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Organized Labor to the Rescue

During Pandemic raising money, feeding kids, building new hospitals, strengthening the internet

Brian Young's picture
Apr 21, 2020

 Schools are shut down, businesses are closed and only essential workers are heading out to work in many parts of the country. Yet this hasn’t stopped unions in the heart of the COVID-19 pandemic from continuing to get work done and continuing to help their communities. Here are just a few stories of their stories that UCOMM has collected.

Teachers in Farmingdale, New York have been teaching via distance learning for the past six weeks. They have also been raising money for a local hospital, Southside in Bay Shore. The goal of the fundraiser is to help the hospital buy iPads so that patients can videoconference with their families while they are alone in the hospital since visitors are prohibited due to COVID-19. Teachers are also sewing masks and other PPE. These homemade masks are especially important as New York now requires everyone to wear a mask when social distancing isn’t possible. Teachers in Hauppauge New York are also teaching via distance learning and are finding new ways to connect with their students and co-workers. With students out of school, the district is providing school lunches for students. Every day teachers and staff are volunteering to show up at the school and help hand out food to the students and their families. Hauppauge teachers, through a local frisbee team, have raised $8,000 for nurses working in local hospitals and have delivered meals to union construction workers who were working 24 hours a day to build overflow hospitals. West Islip Teachers Association is also helping out those in the community who have lost their jobs or are in need of food by hosting two food drives over the past six weeks. Other teachers' unions, like the Amityville Teachers Association, are dealing with the fact that many of their students live in a COVID-19 hotspot. With over 700 cases in the school district, the union is advising members to stay home and stay out of the way to stop the spread. This is one of those unique situations where sometimes staying home is the best thing to do, especially when teaching keeps kids in a hotspot area engaged and home, instead of out potentially spreading the virus or getting sick.

In the Suffolk County Courts, most cases are being heard remotely meaning that there is just a skeleton crew of employees that have been consolidated into one court in the county. This is good news, with the Suffolk County Court Employees Association (SCCEA) reporting that unlike in New York City, very few of their members have become sick. They also report that everyone is still getting paid and those who are required to come into the courts are getting 7 hours of comp time for every hour they work. However, court employees along with many other state workers faced a delay in pay and a delay in their 2% raises due to New York failing to meet their budget deadline. The Governor and the Office of Court Administration (OCA) have said that the raises may be paid retroactively after the crisis if economic conditions allow it. Court Officers in Suffolk County, through the Suffolk Court Officers Benevolent Association (SCCOBA), have gotten into the charitable mood by sponsoring a meal train for healthcare workers at Peconic Bay Hospital. Not only does their donation help to feed these frontline heroes, but it also helps local restaurants who are struggling due to the closure of their sit-down facilities.

While a lot of attention is rightfully placed on essential workers like nurses, firefighters, police, and grocery store workers, telecom workers have also played a crucial role. Communications Workers of America (CWA) members at Verizon have been working throughout the shutdown to make sure that the network doesn’t go down and isn’t overloaded due to the increase in work from home. Think about how work from home, distance learning, and Zoom conferences would be if the high-speed internet went down. Although CWA members at Locals 1104 and 1108 on Long Island continue to work, there have been some changes to how they work. Home installations have stopped, many people are working from home, and garages are disinfected daily. CWA Local 1104, which also represents nurses at NY Presbyterian Hospital in New York City, has said that while they have many cases of COVID-19, no one has died. According to the CWA, only three Verizon members in District 1, which represents the Northeast, have died from COVID-19. Electrical workers are also working hard to keep the power on. AS UCOMM reported yesterday, IBEW members in Upstate New York are living at power plants to ensure that the plants keep running and that no one gets sick.

No place in the country has been hit harder than New York City. For Local 3 IBEW, they have been walking a fine line between continuing their essential work and staying safe in the epicenter of the pandemic. Sadly, the Local has 40 members sick and has already lost 6 members. In a video message to the membership, Business Manager Chris Erikson told the members that he understands their concerns, their worries about being unemployed, but urged them to be the example and stay home and if they were still working, he asked them to practice social distancing. While much of the membership is able to stay home, some Local 3 members are on the frontlines. They were called into action to work with the Army Corps of Engineers to retrofit the Javits Center and turn it into a 1,000-bed overflow hospital. Others were tasked with wiring up mobile refrigerators to house those who had died from COVID-19. They then headed out to Long Island to work on overflow hospitals at Stony Brook University and SUNY Old Westbury.

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