Our nation and the entire world were shocked by the ferocity and speed of the global Coronavirus pandemic last year. Reports of an unknown, highly contagious pathogen with potentially deadly effects hit the news in January 2020 and continue to lead news stories even now. While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) scrambled to find a cure or vaccine, Chief Medical Advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci kept the nation informed.
Throughout this panicked and unsettling time, critical services still had to be delivered. This report briefly documents the response of organized labor in Rochester, New York, to safeguard members who bravely worked each day to deliver essential services. Widely recognized are those engaged in health-related fields such as nurses, doctors, and ambulance crews who were repeatedly exposed to COVID-19 patients. Additionally, critical to our community were police officers, firefighters, and social workers. We must also acknowledge grocery clerks, farmworkers, government employees, transit and utility workers who regularly performed their jobs despite their personal concerns.
Unions proved their worth, advocating for the best possible safeguards for their members, demanding that personal protective equipment such as masks, gloves and face shields be immediately supplied. New protocols like temperature screening, hand sanitation stations, disinfecting and workplace deep-cleaning were implemented. Social distancing and staggered shift and break periods were negotiated and air exchange systems were inspected for appropriate filters. Plexiglass dividers were installed to protect public-facing workers and to reduce exposure in common areas. Remote work and on-line learning were negotiated to safeguard educators and students. Unions lobbied for and won paid sick leave in New York and introduced "no-fault" sick leave in their contracts.
We gratefully acknowledge organized labor's role in defending workers and our communities against the most virulent contagion seen in modern times. A special thanks to Tom Gillett for coordinating this project and to labor educators Jon Garlock and Linda Donahue for documenting this important moment in our history; their hours of research and interviews have helped to showcase the important work of organized labor.
Dan Maloney, President
Rochester and Genesee Valley Area Labor Federation AFL-CIO
On behalf of the Ronald G. Pettengill Labor Education Fund, I want to express gratitude to the John F. Wegman Fund and the Rochester Area Community Foundation for their support — both financial and artistic — for this project. As the authors point out, what started out as an update to All These Years of Effort, was modified by COVID-19. Much like all of our lives for the last eighteen months.
We also thank the participating union leaders for accommodating our project's adjusted workplan during a time when demands on unions were heightened by concerns for their members and the Rochester community.
Tom Gillett, Project Director
Chair, Ronald G. Pettengill Labor Education Fund Board