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Labor, Safety Advocates Demand Protections for Essential Workers Be Included in New COVID-19 Legislation

Tuesday, July 14, 2020
Press Contacts: 

Roger Kerson, Roger@nationalcosh.org, 734.645.0535
Tessa Wick wick@sunshinesachs.com, 323.822.9300

Labor, Safety Advocates Demand  Protections
for Essential Workers Be Included
in New COVID-19 Legislation

 Coalition Releases New Video Honoring Essential Workers,
in Partnership with Jane Fonda, and Campaigns for New Workplace Safety Measures

LOS ANGELES  – Releasing a new tribute video honoring essential workers who have died after exposure to COVID-19, labor and safety advocates said today that worker protections must be included in new federal relief legislation.

“Essential workers are keeping us alive,” said Michael Leon Guerrero, executive director of the Labor Network for Sustainability (LNS).“But we’re not doing enough to keep them alive.”

LNS, the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health (National COSH), Fire Drill Fridays, Greenpeace USA, MoveOn, United Support and Memorial for Workplace Fatalities, the American Postal Workers Union (APWU), 1199SEIU and Academy Award-winning actor and activist Jane Fonda urged immediate action by the U.S. Senate today during a live stream broadcast on YouTube, “Pray for the Dead and Fight Like Hell for the Living.”

A broad coalition of labor, environmental and social justice organizations are calling for new worker protections including:

  • Funds for personal protective equipment (PPE);
  • Paid sick leave for essential workers;
  • Full medical coverage for essential workers;
  • A mandate for the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to enact an infectious disease standard.

More than 88,000 health workers, more than 37,000 meat packing, food processing and farmworkers and more than 5,900 grocery workers have been diagnosed with COVID-19, in addition to outbreaks among postal workers, transportation workers and others. Hundreds of worker deaths from COVID-19 have been publicly reported, representing a small fraction of the total number who have died, since many cases go unreported or are not properly linked to workplace exposure.

Despite this severe toll of sickness and death, U.S. OSHA – the agency charged with enforcing U.S. safety laws – has issued just one COVID-19-related citation since the outbreak of the deadly pandemic.

“Since we embarked on this video, I’ve had countless conversations with labor groups and families who have experienced incomprehensible tragedy. The scale of this loss is absolutely heartbreaking – and infuriating,” said Academy-Award winning actor and activist Jane Fonda, who helped conceive the In Memoriam project.

“We made this In Memoriam video,” said Fonda, “to pay tribute to the essential workers who have kept us alive during this pandemic and to fight to ensure workers are provided with the relief measures they desperately need and deserve. We will honor these brave workers and their families by doing what Mother Jones used to say: ‘Pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living.”

“In hospitals and nursing homes it is frequently a nurse or aide or social worker who is the last person to hold the hand of a COVID-19 patient before he or she dies,” said Maria Castaneda, secretary-treasurer of 1199 Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers East (1199SEIU), the nation’s largest union of health care workers. “Sometimes, it is the caregivers themselves who are dying. We’re running out of time. We need action now.”

“My father believed in hard work,” said Leonard Roseus, son of Dr. Yves Roseus, an 1199SEIU member from New York City who died from COVID-19 and is part of the In Memoriam video. “As an occupational therapist, my Dad went above and beyond for his patients, making sure they had the tools to recover and live fully – even when insurance was inadequate.”

“Postal workers are on the front lines every day, processing and delivering food, medicine, medical equipment and all the supplies we all need to make it through this deadly pandemic. We need to keep the Postal Service open during this public health crisis” said Debby Szeredy, executive vice president of the American Postal Workers Union (APWU).  “Many members of our union and our sister postal unions have died from this pandemic. The U.S. Senate must include protections for essential workers in the next coronavirus stimulus bill. No ifs, ands or buts.”

“We just had our first wedding anniversary, and weeks later my husband passed away,” said Monique Dale, widow of Richard Dale, an APWU union steward from Detroit who is also part of the In Memoriam video. “Richard was a man of faith who loved people. Many of his co-workers have shared with me how deeply he influenced them, and what a strong impact he had on their lives.”

In Memoriam  features names and photographs of essential workers, like Yves Roseus and Richard Dale, who have lost their lives to COVID-19. The video is accompanied by Mavis Staples performing “Hard Times Come Again No More” by American composer Stephen Foster.

The U.S. House of Representatives passed COVID-19 relief legislation including new workplace protections in May. The U.S. Senate has yet to act and is scheduled to consider a new bill when senators return from summer recess later this month.

“To see our senators delay and go on recess while workers are dying is disgraceful – and an insult to the workers who have died, their families, and all those still at risk,” said Jessica Martinez, co-executive director of National COSH.  “This is urgent. This is an emergency.  It’s time for our elected representatives to stop insulting us and start representing us.”

The English and Spanish translations of “In Memoriam” can be viewed on MoveOn's YouTube channel.

To learn more and take action for essential workers, visit NationalCOSH.org/Essential.

Advocates for worker protections can contact their U.S. senators by calling (202) 224-3121. 

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National COSH links the efforts of local worker health and safety coalitions in communities across the United States, advocating for elimination of preventable hazards in the workplace. For more information, please visit coshnetwork.org. Follow us at National Council for Occupational Safety and Health on Facebook, and @NationalCOSH on Twitter.