COVID-19 and Rochester Labor
Interview with Mike Mazzeo (President, Police Locust Club), 9 February 2021
The impact of COVID-19 on Rochester police must be assessed in the context of several issues which impinged on their performance during 2020: (a) the ongoing conflicts with Mayor Warren and the Police Department; (b) a general public antagonism toward police manifesting concerns over racial justice; and (c) the pandemic-induced stress experienced by both citizens and police.
(a) The City and the Police Department provided incomplete and confusing guidance: management either failed to provide adequate PPE or insisted on inappropriate PPE, devised an impractical mask-wearing protocol, did minimal contact tracing and refused to mandate testing or vaccination of officers, and did not enforce frequent cleaning of police vehicles. Because the city administration seemed indifferent, or even hostile, to officers' welfare, the union sought to acquire disinfectants and make them available to members.
(b) Rather than experiencing support from the community, police officers were held responsible not only for local policing practices (e.g. the treatment of Daniel Prude and their response to local Black Lives Matter protests), but for the widely-perceived racism exhibited by police throughout the nation (especially the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police and subsequent protests). Rochester officers' interactions with crowds of non-mask-wearing citizens, whose shouting and occasional spitting raised the risk of contamination and added to police stress.
(c) The pandemic-induced stress and isolation experienced by police mirrored the pandemic-induced stress and isolation experienced by community members, resulting in low morale. Police did receive solidarity from local firefighters and from Buffalo and Syracuse police, but felt unsupported by their employers and their community, including the labor community.
Additionally, officers who have contracted the virus have faced difficulty establishing the work-relatedness of their infection. The failure of the City to mandate vaccines has left many members with COVID; however the union has not been given the names of infected members or those who have been vaccinated. Perhaps only a third of members (two hundred or so) have received the vaccine.