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USA Today

Organized Labor Built Vaccine Facilities

The IBEW built the labs and teachers unions asked to distribute vaccine

Kris LaGrange's picture
Jan 13, 2021

Across the country, states are rushing to rollout the COVID vaccine. As cases are spiking it has become more important than ever to get the vaccine produced and distributed as quickly as possible. When COVID-19 first hit, UCOMM reported on building trades unions rushing to build field hospitals to provided extra beds for hospitals that were bursting at the seams. Then when the vaccine was first approved, UCOMM reported on how Teamsters working at UPS were tasked with delivering millions of doses to the eastern part of the United States. Now UCOMM is taking a look at the unions behind building the facilities that produce the vaccine and the unions that are being tasked with getting their members vaccinated.

­To develop a vaccine, great scientists are needed, but you also need a state-of-the-art facility. Many of these facilities have been built using union labor. According to the IBEW, they have “built most of, if not all of, the major pharmaceutical and biotech research facilities in the U.S.” Pfizer, which developed the first vaccine approved in the United States, used Local 1 of the IBEW to build their labs in St. Louis, Local 103 to build their Boston plant, and Local 131 to retrofit a plant in Kalamazoo, Michigan that formulates and bottles the vaccine.

According to the IBEW, almost every major pharmaceutical research facility and lab in the United States uses IBEW members to build and maintain the facilities. "I imagine we miss out on the tiniest start-ups, a kitchen remodel here and some small office remodeling there, but the labs? The research buildings? That's as close to 100% as anyone could get," said Local 617 Business Manager Dave Mauro. His local based in California works closely with major pharmaceutical companies including Genentech, Gilead, Amgen and AbbVie.

"Our members don't always know what the end product is they are working on," said Frank Jacobs, Business Manager. "I'm sure those members will take pride in knowing their work will be part of ending the pandemic." He also noted that Local 1 has never lost a job at Pfizer. Because the standards for cleanliness and constant operation are so high in biotech and pharmaceutical facilities, unions do between 90% and 95% of all work in the industry.

Of course, on the frontlines of administering the vaccine are union healthcare workers, like members of the Nurses union and SEIU. For the past year, these frontline workers have cared for the sick and are now responsible for administering the vaccine to millions.

Some states are also calling on bigger unions to help them distribute the vaccine. In New York, after Governor Andrew Cuomo asked unions for help, the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) created a system to streamline connecting their members with vaccine providers. Instead of having the members go through the state’s appointment system, the union reached out to local medical providers. Under their agreement, the UFT handles the intake of their members and then sends their information directly to the medical provider to make an appointment.  According to the union, within the first 24 hours, 7,000 teachers were directly sent to vaccine providers to set up times to be vaccinated. The union says they are prioritizing teachers and staff who are currently working in the classroom. The UFT noted that 7,000 people were chosen, because this was how many vaccines the providers had available.

“We are working with health care providers right now. We will be getting priority access for everyone who says they want a vaccine,” said UFT President Mike Mulgrew. “Our job is: People want the vaccine, we want to get them to a place that has the vaccine.”

Whether it is building the vaccine facilities, delivering the vaccine, or coordinating the massive undertaking of vaccinating the entire country, unions are stepping up and answering the call to help America end this pandemic.

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