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Unsafe at Western ● States held hostage ● COVID-19 as cover for quashing unions

Tuesday, April 28, 2020




► LIVE from the Seattle Times — Coronavirus daily news update, April 28 — The most recent count of COVID-19 cases in Washington totals 13,686 infections (up 165 from yesterday) and 765 deaths (up 16), according to the state Department of Health.

► From the Tri-City Herald — Sen. Murray blasts Tyson for allowing coronavirus to spread at plant near Tri-Cities –Tyson Foods waited too long to temporarily close its beef processing plant near Pasco, said Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), in a letter to the company Monday. “The more than 1,400 employees in Wallula, the countless members of the surrounding communities, and the millions of consumers of Tyson’s products deserve a swifter and more comprehensive response to the COVID-19 outbreak than they have experienced this far,” Murray said. The outbreak at the plant is now blamed for 124 COVID-19 cases, including a worker living in the Tri-Cities who died April 20 from complications of the disease caused by the new coronavirus.

ALSO TODAY at The StandMurray rips Tyson Foods over worker safety, delayed response

The Stand (April 23) — The union difference: A tale of two plants — Teamsters at the Lamb Weston potato plant in Pasco have workplace safety and respect on the job. Nonunion workers at the Tyson beef plant down the road have Washington’s biggest COVID-19 hotspot with more than 100 confirmed cases linked to the plant. Tragically, one of the infected employees, 60-year-old J. Guadalupe Olivera Mendoza, has died. The plant finally announced late last week that they would temporarily close pending COVID-19 testing for all employees, but still plan to reopen in days.

► From the (Everett) Herald — Amid falling revenue, Sound Publishing lays off 70 workers — The company shed 20% of its workforce. Here at The Daily Herald, a dozen people lost their jobs.

► From the Oregonian — Oregon grocery workers fear for safety after death of Whole Foods employee — After the death of a Whole Foods employee in Portland was attributed to COVID-19 last week, grocery workers around the Portland area expressed concerns about how customers are reacting to safety measures and questioned whether enforcement of those policies is adequate.




► From the AP — Washington mental hospital staff call virus testing unsafe — Workers who had been exposed to the coronavirus at Washington state’s largest psychiatric hospital were herded into a small building to be tested. Inside, few wore masks. They were given test kits by people without gloves and told to swirl a swab inside their noses. The method was designed only for people showing symptoms, but the staffers said none of them did. Many told The Associated Press that the flawed testing process this month likely produced inaccurate results and exposed them to the virus again. Employees say it’s another example of the state’s failure to protect staff and patients at Western State Hospital. They fear a repeat of the Seattle-area nursing home that became the first U.S. cluster of COVID-19 deaths, with 43. “I’m afraid this could become another tragedy similar to what happened at Life Care Center of Kirkland,” said Justin Lee, a spokesman for the Washington Federation of State Employees/AFSCME Council 28. At least 29 workers at the psychiatric hospital have tested positive for the virus, while six patients have confirmed cases and one has died.

► From SEIU Healthcare 1199NW — Nurses at Western State Hospital vote “No Confidence” in nurse administrators — Citing grave, ongoing concerns about safety and staffing levels, which predate and have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 crisis, nurses are calling for the removal and replacement of several administrators.

► From the Seattle Times — Inslee: Washington state parks, recreational fishing, golf courses to reopen May 5 — State parks, public lands and public water-access points have been closed since late March. Public gatherings and team sports will remain prohibited and people pursuing outdoor recreation must still abide by social-distancing guidelines, Inslee said.

► From the Stranger — Healthcare workers express mixed feelings about easing restrictions on elective surgeries — Now that Gov. Jay Inslee has partly pacified the construction industry and opened outdoor recreational areas, easing restrictions on elective surgeries are reportedly the next items on his list. But health care workers on the front lines of the COVID-19 crisis express mixed feelings about all that. If hospitals return to normal patient levels too quickly, or if COVID-19 infections spike because parts of the economy open too quickly, the system will be overwhelmed. At the same time, doctors worry large numbers of sick patients are going without care, which could lead to long-term health problems. Meanwhile, hospitals are hemorrhaging money due to loss of income from elective surgeries.

► From Crosscut — COVID-19 exposes a rift in the Republican Party (by Stuart Elway)  — Most Republicans and Democrats have different ideas about the pandemic and how the country should move forward. But there appear to be cracks in the GOP wall. There was a sizable minority of Republicans on the opposite side of the majority of their party on most questions. Not so among Democrats.




► From the Seattle Times — Boeing tells workers terms of voluntary layoffs, says air travel recovery will take years — As an initial step in its plan to reduce the size of its workforce, Boeing told U.S. employees Monday what it’s offering to those willing to take a voluntary layoff — which starting in early June will bring a first wave of “several thousand” job cuts… On Wednesday, Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun is expected to provide details on steep reductions in jet production rates, which are likely to spur thousands of local job losses.

