COVID-19 and Rochester Labor
UAW Local 1097
Interview with Dan Maloney (President, United Auto Workers Local 1097), 12 February 2021
On March 23, 2020, the Lexington Avenue GM plant shut down to deal with the impact of COVID and remained closed until May 18. (The third shift returned May 25). When the plant reopened — workers in the transportation sector having been designated "essential" — the UAW and GM had negotiated important changes:
- morning 'huddles' were introduced to report on plant status issues such as cleaning
- six-foot distances had been marked on the plant floor
- COVID leave and contact tracing policies were in place
- UAW members were being signed up for COVID-related unemployment
- Protective equipment and work safety instructions were being provided by GM
- Arrangements were in place regarding downtime and the hiring of thirty COVID temp workers to relieve quarantined workers
The UAW also created a page on its website related to COVID.
The Local 1097 Hall has stayed open to members, with a benefits representative on hand to help answer members' questions. The hall is cleaned daily. At the local plant, labor and management reps together tour the facility to ensure all precautions are in place. Workers entering the plant are screened for symptoms and provided with sanitizer and masks. The message is emphasized that workers who feel at all ill must stay home.
The plant also installed (with non-union labor) new water dispensers to fill bottles and, in August, adjusted all fans to blow downward rather than across the workplace. Where needed, plexiglass was installed between work areas and also in the cafeteria, where food is either pre-packaged or made to phone orders.
When vaccines became available, members were able to receive inoculation by in-plant nurses who are UAW members.
Nevertheless, some seventy workers were out with COVID on any given day. President Maloney himself was briefly stricken in December. So far UAW 1097 has experienced no COVID-related deaths.
An unanticipated outcome of the pandemic is GM's decision to lease part of the plant — mothballed by the auto industry's shift away from fossil fuel — to a non-union company which will manufacture face-masks, paying approximately three hundred workers $16.67 per hour.