COVID-19 and Rochester Labor
Interview with Dan Kuntz (Business Manager, Laborers Local 435), 3 February 2021
Because of their work building and maintaining infrastructure (e.g., hospitals, roads, bridges), Laborers have been deemed by NYS to be essential workers. As a result, employment has not been greatly impacted by COVID-19: ninety percent of their nearly seven hundred members have been employed during the pandemic and forty new members joined through on-line enrollment (due to some members choosing unemployment over employment). [These employment numbers are better in comparison with other Building Trades]. Nevertheless, employment of members during 2020 was down about 100,000 hours.
COVID-19 has changed how Local 435 operates. Membership meetings are held on Zoom, somewhat reducing participation. Even trustees meet on Zoom and staff primarily work from home. The union hall, part of which is occupied by tenants, is sanitized three times a week. Labor News is mailed to all members, though it is also available on-line. The union conducts contact tracing, following CDC guidelines: so far no members have contracted COVID on the job.
Contractors generally do not provide laborers with protective gear: Local 435 provides PPE to members who need it and has built one hundred fifty sanitation stations for job sites, equipped with hand sanitizer. LIUNA's Health and Safety Fund sends Local 435 PPE and cleaning supplies.
Local 435 is hoping to have their hall designated a vaccination site. Thus far few members have been inoculated against COVID-19 as many do not yet trust the vaccines.