COVID-19 and Rochester Labor
Workers United Regional Joint Board
Interview with Gary Bonadonna, Jr. (Manager & International Vice-President. Rochester Regional Joint Board, Workers United), 1 March 2021
Representing roughly fifteen hundred workers in the Rochester region, Workers United includes a range of worksites in manufacturing (Hickey-Freeman, Xerox), laundries, and hospitality (Rochester Convention Center, the Casino at Finger Lakes Racetrack, Spot Coffee, Nani's Kitchen) that have been affected differently by COVID-19. For the most part, manufacturing and laundries continued operations and maintained their workforces, while hospitality employers have experienced shutdowns and laid off or furloughed workers.
Hickey-Freeman has remained in operation throughout the pandemic. Indeed, for a period of time the plant was producing face masks! However, as more and more of America's workers performed their tasks on-line rather than at offices, the demand for suits and office apparel declined and Hickey-Freeman employees worked fewer hours or were laid off. Mask-wearing was mandatory at the plant and PPE was supplied by management. While there was no COVID testing program, only a few workers were infected.
The Xerox plant also stayed open, with distancing practiced and masks (made at Hickey-Freeman) that were supplied by the union.
For workers in the hospitality sector the situation was quite different: as food and beverage service was curtailed/eliminated or limited to take-out, restaurants and convention facilities either closed or reduced hours, laying off workers in the process. For example, all services ceased at Rochester's Convention Center and the twenty servers were laid off.
Throughout the COVID pandemic Workers United has remained open to serve members, albeit with a slightly reduced staff. The pharmacy has become pick-up only; there are temperature checks at the Hall's door and entry is restricted and monitored. Few live meetings are scheduled at the hall, with most business conducted virtually. Employers are honoring contracts, with raises generally being deferred and negotiations taking place on Zoom.
Information on COVID-19 can be found on the Workers United website and the Rochester Regional Joint Board has a health and safety expert to advise the union.