COVID-19 and the Changing World for Labor Unions and Workers

Over the last several months, the world has experienced a significant pandemic. While exposure to coronaviruses is nothing new, most only cause minor illnesses, like the common cold. What makes COVID 19 unique or novel is the strain’s aggressiveness and rapid spread. 

Researchers have discovered that the disease mainly spreads person-to-person through contact and moisture droplets produced through coughing, sneezing and speech. However, it is the rapid transference that causes the majority of concern through community spread.

It is the threat of community spread that caused the economic shutdown. Through quarantines and the temporary closures of non-essential businesses, the economy and society took a significant hit. Nearly 50 million people remain unemployed, and consumer spending has reduced by more than 12% in April. The government, to combat the economic decline, borrowed trillions through the CARES Act to stimulate the economy and help struggling citizens. Unfortunately, stimulus packages are only temporary measures. The world needs to return to some semblance of normalcy, and labor unions and businesses need to adapt to the new normal.

Longevity of COVID-19

While the persistence of the current pandemic will wain, experts suggest the virus is never going away. With over 16.5 million people infected, the time for the containment and elimination of the disease has passed. Current measurements suggest the illness in now too transmissible and widespread to control or eradicate.

The current crisis will end, however. Humanity will gain control and persevere, but vaccines and prior infections do not mean the elimination of the disease. Consider that out of the dozens of vaccines for human infections only one has ever been eradicated, smallpox, which took more than 15 years of global coordination. COVID-19 surges will continue to occur even after the discovery of a vaccine.Article: 5 Questions to help you find the right labor union dispatch software.

Too much is still unknown about the condition and immunity lengths. People often associate permanence with immunity, but that is not accurate. People generally have an immunity against the common cold for about one year. Unfortunately, there is not enough yet known about this novel coronavirus to determine the immunity timeline or if a vaccine will require boosters. Because of the continued uncertainty, the workforce needs to adapt to the presence of the illness and learn how to defend against infection.

CDC Safety Guidelines for COVID-19

To ensure the health and safety of the workforce, businesses and unions need to plan, prepare and respond to the changing environment. It is essential to consider the industry and level of interaction between workers and consumers and to obey CDC guidelines.

The CDC recommends focusing on three critical areas: disinfecting, social distancing and hygiene. The level and routine of disinfection depend on the industry. For example, a hospital or restaurant with high-levels of traffic will need to disinfect the space more often than an office closed off to public interactions.

Regardless of the number of employees, a business needs to adhere to social-distancing measures. By now, most people understand that they need to stay six feet away from others. However, as a business or union, you need to take the protocol a step further by promoting and requiring the wearing of masks. You can also limit exposure by organizing traffic flow in and out of the building. Finally, if possible, allow remote work for non-essential personnel.

Beyond disinfecting the workplace often and following social distancing measures, the CDC recommends proper hygiene as a defense against the disease. For example, washing your hands thoroughly for a minimum of 20 seconds can reduce the spread of the illness. You should also avoid touching your face to limit the transference of germs to your mouth, eyes and nose.

Primarily, a business or union needs to follow the same guidelines set forth for the rest of society. However, as exposure levels often increase for people outside of their homes, it is often necessary for companies to instill more stringent measures to protect the workforce.

Labor Union Actions

Labor unions, like the IBEW, are essential to protecting workers’ rights, especially during the current pandemic. Unions help in several ways: advocating in the workplace, pushing for political change, and encouraging organization.

Collective bargaining is the primary tool used by unions to elicit change in the workplace. The current pandemic is evidence of the power of this collaborative tool. In places like New York, collective bargaining achieved pay guarantees and benefits for workers at acute risk of infection. The process also won continued health coverage for workers across the U.S. For areas where union workers are struggling more than most, the unions themselves are providing hands-on assistance through unemployment instructions, food banks and private relief funds.

The efforts of unions do not end with benefits for members. Since the beginning, unions have been political juggernauts, fighting for the rights and protections of all laborers. Unions serve as a voice for working people in Washington D.C., and at the state and local levels. Most recently, labor unions fought to secure payroll protections and unemployment insurance in the CARES Act, ensuring that workers got their fair share of the stimulus.

Finally, labor unions inspire organization and action, ensuring that all workers benefit from a fair system. Recently, non-union workers at Amazon, Instacart and Whole Foods staged some form of strike, walkout or sick out, demanding more protections against the current pandemic and working conditions. Despite the benefits of unions, they too must adapt and change to serve their teams and members better.

Automate Your Local’s Core Functions

COVID-19 stresses the need for distancing and worker protections. Unions can limit exposure risks through the automation of routine tasks, like dispatch. While there is some resistance to the modernization of workflows, automation helps to reduce redundancies. Workers and members also benefit from safer, more organized efforts during the current pandemic. Technology isn’t going anywhere, and neither is this virus. Despite any resistance from the old guard, modernization efforts provide significant benefits in the current climate. Unions must embrace necessary changes early to remain at the forefront of workplace management.

COVID-19 is not going anywhere any time soon, and despite this certainty, the economy must reopen, and laborers must get back to work. Unions are more essential now than ever before, but to accommodate necessary health adjustments, it is crucial to embrace automation. 

Union Worx has helped locals of all sizes modernize their job dispatch and out of work list management processes. We specialize in making this transition as painless as possible. Our ability to provide a fully customizable solution within minutes allows our customers to start the process right away and tailor our platform to their needs.

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