As the coronavirus unfolds, unions and their members find themselves in the trenches helping protect the public even as they try to juggle their personal lives and deal with constantly changing — and sometimes contradictory — information from health and political officials.
The crisis has cast a clear light on how the wide variety of work union members do upholds the systems society relies on.
Chris Rubesch is a leader in the MNA bargaining unit at Essentia and is also on the state board. He’s been in contact with nurses around the state and says nurses are doing their best to prepare and identify what’s working and what’s not working in other area.
“In the Cities, they’re dealing with a lot more than we are right now,” he said, although that is likely to change as time goes on.
He said that in the past couple of weeks, there has been low patient volume for all maladies. “That’s good because that means resources are available,” he said. “We just don’t know what the situation is going to be.”
Rubesch said that while both Essentia and, from what he has heard, St. Luke’s are working fairly well with units to address the crisis, the front-line experiences nurses have could be incorporated better into preparations. “And that’s frustrating, especially with some of the realities we saw during the snowstorm in December and how many things fell through the cracks,” he said, referencing the early-December blizzard that saw some health care workers skiing to work. “We want to be here to use our expertise and help our time.”
For example, he pointed out that nurses — as well as Steelworkers and Teamsters who work in health care settings — all have internal communication structures for members. “Stewards are expressly designed to cascade information to the staff, and we can use that in collaboration with the employer and its staff communication process, but at this point they’re not interested and it’s a loss of opportunity and time.”
CNAs, food workers, housekeepers and other health care workers don’t work at desks and don’t have opportunities to check into a central source of information provided by Essentia, and that can create information gaps. “We want to be a partner and help channel information through our channels as well — stewards, Facebook pages, daily huddles,” Rubesch said. “We’ve made it clear to Essentia management and the emergency management team that whenever they’re ready, we’re there.”
In the meantime, Rubesch said there’s a calm before the storm. “Flu patient volumes are down, and while this is ‘slip, trip and fall season,’ a lot of those are down,” he said. “The community is doing a good job with public health guidelines and Nurses thank the community for that. We see and appreciate the outpouring of support for Nurses, CNAs, first responders — that’s heartening to see that the community is behind us.”

UFCW members keep shelves stocked
The run on grocery stores for everyday supplies has highlighted the role UFCW members play in the community, which Jennifer Christensen, president of UFCW Local 1189, describes as “God’s work — feeding people.”

“In this crisis, they’re doing what they know how and are trained to do,” she said, “Generally this level is kept for snowstorms that weren’t predicted, or holidays close to a weekend or payday, when a lot is going on at one time.”

Members are getting a lot of hours, and area grocers have been paying a premium above contract since the crisis started. “Our folks are happy to be working and not laid off,” Christensen said. “But they’re also concerned about their personal safety. By and large their interactions have been wonderful, but social distancing matters in the grocery store and sometimes having customers be just a little farther away is helpful.”

Christensen added that customers have been understanding about shortages, and stressed that members are trying to meet the needs of the public as best they can. “I think all workers in the store would like to see folks take what they need, but not extra — that would help everybody.”

With restaurants closed, Christensen said that leads to greater pressure on stores as people cook more at home and experiment with new foods. “More people are learning to cook if they haven’t before,” she said.

UFCW also represents some hospital and health care workers, and Christensen said that getting masks and protective gears is a priority for those workers now. And as the crisis stretches on, she said staying calm and clear-headed at the grocery store is vital. “But in the meantime, folks are wanting the proper social distancing. Wait for the customer ahead of you to be done, give everyone a bubble of safety. Just be thoughtful.”

Governor’s Actions

Gov. Walz’s actions, including changes in rules for paid time off and unemployment compensation for all workers, have come thick and fast and require intense effort to keep up with for some unions. “The Building Trades have been in constant communication with our national and state organizations, trying to keep up with the rapidly changing legislation,” said Craig Olson, president of the Duluth Building and Construction Trades Council. The organization has been lobbying to ensure construction workers’ sometimes unique situations are at the forefront of legislation.

