UFCW, Missouri AFL-CIO, SEIU Healthcare demand action to protect workers
By TIM ROWDEN
Labor unions representing grocery workers, healthcare workers, prison guards and others providing essential services during the COVID-19 pandemic, are calling out Missouri Gov. Mike Parson’s weak response to the crisis and demanding he take action to protect workers who are on the front line, whether they’re taking care of homebound clients or grocery workers coping with a daily barrage of thousands of panicked and potentially infected shoppers.
David Cook, president of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 655 sent a letter to Parson asking that employees stocking shelves, filling prescriptions and delivering food and medicine to Missourians holed up at home due to the coronavirus pandemic “be recognized as the essential workers they are during this crisis,” a designation that should give grocery workers priority access to COVID-19 tests and safety equipment.
Cook also asked that grocery workers be made eligible for wage reimbursement if they’re quarantined or a store is shut down due to the outbreak, called state security in stores and state aid to cover the costs of child care while schools are closed.
Other states, notably Michigan, Minnesota and Vermont have taken similar steps, designating grocery workers as essential.
Parson, last week, flatly refused to designate grocery clerks and pharmacy techs as first responders.
“Not to take anything away from somebody in the grocery store, in a convenience store, or farmers across this state, but the reality is first responders are classified for a reason. They have to answer the calls,” Parson said in a weak attempt to defend his position.
KICKED WORKERS TO THE CURB
“The governor just kicked not only our members, but all grocery workers and pharmacists in Missouri to the curb,” Cook said in response to Parson’s decision. “They answer ‘the call’ every day by being on the job to help the public get their necessities, standing in front of people who could well be carriers of the virus. I believe that when a state or local government tells ALL workers to stay home except for you, that makes you a first responder. These workers may not be first responders in normal times, but in these trying times I submit they are.
‘THE GOVERNOR HAS NO CLUE’
“The governor has no clue what he’s talking about,” Cook said. “I’d like to see him stand at a checkout counter for eight hours or more in many cases and then see what he thinks.
“To say that I’m very disappointed in the governor’s lack of leadership being shown to all grocery and pharmacy workers in these trying times is a vast understatement. I am concerned for the health of all these workers going forward because of the governor’s shortsighted decision and lack of his ability to step up to the reality of the moment.”
FAILING TO PROTECT WORKING FAMILIES
Parson, last week, finally waived the week waiting period to file for unemployment insurance, but the Missouri AFL-CIO, says the governor has failed to do enough to lead and protect our working families during this crisis and that more decisive action is needed.
“This is a crisis,” said Missouri AFL-CIO President Mike Louis. “We are calling on Governor Parson to lead and we are urging him to protect our state’s working families. Every day that the governor delays action our working families suffer. Real leadership and decisive action is needed now more than ever.”
The Missouri AFL-CIO COVID-19 Task Force is calling on Parson to enact the following measures to protect and help working families during the pandemic:
Designate grocery store workers as first responders like so many other states have done.
Waive the requirement that workers demonstrate they are looking for work to receive unemployment benefits.
Waive the requirement that workers and their families must be healthy to receive unemployment assistance.
Extend unemployment assistance to last 20 weeks beyond the end of the declared emergency.
Work with federal authorities to ensure access to disaster-related unemployment assistance covering the self-employed, freelance, and other irregular workers.
“Our state’s most populous regions have enacted important stay-at-home orders to protect our communities which have caused many workers to stay-at-home without pay. These workers need Governor Parson to take action,” said Missouri AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Jacob Hummel.
“Essential workers who are on the front lines and cannot stay home need the governor to take action before it is too late. While today’s action is a step in the right direction, he can and he must do more to protect our working families.”
PARSON REFUSED, AGAIN
SEIU Healthcare Missouri, representing health care, child care, home care and nursing home workers, on March 26 called on Parson to issue a statewide state-at-home order to protect the health and safety of workers and the public.
Parson again refused, saying counties heavily impacted by the virus had already had issued such orders.
SEIU Healthcare is also calling for increased access to personal protective equipment and better training for workers who could be exposed to the virus. access to paid leave for healthcare workers exposed or infected with COVID-19, and free testing, treatment, child care and transportation assistance for healthcare workers.
“Our members, and tens of thousands of fellow healthcare workers across Missouri, are risking their health and safety and putting their families at risk when they return home each night,” said Lenny Jones, vice president and state director for SEIU Healthcare Missouri/Kansas.
“The lack of support and leadership from our state government is unacceptable. There is no time to delay, COVID-19 is here and action to protect those on the front lines must be swift and comprehensive.
“Workers shouldn’t be fearful of getting a test or finding out they have the disease because they can’t afford the test or they can’t afford the medical care,” Jones said. “We’ve got to take that off the table.”
NEED THE GOVERNOR TO STEP UP
“Some of our members do not have access to goggles, full-face shields, gowns, or non-sterile gloves,” said Caprice Nevils, a Care Partner at St. Louis University Hospital and an SEIU Healthcare Missouri Executive Board member. “Those of us on the front lines need Governor Parson to step up at this crucial moment and make sure we are equipped to deal with this deadly virus.”
“I am a home care worker and I provide important services for our elderly and fragile patients,” she explained.
Elinor Simmons, a St. Louis home care worker, said there was some question last week about whether gloves and masks would be available for home care workers.
“We need Governor Parson to make sure that this problem is addressed immediately and that we have access to paid leave in the event that we are exposed,” Simmons said. “Without paid sick time, many of us would be devastated financially.”
Missouri Corrections Officers Association’s Rep. Tim Cutt said the state Department of Correction has made “very little” protective equipment available to officers “outside of the medical unit.”
Although the state has suspended visitation at prisons, he said, too many people are still moving in and out of the facilities.
“If it gets inside the prisons,” Cutt said, it’ll burn through like wildfire.”