Friday, May 1, 2020
► LIVE from the Seattle Times — Coronavirus daily news update, May 1 — The most recent count of COVID-19 cases in Washington totals 14,327 infections (up 257 from yesterday) and 814 deaths (up 13), according to the state Department of Health. Meanwhile, Gov. Jay Inslee is scheduled to speak Friday at 2:30 p.m. An announcement is expected on the gradual reopening of Washington state.
► From the Seattle Times — Seattle-area essential workers’ jobs changed due to coronavirus. Here’s what they want you to know. — While most of the state is on lockdown, thousands of Washingtonians are still making their daily commutes, ensuring the lights are still on when we get back. They bag our groceries. They tend to the sick and dying. They drive. They prepare our food. They look after our kids. For months, they’ve pressed on, knowing thousands of people, many of whom were working in the same jobs, have already died. There is no Zoom call that could replicate the services essential workers provide.
EDITOR’S NOTE — This excellent report features profiles of six essential workers — all women, all union members: Kyong Barry, a front end supervisor at Albertsons in Auburn (UFCW 21); Allyssa Howard, a Community Transit coach operator (ATU 1576); Marily Sta. Maria, a nurse at ICHS Holly Park Clinic and Kindred Hospital (Washington State Nurses Association); Kulwinder Kaur, a production worker at Draper Valley Farms in Mount Vernon (UFCW 21); Rocío Luquero, a Seattle World School family support worker (Seattle Education Association); and Josefina Martinez Loeza, an Alliance Building Services janitor (SEIU 6).
► From MLK Labor — MLK Labor calls for face coverings on public transit — The MLK Labor Council, Transportation Choices Coalition, and ATU Local 587 sent a joint letter to Seattle Mayor Durkan, King County Executive Constantine, and Sound Transit CEO Rogoff calling for the requirement of face coverings on all modes of public transportation.
► From the Peninsula Daily News — Sequim School Board mulls $2 million in cuts
► From the (Everett) Herald — Even before COVID, need for nurses was certain (editorial) — With National Nurses Day coming May 6, our appreciation of them is even more timely. So, yes, whether they work in hospitals, clinics, care centers, doctor’s offices, public health agencies or other settings, thank you, nurses.
MEATPACKING PLANT SAFETY
► From the Seattle Times — Early test results suggest widespread coronavirus infections at Washington state’s largest beef plant, Tyson — The plant, just outside the small town of Wallula, largely shut down last week amid a major outbreak that already had resulted in more than 125 workers coming down with COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus, including one who died. Since then, more than 1,100 other workers have been tested, and Walla Walla County officials said Thursday that 56 of the first 400 test results were positive. County officials, in a statement, said more results will be released during the next few days as they — and Tyson — try to get a fuller picture of the spread of the virus in the plant. Just when the plant, which employs more than 1,400 people, will reopen remains uncertain… “Let me be clear, the best way to protect America’s food supply, to keep these plants open, is to protect America’s meatpacking workers,” said UFCW President Marc Perrone, whose union represents some 250,000 meat- and poultry-plant workers, although not those in the Washington Tyson facility, which is nonunion.
► From the Tri-City Herald — Nearly 15% of workers tested so far at Tyson plant are infected
ALSO at 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.
► From The Hill — Nearly 900 workers at Tyson meat plant in Indiana test positive for coronavirus — The coronavirus infected 890 of the 2,200 people at the plant located in Logansport, Ind. The updated number is more than 700 additional confirmed cases at the plant than the Cass County Health Department reported last week.
► From the Seattle Times — To protect food supply, keep workers safe (editorial) — To date, 22 meat processing plants around the country have been temporarily closed after outbreaks of COVID-19 among employees, according to the UFCW. By the union’s count, at least 20 meatpacking and food-processing workers have died from complications of the virus, with thousands more directly impacted — missing work because of symptoms, hospitalizations or self quarantine.
► From the (Longview) Daily News — County finished testing at Foster Farms, won’t specify new cases there — Cowlitz County health officials, encouraged by what they consider a relatively low number of cases at Foster Farms, plan no more mass testing there and say they will no longer reveal whether new COVID cases are related to the Kelso chicken processing plant.
