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Teamsters - Join the fight for hazard pay!

Commentary by Sean Orr |
March 31, 2020
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Chicago, IL - The COVID-19 health crisis has (rightly) led to millions of people staying home in order to reduce the spread of the virus. For hundreds of thousands of Teamsters though - drivers and warehouse workers at UPS and YRC, grocery store clerks and food service workers - all deemed "essential services" by the Trump administration - we have to continue to work regardless of the risks.

It is the immediate task of every Teamster to ensure that we are working safely right now. We must force every employer to provide us with all of the safety equipment we need to do our jobs as safely as possible. Every worker needs disposable gloves, hand sanitizer and disinfectant for their work area.

We can only achieve our needs through collective action. We cannot forget in these terrifying days that we have the full weight of our union contracts and federal law (OSHA) to force our bosses to meet our safety needs. We have only to look at our working sisters and brothers across the country who, even without a union, are walking off the job or taking other concerted action to demand proper safety equipment. We cannot accept any excuse from the bosses when our lives depend on it. Fight and fight and fight some more for as long as this crisis goes on, to ensure we are as safe as possible at work.

Beyond workplace safety, we need to demand hazard pay from our employers. None of us volunteered to be an essential service worker during the worst virus pandemic in a century. All of us have loved ones we cannot see, because our jobs have put us at such risk that we have no idea if we have been exposed to COVID-19 or not. We are living day-to-day with immense uncertainty and fear. Due to this incredible burden that we are carrying - a burden that guarantees enormous profits for our bosses during a time of terrible economic crisis - we have every right to demand higher pay for the duration of this crisis.

Here in Chicago, Teamsters Local 705 has been in negotiations with UPS for a week demanding hazard pay for all of its members. Their leadership should serve as an inspiration to Teamsters across the country. UPS is under expectations from the federal government to operate at full capacity for the duration of the crisis - that means that we, the workers who make UPS run, have all the leverage we need to make demands from the company. This leverage is what won us paid sick leave just two weeks ago. It is what will win us hazard pay.

Teamsters should organize around the country, talk with their stewards and union leaders, and take every action possible to ensure workplace safety and hazard pay for the duration of this crisis. This is not a time to hesitate, but a time to charge forward and take everything we can. The bosses have made it clear they will pick profit over keeping us alive any day. They don't give a damn about us, so let us fight them like hell.