► From the AP — Boeing directors elected despite concerns by advisory firms — Boeing shareholders approved a slate of 12 company-backed nominees for the board on Monday despite recommendations from two proxy advisers against five directors, including the chairman, for what the advisers called poor oversight of the company’s handling of the 737 MAX crisis.

► From Bloomberg — Airbus CEO warns workers it’s bleeding cash, needs job cuts




► From the Washington Post — As Trump puts partisan spin on federal aid for states, Republicans and Democrats warn of coming financial calamity — As states across the country see their budgets decimated by the coronavirus pandemic, attempts by Trump and top Republican lawmakers to paint the issue in partisan terms have been directly challenged by a growing cast of voices from across the political spectrum.

► From the NY Times — Republicans, who do you think is bailing out your state? (editorial) — Without this aid, the states — which, unlike the federal government, cannot run budget deficits — will have to start slashing costs. Read: services. Read also: jobs. Lots of public-sector jobs. Teachers, law enforcement officers, bus drivers and legions of others stand to get hit… Allowing state budgets to collapse is shortsighted and counterproductive.

► From the Washington Post — The misleading rhetoric on blue states needing to be ‘bailed out’ by the federal government (by Philip Bump) — Since Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell rejected the idea of providing assistance to states with budget shortfalls stemming from the pandemic last week, this idea that states (often Republican-led ones) shouldn’t be asked to pony up for other states (often Democratic-led ones) has become something of a GOP mantra. The context that’s missing here is that the federal government weighs in to support states all the time. Many states are, on net, beneficiaries of that support, while states like Illinois and New York are not. McConnell’s state of Kentucky is the most lopsided in terms of how much it gives to the federal coffers versus how much it gets. On a per capita basis, each resident of Kentucky nets more than $10,000 on average more from the federal government than they contribute.

EDITOR’S NOTE — And now, a glimpse into the future of how this will play out: Republicans will release the states they are holding hostage, but only if Democrats agree to let corporate bad actors off the legal hook for their irresponsible, deadly actions during the pandemic…

► From Politico — McConnell dangles aid to states — with a catch — To unlock that money, McConnell said he will “insist” Congress limit the liabilities of business owners and employees from lawsuits as they reopen in the coming weeks and months.

► From the Philadelphia Inquirer — Companies seek to limit legal liability for coronavirus infections — The debate comes as lawsuits are already starting to surface. The cruise industry is facing a slew of complaints, including in California and Florida. A family of a Walmart worker who died of complications from COVID-19 sued the company, accusing managers of a Chicago-area store of not doing enough to protect its workers… AFGE alleged in a class action suit that the federal government had not offered enough protective equipment. The grocery industry is similarly a ripe target for lawsuits as it confronts pressure from unions like the UFCW, which says that 30 grocery workers have died from COVID-19. Amazon, the nation’s largest online company, faces rising unrest among workers and pressure from an organized coalition of labor-backed groups.

► From Vox — A Republican effort to sabotage Obamacare was just rejected by the Supreme Court — On Monday, the Supreme Court voted 8-1 to reject a Republican effort to sabotage parts of the Affordable Care Act. The upshot of this decision is that health insurers will receive payments owed to them under Obamacare’s “risk corridor” program.




► A MUST-READ from the NY Times — Fired in a pandemic ‘because we tried to start a union,’ workers say — Truck drivers and warehouse workers at Cort Furniture Rental in New Jersey had spent months trying to unionize in the hopes of securing higher wages and better benefits. By early this year, they thought they were on the cusp of success. But when the coronavirus arrived, Cort, which is owned by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway, laid off its truck drivers and replaced them with contractors, workers said. The union-organizing plans were dashed. “They fired us because we tried to start a union,” said Julio Perez, who worked in Cort’s warehouse in North Bergen, N.J. As American companies lay off millions of workers, some appear to be taking advantage of the coronavirus crisis to target workers who are in or hope to join unions, according to interviews with more than two dozen workers, labor activists and employment lawyers.

► From the Milwaukee J-S — Union construction workers rise to meet the many challenges of COVID-19 (by Jessica Levy) — The brave men and women in union construction have the resources and safety training necessary in order to rise up and meet current challenges in a cautious but efficient manner. Working through a union can provide an extra layer of protection, since the union is well-equipped to compile and disseminate quickly changing guidance regarding coronavirus-related best practices.

► From Reuters — Millions of Americans locked out of unemployment system, survey finds — The Economic Policy Institute found in an online poll that for every 10 people who have successfully filed unemployment claims, three or four people have been unable to register and another two people have not tried to apply at a time of acute economic crisis.

► From Vice — Amazon reinstates fired warehouse worker after employees strike — Workers say after more than 50 of them went on strike at an Amazon warehouse in Shakopee, Minnesota on Sunday, the employee was reinstated. The striking workers say she had been fired for staying home to protect her two children from coronavirus. Amazon won’t talk about whether she was ever fired at all.


The Stand posts links to Washington state and national news of interest every weekday morning by 10 a.m.

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