to wear isolation gowns when working with students, which is a higher standard than experienced by our nursing home workers, despite the fact that a huge percentage of Covid-19 deaths have occurred in nursing facilities. On the other hand, Gulf Coast CAA, usually one of our better employers, in an exercise in magical realism of some sort, replied to our action with a lengthy email claiming they were exempt from having a plan, even though all the information in their correspondence dealt with the exemption by the CDC from their reporting Covid cases in the way that other employers are required to do. Having an OSHA plan for employees is not a voluntary choice. Of course, even Shreveport’s Head Start, while demanding workers have isolation gowns, is not providing them, meaning that Local 100 is driving up fourteen boxes of gowns next week for our members.

The door closed at OSHA’s office in Baton Rouge may be emblematic of the very relaxed, seemingly negligent, way that OSHA has handled the pandemic, since they still have not issued guidelines. Local 100 worries that it’s all bark and no bite. During the actions last week at worksites, a labor attorney for ResCare, the giant national services company, where we represent community home-based client care workers for the differently-abled, immediately responded to the union, saying she thought they had already sent us the plan upon our first written request. We were impressed by the quick response. Now another week later, still nothing.

Employers must realize that OSHA is not just out-to-lunch, but AWOL on this crisis. Nonetheless, workers with Local 100 are committed to continuing to take action in every way available to protect themselves, even if their employers and the government are still not stepping up to the task after all of these months when we have been in the full throes of the pandemic and the death count continues to rise.

Wade Rathke is founder and chief organizer of ACORN and ACORN International. You can find Wade’s recent past posts here Chief Organizer Reports. And you can link to his website here Chief Organizer ACORN/ACORN International.

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