By Catherine Conlan, Labor World Editor
Sometimes, in the Labor World production schedule, there is a gap of three weeks instead of two between issues. Every once in awhile I’ll get a call from someone wondering where their paper is, when it’s simply “that time” in the schedule — a small break that happens just because of how we set up our publishing dates.
March was such a month, and it’s amazing to see how much has changed since the issue that came out on March 5. It almost doesn’t even feel like the same year. The cascade of news has been hard to digest — and usually I thrive on breaking news.
First, some housekeeping issues: You may notice that the Labor World looks a little different than it usually does. I’ve been working at home almost exclusively, and slight differences in software editions, available typefaces and other behind-the-scenes production requirements mean I’ve had to cobble together what I can to finish the paper. It’s not your eyes, it’s the newspaper itself — the headlines especially will likely look a little lighter.
And because I’m working at home, I’m missing the
comings and goings at the Labor Temple. If there’s something you want me to know, please email me at or feel free to call or text my cell phone: 218-590-4414. I will be in the office very rarely for some small chores, so email, text or phone are the best way to get ahold of me.
I’m grateful to the Labor World Board for its flexibility during this time. I’m committed to getting this newspaper out as long as our vendors continue their work and I’m able to get it together.
It feels weird to say “during this time” because we don’t know how long this gestures vaguely will go on. With the situation changing so quickly, things that were unthinkable two weeks ago are normal. One of my kids is home from school, one is home from college. My husband, a union Carpenter and foreman, is home from his work on the road.
All it leaves is questions, some of which are immediate and practical. How will my child’s grades be figured? Will professors understand if students at home don’t have access to high-speed internet at home? How will unemployment be figured now, and how will this span of not working figure in to future unemployment formulas?
Some of them are individual: Is that itch in the lungs from a virus, or is it seasonal allergies? My chest is tight — should I worry, or am I simply stressed? Is that a fever or a hot flash?

And a lot of the questions are a little more creeping and sinister. What if I get sick and go critical? What happens if the company I work for never recovers? What if we lose our health insurance? We have all had these questions at some time in our lives, but now we all are. And some of us will be dealing with barriers we’ve never had to before — housing crises, lack of transportation, underemployment, a new disability. This can be a time to remind ourselves that some among us have been struggling with these barriers since before the crisis.

It’s time to remove barriers for all of us.

This crisis has been a crash course in how close each of us is the losing it all. It has exposed the fault lines in many of the systems we rely on almost unthinkingly: health care, education, government, as well as the basic societal, social and cultural norms we take for granted whenever we interact with someone else. It’s a reminder that these systems, like all systems, need nurturing and tinkering. They have failed the most vulnerable among us since the beginning. Now they are failing all of us — and that can require dismantling and rebuilding.

Thinking about doing so can be overwhelming, especially during this dark and scary time. But it can also be the best time to ask the big and hopeful questions we’re sometimes too busy to even consider.

What if we decoupled health insurance from working?
What if people who needed food could get it, no questions asked?
What could child care look like if we provided it to people who need it?
What if the employers viewed their employees with the best of intentions and and benefit of the doubt, instead of the worst?

During this crisis, we’ve already seen that many things we thought were impossible were right within our grasp all along: Forgiveness of untenable debt. Food for the hungry. Instant changes in pollution levels. A grace bestowed on contracts, understandings, connections, systems.

We are all trying. We are trying to make things work.

What if we brought that attitude toward writing policy?
What if we provided healthcare and services and education in new ways?

There’s a concept in improv comedy called “yes, and.” (I am definitely not an improvisational speaker, but I’ve heard of the concept and find it fascinating.) It means accepting what your improv partner has said and expanding on it to keep the flow of the scene going.

Businesses like to talk about it as well, saying it improves innovation and brainstorming.

As we talk about what we can do, right now, to help others, as well as prepare for the long weeks and months ahead, it’s a phrase we can embrace.

No one likes to be opportunistic in a crisis. But being opportunistic now can do two things: Make progress and avoid a revolution. There is a lot of chaotic energy that needs direction. Some people — politicians, mostly, but bosses and employers — are using that energy to push for things like property tax relief, “loans” and bailouts for big businesses, and raids on unemployment funds and pensions.

What if we bailed out people, directly, no questions or means testing required? A cash infusion could goose the economy, keep people in their homes, help pay for health care when it’s needed — and keep people from working when they need to be physically isolating themselves.

All I know is that when politicians start throwing around numbers that end with “billion” and “trillion” when talking about bailing out businesses, we can never allow them again to say programs with those numbers would be impossible to implement for you and me.

“Possible” must look different from now on. It’s bigger and better than we hoped for.

We’re likely headed for a recession, if not a depression. And that’s a scary thing to think about. But again, it’s an opportunity. The Great Depression inspired Social Security, regulations on big businesses, a resurgence of the Labor movement. We don’t have to reinvent the wheel, but we can “yes, and” it — yes to a better safety net, yes to a better healthcare system that helps people instead of generating profits, yes to work that is fulfilling and can support a rewarding way of life, and yet is not devastating to step away from when crises hit or circumstances

We can use the world of three months ago as a baseline and instead of trying to revert “back to normal,” we push farther and use the incredible wealth, resources and potential of this nation to provide for more people rather than just a few.

