The COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread around the world, affecting the economy and the working people at the heart of all economic activity. Businesses are shutting down with no guarantee they will weather the storm and reopen, and workers are being laid off by the thousands as stay-at-home orders and the need for social and physical distancing take what should be obvious precedence over profit-driven economics. Yet in spite of the frightening and uncertain nature of these times, workers are organizing and winning important victories including hazard pay, paid sick leave, and more.
Here in Oregon and so many other places across the country, workers and other community members are forming mutual aid groups who are actively organizing and providing food, disinfectants, and other supplies to the community, especially to elder and immunocompromised people who especially should not risk going out into the public during this time. In addition these groups are organizing a rent strike and other policy campaigns designed to help workers and other vulnerable and marginalized people in this crisis. These impromptu organizations follow a long history of mutual aid organization during times of crisis, and are absolutely vital to efforts to stem the tide of this pandemic and keep our communities safe.
Workers are organizing in shops across the country to hold bad bosses accountable and ensure that front line workers in vital and essential occupations like food service are receiving paid sick days, hazard pay, and more. For example, members of the Burgerville Workers Union in at least one Portland area store have gone on strike due to dangerous under-staffing, inadequate sanitary conditions, and the corporate offices unwillingness to listen and respond to the needs of workers.
As a result of this crisis, people in the United States are waking up to the fact that grocery workers are vital, essential workers in our economy who deserve to be well paid and respected. In Oregon and Southwest Washington, UFCW Local 555 has been at the forefront of providing important and useful crisis information for grocery workers. The union and the front line grocery workers they represent are also leading the way with a series of recent and important victories in direct relation to the COVID-19 crisis. These victories include Hazard pay of an extra $2 per hour at Albertsons, Safeway, and Sherms stores as well as a hazard bonus for all Fred Meyer employees, an expansion of Fred Meyer’s emergency leave policy to include workers who have been told to self-quarantine by a healthcare professional, and store signage and floor markers and Fred Meyer check out stands to help ensure people are adhering to physical distancing guidelines while shopping for needed supplies.
Nationally, Amazon has become an important resource and supply line for people who are quarantined or unable to go out into the public due to age or having compromised immune systems. That makes it even more important for workers and community to be organizing to hold Amazon accountable, and that is exactly what is happening. In fact, this past week worker organizing at Amazon won paid time off for part-time warehouse workers and seasonal delivery drivers.
It can be easy to fall into the trap of discouraging workers from organizing in a time when businesses are struggling. But it is during times of crisis that the wealthy, capitalists, and business owners often attempt to pass off their risk and loss onto vulnerable workers, and the treatment of workers on the job declines as a result. Now more than ever, workers need to be organizing for better working conditions and a better world. Here at Jobs with Justice we are doing everything we can to help food service workers who want to organize to hold bad bosses accountable and provide mutual aid to those in need. If you are a food service worker and want to participate in these organizing efforts with us, please text “Community” to 503-782-6265 and we will update you and plug you into the movement accordingly!