April 30, 2020

Defend the Rights of Workers -- Defend the Rights of All!

Ontario Council of Hospital Unions Calls for Government Action to Save Lives

Unacceptable Conditions Put Workers and Society at Risk at Poultry Plants - Brian Sproule
Railway Workers Demand that All Workers' Rights Be Strengthened
During the Pandemic

Support the Foodster United Courier Workers!

Food Workers in United States
Union Demands Presidential Order to Keep Meatpacking Plants Open Must Strengthen Safety Measures for Workers

Defend the Rights of Workers -- Defend the Rights of All!

Ontario Council of Hospital Unions Calls for Government Action to Save Lives

On April 24, the Ontario government announced that Canadian Armed Forces personnel would be deployed to five long-term care (LTC) homes hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. Long-Term Care Minister Merrilee Fullerton said the five homes that were chosen for military support have serious staffing shortages.

Orchard Villa long-term care and retirement home in Pickering, where, as of April 29, 49 residents have died and 131 of the 233 residents tested positive, is one of the homes. Altamount Care Community in Scarborough, Eatonville Care Centre in Etobicoke, Hawthorne Place in North York and Holland Christian Homes' Grace Manor in Brampton are the other facilities.

The LTC Minister's "solution" still amounts to a COVID-19 death sentence for many residents living in long-term care homes. And going forward, it does nothing to address the staff shortage in LTC facilities that is the result of the neo-liberal anti-social agenda of successive Ontario governments, including his own.

The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Ontario, which represents many of the LTC front line health care workers in Ontario, responded to the government announcement to deploy the military the day it was made. "Once an outbreak takes hold, all the other residents are extremely vulnerable to this virus. The requirements that staff move from room to room wearing the same mask and gown for their entire shift also creates a glaring weakness in the infection control strategy," says Candace Rennick, Secretary-Treasurer of CUPE Ontario. "The solution is not to pour loaned military and hospital staff into long-term care to treat the COVID-19 positive residents, it is to remove residents, so that the virus does not spread within the home."

The situation also calls for aggressive testing of all residents and staff in long-term care facilities, something CUPE has consistently called for. "This is a key element in turning the dire situation in care homes across Ontario around," says Michael Hurley, the President of CUPE's Ontario Council of Hospital Unions. "We need to test, identify and relocate. Our hospitals have the capacity now to receive these residents and can offer a higher level of infection control, nursing care and access to a wide range of medical specialties."

As of April 23, Ontario hospitals are operating at below 70 per cent capacity; 516 Ontario long-term care residents have died of COVID-19 and there were 2,191 cases in 135 homes. "Only a stubborn resistance to providing long-term care residents with access to hospitalization is standing in the way," Hurley said.

(Photos: WF, CUPE Ontario)

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Unacceptable Conditions Put Workers and
Society at Risk at Poultry Plants

Health Authorities have ordered two chicken processing plants in Metro Vancouver to temporarily close following outbreaks of COVID-19 at the workplaces. On April 20 Vancouver Coastal Health ordered United Poultry, located in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, to close down operations after 28 workers tested positive for COVID-19. Public health officials tested all 71 workers on shift after one worker, who had been working while symptomatic, tested positive. BC provincial health officers announced that contacts of the affected workers would also be tested. Dr. Patricia Daly with Vancouver Coastal Health said that while there was evidence that employees did have access to gloves and "some" plastic face coverings, that the plans that were in place were inadequate or not properly executed. Other workers were home sick on the day of the testing and will be tested.

On April 24 the Fraser Health Authority ordered the closure of Superior Poultry Processors in Coquitlam after two workers tested positive for the virus. On April 27 the Health Authority reported that 25 workers had tested positive and that 236 workers at the plant have been tested, as well as 73 of their close contacts.

Although the two facilities are managed separately, media reports refer to them as "sister plants." Clifford Pollon is listed in corporate records as a director of both these poultry processing operations, as well as another in Vancouver and one in Langley. Several workers hold down jobs at both the affected plants. It is believed that an infected worker transmitted the virus from one plant to the other.

Kim Novak, President of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1518, stated that workers at United Poultry are not unionized. Provincial labour standards legislation prohibits companies from firing workers who book off sick but there is no law providing for paid sick leave. Large processors such as Lilydale and Sunrise Farms, which are unionized, are bound by collective agreements to pay sick leave. Provincial HealthOofficer Bonnie Henry has urged workers to stay home if feeling ill, even for minor colds. However Novak stated that workers without guaranteed paid leave sometimes report for work sick because they are fearful that losing wages will leave them unable to pay living expenses for themselves and their families. There is also tremendous pressure on workers who fear losing their jobs if they fail to report for work, even when ill.

