During the COVID-19 pandemic, workers across the country are facing unprecedented challenges. Tens of millions of workers have been laid off and are struggling to pay their bills and access healthcare. Many of the essential workers that continue to keep the country moving are facing new, potentially deadly, workplace hazards without adequate workplace protections or proper equipment.
This time of crisis makes it clearer than ever before just how essential many workers, who are often overlooked and undervalued, really are to our economy and the health and safety of our communities. As workers, it is us, not the millionaire & billionaire bosses who truly make our economy function. While much of the country shelters in place, warehouse workers, delivery drivers, grocery store clerks, healthcare workers, solid waste workers and so many other essential workers are still reporting to work every single day.
Many employers are spending millions on TV commercials calling their essential employees “retail heroes,” but few are doing nearly enough to keep workers safe or pay workers for what they are contributing. It’s clear that many essential workers are not getting the workplace protections or compensation that we deserve. As North America’s strongest union, the Teamsters are committed to standing up with all workers, not just Teamster members. While we are aggressively pushing our employers to do the right thing, we are also fighting hard on Capitol Hill and in state houses around the country for healthcare for unemployed workers; emergency health and safety protections for essential workers; and paid sick leave for all workers. As important as these efforts are, we know legislative action alone is not enough.
A History of Struggle
Throughout history, working people have won lifesaving safety improvements, fair pay, decent benefits, and other essential protections on the job by organizing with their coworkers and taking action together. That’s how our strong union was built. In 1934, another major time of economic crisis and high unemployment, Teamsters in Minnesota organized a general strike, stopping all truck traffic in the city to demand significant pay increases and union protections. Within 18 months, a quarter-million truck drivers from Chicago to South Dakota had won fair wages and union contract. The union was a hub for organizing unemployed councils, soup kitchens, and other key emergency response efforts.
In the 120-year history of our union, millions of Teamsters have organized strikes, pickets, walkouts and countless other forms of direct action to demand fair pay, safe working conditions, quality healthcare, and basic dignity at work. Sometimes the law was on our side and the government and courts stepped in to hold the bosses accountable and help workers get what we deserved. But more often than not, the rules have been stacked up against us and the agencies that are supposed to protect workers are just too weak to overcome the greed and influence of the bosses. And in every single one of those fights, it was individual workers, standing together with their coworkers, with the support and collective strength of our union that made the difference.
Essential Workers Taking Essential Action
During this public health crisis, essential workers around the country are taking heroic collective action to demand lifesaving safety improvements to keep themselves and their coworkers safe. Workers are organizing delegations to their bosses, circulating petitions, and filing complaints with OSHA and other regulators. Workers who are part of our union are acting together to file grievances enforcing existing protections and collectively bargaining for new health and safety protections. Workers who aren’t part of a union yet are organizing strikes to have their voices heard. Since the start of the pandemic there have been more than 100 walkouts and strikes demanding appropriate safety protections. Your rights and the type of collective action that makes most sense can vary based on the industry in which you work, your employment classification and whether you’re covered by a no strike clause but one thing is certain – we're always stronger together.
The way that workers are organizing today looks a lot different than it did in 1934, or even the way that it did a few months ago. Workers aren’t facing down the national guard on city streets, much more of the organizing is happening online. Where there are workplace actions, workers and community supporters are surrounding workplaces in their cars, holding big banners or otherwise demonstrating in a responsible social distancing manner.
Workers are fighting and winning key safety improvements to reduce the spread of the virus. Warehouse operators and manufacturers are staggering shifts to facilitate physical distancing, grocery stores across are installing shields to separate checkout clerks from customers, package delivery companies are changing procedures to minimize contact between delivery drivers and customers and employers across all industries are increasing paid leave and relaxing attendance policies. And when employers retaliate, workers continue to push back. For example, in Georgia, Republic Services suspended Greg Dowis for speaking out about safety and after Republic workers from across the country called management, he was reinstated with full backpay. In Minnesota, over 50 Amazon workers walked out and won reinstatement for their unjustly dismissed coworker, Faiza Osman, by the very next day.
Let’s be clear, companies aren’t making these changes out of some sense of generosity or because they actually care about workers’ health and safety. As recently as last year, Amazon, for instance, was perfectly happy to subject almost 10% of its workforce to disabling injuries each year. Companies are offering these safety improvements because they can’t find enough workers who are willing to risk their lives and the health of their families for the poverty wages they had been receiving before the start of the pandemic
WE've Got Your Back
During this public health crisis, bosses aren’t keeping workers safe, the federal government isn’t keeping workers safe, workers are keeping each other safe. We see workers across the country coming together to make their workplace safer and improve work standards and we want you to know we’ve got your back. We’re providing information on your legal rights at work, information on filing complaints with federal and state regulators, and technical information on occupational safety and health during the COVID-19 pandemic here on this website. And if you’re ready to start organizing with your coworkers to take collective action, we’re here for you!
We stand with all workers, regardless of what industry you’re in, what kind of work you do, or whether or not you’re already part of our union. If you are already a Teamster member, the best place to start for support is your local union. Since the beginning of this pandemic we’ve been in constant contact between every level and across every division of the union to make sure that every member of our union has the support they need to stay health and safe at work. As union members covered by collective bargaining agreements, we have a whole set of additional useful tools and mechanism to hold our employers accountable and win higher standards.
If you’re not part of a union yet, but you and your coworkers are interested in taking collective action, get in touch with us.
Health and Safety Information
The Teamsters Health and Safety Department has developed a comprehensive set fact sheets, videos and other resources with detailed information on how to keep workplaces safe during the COVID-19 pandemic. If you want to know more about what employers should be doing to keep workplaces safe during this public health crisis, check out TeamsterSafety.org for the comprehensive and up-to-date information on workplace safety during the pandemic.
Organize with your coworkers
Where workers are winning improvements in health and safety and compensation during this pandemic, it’s because they’re building worker support networks, making demands to their employers and backing up those demands with collective action. The first step to doing that is building a network of your coworkers so you can communicate and make plans together.
Time Off and Benefits for Workers Impacted by the COVID-19 Pandemic
For some workers in essential jobs, continuing to work during the pandemic is not an option. New laws mandate paid sick leave for some workers and expanded unemployment benefits for workers impacted by COVID-19.