This crisis has smashed any blinders any of us have had about how our society is built — who is vulnerable and why, and who’s to blame. Labor has always tried to lead the way on that front. And as we struggle through the times ahead, Labor can continue to lead by holding corporations accountable, plugging cracks that people might fall through, and advocating for us all.

— Catherine Conlan, Labor World Editor

State and local officials are taking unprecedented steps to prevent the novel coronavirus from spreading in Minnesota. While the effectiveness of those measures remains to be seen, it’s already clear the COVID-19 pandemic is not just a public health crisis, but an economic one as well.
Last week, the state’s highest-ranking labor leaders sent Gov. Tim Walz and legislative leaders a to-do list of policy changes necessary, they say, to protect working people on the front lines of the pandemic response and those likely to suffer most from its impact on Minnesota’s economy.
In the letter, the Minnesota AFL-CIO’s executive officers, President Bill McCarthy and Secretary-Treasurer Brad Lehto, back higher standards to ensure hospitals and fire departments provide adequate personal-protective equipment to nurses and first responders. They urge an extension of unemployment-insurance benefits and paid time off. And they call on lawmakers to pass bills guaranteeing school districts’ hourly employees get paid during closures and putting tradespeople to work.
The letter also includes a warning: “Emergencies shouldn’t be an excuse to relax labor standards. Do not allow rollback of any labor rights or protections.”
The dizzying number of demands included in the letter reflects the all-encompassing nature of the pandemic and efforts to combat it. Unions from all industries, from the public and private sectors, were bracing for the fallout – and scrambling to address members’ economic and health concerns.
Kelly Gibbons, president of Service Employees International Union Local 284, called the last week “quite the nightmare.”
Local 284 represents about 10,000 workers in 140 school districts statewide. Although Walz has ordered all schools to close through March 27, some Local 284 members are still reporting to work, helping provide care for elementary-age children of health care workers and first responders. Other members are furloughed with pay – for the time being.
“There’s been a lot of confusion, but we’ll get through this,” Gibbons said. “We know this will pass.”
In the days after he declared a statewide emergency last week, Walz ordered schools, restaurants, museums and other public spaces to close, hoping to limit community spread of the virus and prevent a surge of hospital visits due to COVID-19. But the governor also moved to ease the financial strain on working people impacted by those measures.
In an executive order last week, Walz made the state’s unemployment insurance program more robust, waiving certain restrictions and waiting periods so that anyone whose paycheck takes a hit from the pandemic – from layoffs, furloughs or schedule cuts – has swift access to relief.
Walz also called on businesses that remain open during the pandemic to do their part to prevent its spread by making it easier for employees to work from home and, critically, stay home with pay when feeling sick. Leading by example, Walz granted emergency paid leave to any state employee impacted by the pandemic, and he suspended the waiting period typically required of new hires before they can enroll in health insurance coverage.
That’s good news for many members of AFSCME Council 5, which counts state employees among its 43,000 members statewide. But Executive Director Julie Bleyhl said all Minnesota employees deserve the same guarantees.
“AFSCME Council 5 is demanding that all employers in the state of Minnesota pay their workers in full during this time of crisis,” she said. “We must all be united and work together to ensure that no worker has to choose between their lives and a paycheck.”
The Minnesota AFL-CIO, in its letter to Walz and legislative leaders, called on the state to mandate that employers provide 15 days of emergency paid time off to all employees, and that school districts continue to pay furloughed employees, who are not eligible for unemployment insurance, for all scheduled days.
“To avoid impacting small businesses for 15 days off, we are calling on the state to implement a separate tax on the largest businesses in the state including Amazon, U.S. Bank, Wells Fargo, Target, Ecolab and others, and small to medium sized businesses can apply for a tax credit equal to 100% of the paid sick leave benefit they have paid out,” the letter reads.
Other union demands – like a robust infrastructure jobs bill and extending unemployment benefits to a full year – look to soften the blow to Minnesota’s economy in the long term.
A statement issued by the Minnesota Building and Construction Trades Council argues a strong bonding bill, with investments in roads, bridges, transit and public buildings, would “be the economic stimulus needed to jump start the economy, and especially the construction industry, after the worst of the coronavirus impacts have passed.”