The treatment of workers during the COVID-19 pandemic highlights that companies large and small consider workers expendable. They are driven solely to maximize profits. Despite shedding crocodile tears to the contrary, neo-liberal governments are unwilling to enact legislation which protects the health and safety of workers.

Premier John Horgan was quoted by CTV News on April 22 as saying that "Workers were coming to work because they were fearful that they would lose wages and not be able to meet their expenses [...] It's irresponsible." This is a shameless attack on the workers and beneath contempt. The remarks of Chief Health Officer Bonnie Henry, quoted in the same report, that "Let me be 100 per cent clear [...] stay home, stay away from others, and immediately contact [health authorities] [...] We do not penalize employees for staying home if they are ill during this pandemic," show how out of touch authorities are with the lived reality of workers who subsist from paycheque to paycheque, can't pay rent or buy food if they are off work without pay, and live in fear of losing their jobs.

It is not the workers who are irresponsible. It is employers who dictate working conditions without regard to the health and safety of workers, their families and the society, and governments which fail to enforce any health and safety standards to protect workers and society. In the situation of the COVID-19 pandemic, as a bare minimum, governments should ensure that workers who are feeling unwell can self-isolate with full pay and full job protection.

Workers need to establish their defence organizations with health and safety committees at every work place. Workers in unorganized workplaces do not have the collective strength and support to say No! to unsafe and unhealthy working conditions. Since the COVID-19 crisis has emerged the unionized processing plants have increased social distancing between workers on the job and have increased sanitary practices. But there is still a problem, that even unionized workers face harassment and threats of dismissal when they affirm their rights, such as the right to paid sick leave.

As long as working people lack decision-making power and are told to wait until the next election and vote for a party that makes promises to improve their conditions, this problem will persist. Regardless of which of the cartel parties comes to power, working people will remain on the receiving end of the anti-social offensive. The current crisis shows even more that workers have to fight in a manner that empowers them. If not, the crisis will continue to be sorted out on their backs. It is important for the organized working class to speak out for the unorganized workers and for workers' forums to smash the silence on their treatment, living and working conditions. This much can be achieved and must be achieved in the conditions of the COVID-19 pandemic.

(Photos: WF, United Workers)

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Railway Workers Demand That All Workers' Rights
Be Strengthened During the Pandemic

The Teamsters Canada Rail Conference (TCRC) issued a press release on April 23 in which it clearly stated that workers' rights must be strengthened during the pandemic, not weakened.

"We owe it to all workers to make sure they have the protections and supports to work safely. COVID-19 doesn't mean we weaken those rights -- it means we strengthen them," the TCRC said.

"Workers know that if we wait until the science is certain before implementing protections, many workers will pay the price. That's why unions fight for the precautionary principle, which maintains that the absence of scientific certainty should not prevent prudent actions that may reduce risk.

"As the world has faced this new and unknown contagion called COVID-19, governments and employers should be outfitting workers with all available protections, until the source of transmission is determined -- not the other way around," the press release reads.

On the occasion of the Day of Mourning, the TCRC is asking workers that in addition to remembrance, workers must all take this opportunity to renew their commitment to health and safety and continue the fight to end these senseless tragedies.

The communiqué notes that the global COVID-19 pandemic has fundamentally changed the way people live and work. It adds that while everyone is affected by the crisis, workers are on the front line. Many are doing critical work without the protection they need to keep themselves safe. Many workers, including railway workers, have been deemed essential and go to work every day so that others can stay home, as people do everything they can to stop the pandemic.

The TCRC demands that basic rights at work, that are officially protected in health and safety statutes in every jurisdiction in Canada, be defended:

"Those three basic rights are:

"1. Right to know about the hazards in their workplace and receive the training they need to be able to do their jobs safely.

"2. Right to participate in decisions that could affect their health and safety.

"3. Right to refuse work that could endanger their health and safety or that of others. The right to refuse is not the first step to protect workers. This is a serious, sometimes necessary, step that no worker takes lightly."

The communiqué ends by pointing out that although the law stipulates that employers must provide protection from danger and hazards arising out of, linked with or occurring in the course of employment, railway workers need to ensure their personal safety is protected by considering the potential consequences in every action and decision they make both on the job and at home.

(Photos: WF, Teamsters 419)

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Support the Foodster United Courier Workers!

Foodora workers, fighting for their right to organize, participate in 2019 Labour Day parade
in Toronto.

On April 27, Foodora, one of the main restaurant delivery operators in Toronto, abruptly announced it was closing up operations Canada wide effective May 11, on two weeks' notice. The announcement came two months after a precedent-setting decision by the Ontario Labour Relations Board which recognized that the delivery service's couriers had the right to unionize. Foodora's exit from Canada has only one objective, to smash the unionizing efforts of the couriers. Monopolies should not be able to cut and run without any obligation to their employees or Canadian society. Workers' Forum condemns the Foodora decision. It is an affront and assault by international finance capital on the rights of all Canadian workers.