EDITOR’S NOTE — Given the risk of community spread in the places surrounding these plants, why shouldn’t the public have a right to know the number of local cases linked to a specific employer? This new policy only protects Foster Farms from scrutiny and community pressure to make working conditions safer or shut down. Sixteen of Cowlitz County’s 46 cases — more than one third of them — involve workers at Foster Farms. The public should continue to have that information moving forward.
► From the Washington Post — Our meat is more important than meatpacking workers, according to Trump (by Eugene Robinson) — If you work in a meatpacking plant, by order of President Trump, you are officially considered less essential than the steak you’re cutting up. You have to risk being infected with the deadly coronavirus so that those of us who can stay home — and still get paid — may continue to enjoy our hamburgers, hot dogs and chicken wings… Whose lives are put at risk by the order Trump issued on Tuesday? Low-income workers — many of them black or brown, many of them immigrants — who cannot afford to lose their jobs and who now must put their health at risk to stay employed.
► From the Washington Post — Boeing raises $25 billion in massive bond sale, turns down bailout funds — Boeing has raised $25 billion in a massive debt sale, allowing it to avoid tapping a $17 billion coronavirus bailout fund meant to shore up businesses critical to national security… The announcement was a sign of Boeing executives’ determination to ride out the crisis without government support, though that could hasten layoffs at a company that might face a significantly smaller post-crisis demand for its products. The company announced this week that it planned to lay off 10 percent of its global workforce, affecting at least 14,000 jobs… Boeing CEO David Calhoun has said repeatedly in recent weeks that he had no interest in taxpayer money if it meant the government would take an equity stake in the company. That stance concerned lawmakers from Washington state, who urged Calhoun in a letter to “consider utilizing the economic assistance provided by the Cares Act to safeguard thousands of jobs at Boeing in Washington State and across the country.” Seven members of the state’s congressional delegation wrote they were “especially troubled” by what they perceived to be Calhoun’s reluctance to take government money as it was shutting down plants.
► From Q13 Fox — Employees react to Boeing’s layoff announcement — Said one employee: “You work with these people spending more time with the people at work than you do with your own family. To watch them get laid off, it’s hard.” Said another: “The shop floor is kind of a jittery place right now. Everybody’s more worried about COVID-19 than the layoff itself.”
► From the Spokesman-Review — Washington unemployment claim numbers ‘gargantuan,’ commissioner says — More than 1 in 5 Washington workers sought some form of unemployment payment last week, in what the head of the agency that administers those claims called “gargantuan numbers.” Nearly $1 billion in various benefits were paid out in the week ending Saturday, Employment Security Commissioner Suzi LeVine said. “That is, by far, the largest week of unemployment benefits in our state’s history,” she said.
The Stand (April 26) — WSLC offers tips for filing your weekly unemployment claims
► From WSNA — Major win to prohibit use of carcinogen for PPE sterilization — The Washington State Department of Labor and Industries has issued a Hazard Alert prohibiting the use of ethylene oxide for cleaning of face masks, including N95s. This alert is a result of WSNA’s efforts to raise the alarms and advocate for the safety of our members.
► From the Skagit Valley Herald — Groups take sides over farmworker safety rules — A farm advocacy group has raised concerns that proposed state rules to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in temporary worker housing would negatively impact farmers’ ability to harvest their crops, yet labor unions contend the state is not doing enough to protect farmworkers whose work has been deemed essential during the pandemic.
► From the (Everett) Herald — Democrats to nominate potential successors for John McCoy — Rep. June Robinson (D-Everett) is seeking the Senate appointment, and as of Thursday, she was the only announced candidate for the fall election. She is likely to be the top choice of Democratic Party members and the odds-on favorite to get the nod from the council. In anticipation of that outcome, Democratic activists will be asked Saturday to nominate three people to fill Robinson’s House seat should it become vacant.