By Michael Moore, Union Advocate

WASHINGTON (PAI)—Brushing aside worker objections, the GOP Trump administration revived and reinstated a past Republican anti-union expense reporting rule, forcing not just unions but allied organizations to spend 530 hours a year – unions say it will be more — and thousands of dollars each filling out detailed reporting forms.
And in a twist, DOL’s extending the rule to cover the National Education Association and its state councils. NEA, often called the nation’s largest union, is a hybrid: A blue-state union and a red-state association. It also has three million members and is politically very active for kids and teachers.
Under the 1959 GOP-passed Landrum-Griffin Act, formally called the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act, unions must reveal every penny of their spending, from paper clips to paychecks. They’re in public records anyone can view – and the right-wing can twist into anti-worker ideological rants.
Want to know how the right can scream about pay for “union bosses?” Landrum-Griffin gives them the data.
The pay figures and other details unions must disclose far outstrip data federal securities laws require only from public corporations. Private financiers, like hedge funds, don’t have to report anything at all to the feds.
AFL-CIO General Counsel Craig Becker, a former National Labor Relations Board member and SEIU General Counsel in Chicago, wasn’t surprised at DOL’s action.
“The Department of Labor has revived a form of trust reporting periodically imposed by every Republican administration going back to George H.W. Bush,” he e-mailed to Press Associates Union News Service. “The requirement was rescinded early in the Obama administration on the grounds it was ‘overly broad…and not necessary.’ We agree with that view but are not surprised to see the reporting requirement revived once again in the waning days of Trump administration.”
What Trump’s DOL did was extend the reporting rule to “intermediate organizations,” such as “any conference, general committee, joint or system board, or joint council.” For the first time, that’ll include the NEA’s state affiliates and similar organizations, NEA General Counsel Alice O’Brien said. She called the Trump action “nakedly political.”
“For more than 60 years,” Landrum-Griffin “has been enforced only against private sector unions. Suddenly, the Trump administration has decided certain public sector unions – primarily, NEA state affiliates – should be subject to the LMRDA,” O’Brien said. She urged her members to object to DOL, in writing.
DOL’s announcement said it will impose Landrum-Griffin on public sector unions and the intermediate groups because of “the increased prevalence of public sector unions and their use of substantial monies affecting matters of great public interest, like state spending.”
“In other words, the Labor Department wants to extend LMRDA requirements to public sector unions because they are powerful and exercise significant influence on important public
policy,” O’Brien drolly commented.
So Trump wants to tie up unions in reporting rules that would force them to change their accounting systems and reports to comply, she said. DOL says each union would need 530
hours to fill out the Landrum-Griffin forms. O’Brien called that a vast underestimate. But hours spent on that task takes away time and money from representing and defending workers.

“NEA state affiliates are already subject to extensive safeguards ensuring member voice and financial transparency” including their own constitutions and by-laws, state labor and other laws and federal tax laws. “Subjecting state affiliates to the LMRDA as well will require affiliates to divert union resources and staff time from important union priorities to compliance.”

Becker and O’Brien weren’t the only objectors to the Trump regime’s reporting rule. Comments to DOL’s website about it made clear that unionists don’t like it – and Trumpites cheered it. One NEA member, Glen Ramos, the school psychologist in Palmer, Alaska, sent in a long and detailed objection – and cc’d it to Alaska GOP Sen. Lisa Murkowski, a moderate. Several commenters targeted the big business backers of Trump, too.

“It has been quite clear for some time that many of the wealthiest Americans want the rest of us to be uneducated, poor, and thereby powerless to stand in the way of their exploi-tation of the earth, labor, children, and life itself,” commenter Matt Straw wrote. “This effort, led by Donald Trump, to diminish the power of the NEA, is just another scheme in that process.”

“It is time to plainly accuse the oligarchs involved with ‘malicious treachery’ — indeed, with treasonous plans to nullify the Constitution because the freedom guaranteed therein invokes the power and legality to stand in the way of their gluttony and greed.”

“The administration is feeling even more emboldened to squash our advocacy efforts because of the recent events in Washington,” said Robert Moore. “This is obviously the next step in their attempt to destroy public education in favor of privatizing it so that big business can make a profit off of our students and their parents via charter schools.”

“The union is how we have a voice in the room when important educational decisions are made,” Kelly Modlich added. “Otherwise, they’re left to people for whom the children take a back seat to money and power. We can’t let this happen. This change will only serve the interest of politicians and their donors, not the children. Keep the children in mind, especially the 90% who attend public schools, as you contemplate this change.”

“This proposed change is not needed, but rather an overreach of regulations designed
to address issues in private sector unions, and clearly vindictive toward unions who do not support this administration’s public education policies and politics,” wrote Ken Swanson, past president of the Illinois Education Association. “For an administration that brags about massive deregulation this proposal is an act of abject hypocrisy. What a surprise.”