Foodora delivery workers, calling themselves Foodsters United, fought long and hard to exercise their right to unionize. They were organizing to be recognized as a Local of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers: Foodsters United, CUPW Courier Local 104. A year ago, on May 1, 2019, they marched to the Foodora office demanding respect, safety and fair pay. They have rallied to help each other survive this pandemic by setting up a hardship fund, distributing personal protective equipment, making sure workers collect the Canada Emergency Response Benefit, and checking in to make sure they're safe. Now, with this announcement, the delivery workers continue to support one another to help find solutions collectively.

Foodora is a wholly owned subsidiary of Delivery Hero, a Europe-based global monopoly which projects revenues of EUR 2.4 billion to EUR 2.6 billion for 2020 and a year- over-year growth rate of about 70 per cent. It delivers for 500,000 restaurants globally. Delivery Hero is also in the process of acquiring TakeAway, the parent company of a number of Foodora's competitors such as Just Eat, for approximately U.S. $700 million.

In Canada, Foodora operated in about six cities. Restaurants pay Foodora up to 30 per cent of the order total. The customer pays a delivery fee of $4.50 while Foodora pays its couriers $1/km for the drop-off of the food. That is how Foodora and its parent company Delivery Hero are making a killing!

Foodora classified its couriers as independent contractors to avoid its legal obligation to pay for basic benefits such as Employment Insurance and to exempt itself from recognizing any basic rights of the workers, such as the right to organize. Foodora's abuse of the 'independent contractor' classification put all the financial and physical risks on the couriers, while Foodora kept the majority of the rewards.

On hearing of Foodora's abrupt withdrawal of business operations in Canada, Foodsters United, CUPW Courier Local 104 called on the company to reverse its decision and fulfill its responsibilities to the delivery couriers and to Canadian society. "These are not the sort of jobs that support our economy," Local 104 said. The couriers are among the most vulnerable workers. "Delivery Hero is a giant multinational corporation that can more than afford to continue operations at this time."

Workers' Forum fully supports the struggle of the Foodsters United couriers. Their struggle is but one more reason for Canadian workers to step up their efforts to organize and empower themselves to be the decision makers, in terms of setting wages and working conditions acceptable to themselves, but also in setting a new direction for the Canadian economy, one that guarantees the well-being of the working people and Canadian society removing them from the clutches of global monopolies like Foodora/Delivery Hero!

(Photos: Foodsters)

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Food Workers in United States

Union Demands Presidential Order to
Keep Meatpacking Plants Open Must Strengthen Safety Measures for Workers

President Trump on April 28 signed an executive order for meat processing plants to stay open to avoid food shortages, invoking the Defense Production Act to classify these plants as essential infrastructure that must remain open. The United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) on this occasion reiterated previous demands that the security of the food supply necessarily means providing the necessary and enforceable protections that provide for the health and safety of the workers in those plants. In an April 28 press release, the UFCW called on President Trump to take immediate action to increase safety measures for workers as part of the order.

The UFCW reported on April 28 that already, it has "confirmed 20 worker deaths in meatpacking and food processing. In addition, at least 5,000 meatpacking workers and 1,500 food processing workers have been directly impacted by the virus. Those directly impacted include individuals who have tested positive for COVID-19, missed work due to self-quarantine, are awaiting test results, or have been hospitalized, and/or are symptomatic.

"UFCW announced today that new estimates show 22 meatpacking plants have closed -- including union and non-union plants -- at some point in the past two months. These closures have resulted in over 35,000 workers impacted and a 25 per cent reduction in pork slaughter capacity as well as a 10 per cent reduction in beef slaughter capacity."

UFCW International President Marc Perrone on April 23 wrote a letter to U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, in his capacity as head of White House Coronavirus Task Force, prioritizing the protections that meatpacking workers require from their employers and the government, including demands that the union reiterated on April 28:

1) increased worker testing, available on a daily basis; 
2) priority access to personal protective equipment, at the highest level available from the federal stockpile; 
3) halting line speed waivers (the exceptions granted to speed limits on processing lines); 
4) mandating social distancing; and
5) isolating workers with symptoms or testing positive for COVID-19, and providing these workers with full paid sick leave. 

UFCW's April 28 press release further states that "Additionally, to protect the food supply and ensure these safety standards for workers are enforced, these plants must be constantly monitored by federal inspectors and workers must have access to representation to ensure their rights are not violated."

The UFCW is the largest private sector union in the United States, representing 1.3 million professionals and their families in health care, grocery stores, meatpacking, food processing, retail shops and other industries. Its members serve communities in all 50 states, Canada and Puerto Rico.

(Photos: UFCW, AFL-CIO)

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