► From Roll Call — AFL-CIO’s Trumka, Labor’s Scalia clash over workplace safety — The nation’s top labor leader attacked the department’s record on workplace safety in a Tuesday letter that described OSHA as “missing in action” and tabled 11 demands for measures to protect workers. “Since this crisis began, the Department of Labor and federal government have failed to meet their obligation and duty to protect workers; the government’s response has been delinquent, delayed, disorganized, chaotic and totally inadequate,” Trumka said. Scalia responded Thursday, thanking Trumka and saying that the department would consider his proposals, but then accusing him of mischaracterizing OSHA’s performance.
EDITOR’S NOTE — The Stand described OSHA as MIA way back on April 16. But alas, we didn’t pull a Tom Brady and try to trademark it.
► From Roll Call — Democrats propose protections for farm workers — Domestic farm workers, many of them undocumented immigrants, would be covered by a bill of rights for essential workers that advocates and a group of House Democrats want included in any future economic relief bill that moves through Congress.
► From The Hill — Federal employees push for COVID protections in ‘dangerous’ workplaces — Thousands of federal employees who have been working remotely for weeks are starting to return to their offices, and they’re raising concerns about what they see as a lack of protections against the coronavirus.
► From the News Tribune — ICE detention centers ‘unprepared’ to battle coronavirus, report shows — Food filled with maggots, gray drinking water and open packages of raw meat leaking blood in refrigerators. A new report sheds a devastating light on the poor conditions in U.S. immigration jails battling cases of the coronavirus despite pleas to release vulnerable individuals and ensure safe environments for those left inside. The document emphasizes that these detention centers are “dangerously unprepared for emergencies” such as the coronavirus pandemic.
► From the Washington Post — Republican-led states signal they could strip workers’ unemployment benefits if they don’t return to work, sparking fresh safety fears — Iowa, Oklahoma and other states reopening soon amid the coronavirus outbreak are issuing early warnings to their worried workers: Return to your jobs or risk losing unemployment benefits. The threats have been loudest among Republican leaders in recent days, reflecting their anxious attempts to jump-start local economic recovery roughly two months after most businesses shut their doors… “These states are offering people the choice to endanger your life or starve,” said Damon A. Silvers, the director of policy and special counsel for the AFL-CIO.
► From The Guardian — Retail workers at Amazon, Whole Foods coordinate sick-out to protest COVID-19 conditions — Hundreds of workers at Amazon warehouses, Whole Foods grocery stores, Target retail stores, and shoppers at Instacart and Shipt called out sick on Friday as part of a coordinated one-day strike across the US in protest of working conditions and inadequate safety protections during the coronavirus pandemic. The May 1 walkout began after Amazon ended its unlimited unpaid time off policy for workers at the end of April.
EDITOR’S NOTE — Amazon and Whole Foods workers (and all others, for that matter): If you have a union contract, your employer can’t unilaterally revoke benefits like this. Joining together with your co-workers gives you the power to negotiate fair pay and a safe workplace, and to enforce those terms. It is your right as an American under the NLRA to form a union, and to do so free from intimidation and coercion by your employer. Get more information about how you can secure your rights and safety at work. Or go ahead and contact a union organizer today!
► From CNN — This is the most dangerous place in the grocery store — Sandra Kunz wanted to keep working as a Walmart cashier even as the coronavirus spread. Despite a lung condition, the 72-year-old in Aurora, Colorado, needed to get her paycheck, according to her sister, Paula Spellman. Her husband, Gus, was injured and out of work, and the couple had bills due. Kunz died on April 20 from complications related to the coronavirus, her sister said. Gus, who was also sick from the virus, died two days before his wife. Spellman said her sister had expressed concerns about customers at Walmart coughing on her at the cash register.
► Last night, America’s favorite public employees from “Parks and Recreation” had a coronavirus-lockdown themed reunion to raise money for Feeding America. Today’s TGIF video features Lake Stevens High School grad Chris Pratt (as Andy Dwyer) reprising “5,000 Candles In The Wind,” his musical tribute to the show’s dearly beloved horse Li’l Sebastian who died in Season 3. Apparently, it had Twitter in tears. Enjoy and stay safe.
The Stand posts links to Washington state and national news of interest every weekday morning by 10 a.m.