Labor leaders warn against reopening too soon


As communities and businesses, hard-hit by the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic, begin the process of easing stay-at-home orders, local Labor leaders are worried we may be reopening too soon, and putting their members at risk.

“We lost our first local member today down at the Marriott,” Kevin McNatt, president of UNITE HERE Local 74, told the St. Louis Labor Council’s Executive Board May 18.

There is increasing pressure to reopen, as businesses and workers weigh health risks against economic survival.

As frontline workers in the hospitality, food service and transportation industries, nearly 300,000 UNITE HERE members and the families they support have been among those most affected by the economic impact coronavirus, but there will be a cost to reopening too soon, McNatt warned.

“We have lost 95 members around the country to COVID-19, from our national down,” he said. “We have to stay with this distancing and not start opening these places too soon. If you do, you’re just going to have to order more body bags. We need it open as much as anybody, but there’s a cost to doing this.”

UNITE HERE is accepting donations to its Education and Support Fund to help laid-off hospitality workers feed their families and pay their bills during the shutdown. Donations can be made online at Designate “UNITE HERE Local 74” when making your donation.

Joe Rudd, business manager of IATSE (Stagehands) Local 6, whose members’ jobs depend on visiting shows, concerts and plays that draw large crowds and have been cancelled in response the pandemic, said reopening too soon will put more people at risk.

“I’m a little dismayed by these protests going on in all the states about how we need to open up,” Rudd said.

“We lost a member about a week ago, and we have a couple people in intensive care,” said Nancy Cross, vice president of Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 1, many of whose members are still working and facing continuing risk, especially as people start emerging from quarantine.

“We have 25-30 members in the St. Louis area that are infected,” she said “We’re in favor of putting the economy back once everybody can be tested, but everybody can’t be tested now.”

Feel-good advertising by corporations doesn’t do anything to protect workers on the frontlines, Cross said.

“They’re all talking about ‘We’re all in this together. We’re St. Louis strong,’” she said. “There are no workers in those pictures – nurses, health care workers, police, fire, our people, cemetery people, cleaning people, people serving food, grocery workers, food service workers in hospitals.

“I get sick of seeing all the corporate people saying, ‘We’re with you,’” Cross said. “Well, it’s easy for you to be with us because you’re at home. We’re all still working.”


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