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NJ COVID-19 Weekly Update - Ongoing Webinar Series

NJ COVID-19 WEEKLY UPDATE – ONGOING WEBINAR SERIES

COVID-19 Weekly Updates: Saving Lives, Protecting Workers

A weekly webinar series co-sponsored by Rutgers LEARN, the NJ Work Environment Council (WEC), and Jersey Renews. Air on Tuesday mornings at 10am.

In this weekly series, we hear from and speak with public health experts, government officials, medical personnel, legal experts, front-line workers and worker representatives about the latest developments in the fight against COVID-19. Feel free to bring your questions and join the conversation with fellow NJ workers, professionals, and advocates, building a community based upon caring, sharing, and repairing.

Visit our Facebook Page for up-to-the-minute information and to register for the next webinar.

For more information and links to resources from past episodes, please visit the website of our partner, the Work Environment Council.
 

NEXT EPISODE

February 23: A Discussion with DOH Medical Experts about COVID Vaccines

We will be joined on Feb. 23 by Dr. David Adinaro (Deputy Commissioner, Public Health Services) and Dr. Eddy Bresnitz (Medical Advisor to NJDOH; former Dep. Commissioner/State Epi) to discuss COVID vaccines and NJ’s vaccination program.


RECENT EPISODES

February 9 – : An Agenda for Worker Safety and Health - Covid and Beyond 

This week were joined by Marcy Goldstein-Gelb, Co-Director, National COSH and Al Vega, Director Policy and Programs and Vice Chair of National COSH Board of Directors, who discussed the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health’s (National COSH) eight-point National Agenda for Worker Safety and Health, developed with more than 100 labor and community-based organizations. 

Marcy outlined the devastating increase in mortality COVID-19 has brought to workers, and the enormous disparity in mortality between white and black and latino workers. She emphasized that COVID-19 is not just a workplace hazard, but a hazard for our entire community. It is critical that workers are protected from not just COVID-19, but from all hazards and retaliation from employers for speaking up about them.   

Al elaborated on conditions for workers on the ground and stressed the importance of setting a baseline of safety at the federal level, instead of leaving it up to state governments to decide whether or not workers have a right to be safe in their workplace.  

The presentation about the National Agenda can be found here.


February 2 – Public Health, Worker Safety, and Transit Equity During Covid 

This week our discussion focused on the issue of public transportation. Hundreds of thousands of commuters and thousands of transportation workers rely on the New Jersey public transportation system for transit and for income, but they also risk exposure to the virus by spending extended time in closed spaces with a high volume of interpersonal contact. The system is also facing economic challenges due to reduced ridership as a result of business shutdowns and telecommuting measures, creating a threat to the viability of the system which could have tremendous social justice and equity implications for low-income workers in the state. We also discussed Transit Equity Day on February 4 – a national day of action to commemorate the birthday of Rosa Parks by declaring that public transit is a civil right. 

Our speakers this week included: Corey Gallman, Recording Secretary of Amalgamated Transit Union, NJ State Council representing workers on NJ Transit more than 2,000 buses, Jerome C. Johnson, General Chairman/President of Smart-TD Local 60, representing the Conductors and Assistant Conductors at NJ Transit - the largest union on the rail side at NJ Transit, and Janna Chernetz, Deputy Director & Director of New Jersey Policy, Tri-State Transportation Campaign working on regional transportation issues.


January 26 – A Conversation with State Epidemiologist, Dr. Tina Tan 

This week we were joined by Dr. Tina Tan, MD, MPH, State Epidemiologist and Assistant Commissioner of the Division of Epidemiology, Environmental and Occupational Health at the New Jersey Department of Health, where she oversees program areas in general communicable disease surveillance and control, immunizations, environmental and occupational health, and cancer epidemiology.  

Dr. Tan traced the origin of the virus outbreak in the US and NJ, contextualizing the virus's history thus far and challenges in tracing and managing the outbreak for both the state and the nation. She covered our shift from a state of emergency, to the cancellation of mass gatherings and school closures, to the stay-at-home order. She also spoke about our cultural shift towards social distancing and using masks and hygiene to combat the virus. 

She detailed the strain the first wave had on our healthcare systems, discussed the second wave and its peaks, and discussed challenges for local agencies in regard to contact tracing and capacity. 

Here is Dr. Tan's presentation


January 19: Impact of COVID-19 on NJ Long-Term Care 

This week we covered the effect of COVID-19 on long-term care facilities, which have been ground zero for viral outbreaks. As the pandemic has ravaged senior communities across the country and frontline healthcare workers have faced PPE shortages, the federal government has offered weak and inconsistent aid to beleaguered nursing homes. 

To discuss the ongoing impact of the pandemic on long-term care, we were joined by Matte Kane, Union Representative, UFCW 152, Kendra Bass, LPN, United Steelworkers Local 406 Recording Secretary, and Phillis Shivers, District 1199J, National Union of Hospital and Health Care Employees, AFSCME, AFL-CIO.

Our guests spoke to the unique workplace risks that long term care facility workers face, as well as to the challenges of organizing and ensuring that workers’ voices are heard in a world where face-to-face connection is limited. The conversation ended with a productive exploration of ways we can overcome collective barriers to organizing in the COVID era. 

Resource:
Center for Disease Control: How COVID-19 Spreads


January 12: Exploring Public Health Efforts to Test, Monitor, and Contact Trace COVID-19 Infections 

In addition to mask wearing and social distancing, tracking and intervening to reduce further exposure is an effective way to reduce the spread of COVID-19. This week we will be joined by public health experts, local health officers, and contact tracers to learn about the process of identifying, monitoring, and supporting individuals who may have been exposed to a person with COVID-19. 

Guest Speakers this week included Betsy Marshall, PhD, Epidemiologist, Rutgers School of Public Health, Paschal Nwako, PhD, MPH, County Health Officer & Public Health Coordinator, Camden County NJ, and Lindsay Berg and Alisa Fatima, Contact Tracer Supervisors, Mercer County NJ.


December 22: A COVID Year in Review 

This week we rounded out the year with a panel of guests who helped us understand how COVID-19 has affected their members in 2020, new challenges we face as we head into the second wave, and the steps workers, unions, and advocates need to take in 2021 to ensure a safe, healthy year for everyone. 

Debbie White, President, Health Professionals and Allied Employees, AFT spoke to the lack of employer reporting on COVID-19 cases and the dangers HPAE’s members face as a result, and on bills that HPAE has campaigned on to change that. Nancy Miller, Membership Assistance Program Coordinator, UFCW Local 1262 spoke to the need for consistent campaigning and organizing to win hazard pay and health and safety concessions as COVID-19 has waxed and waned in cases over the past year. Michael Rollins, Field Representative - Organizational Development, NJEA spoke to NJEA’s emphasis on communication with members and the importance of critical partnerships this year in maintaining health and safety on the ground, and who also highlighted the dedicated work of our schools’ Education Service Professionals (ESPs). And Barry Kushnir, President, IFPTE Local 194, and Hudson County Central Labor Council, spoke to the organizing efforts of his members and their challenges this past year, and who emphasized the critical importance of organizing in coalition and across silos, highlighting the importance of understanding the ways in which all workers are connected in this struggle.


December 15: The State of the State: COVID-19 Q and A with the Governor’s Office, DOL, and DOH

As COVID cases continued to surpass Spring numbers, we heard from Deborah Cornavaca, Deputy Chief of Staff for Outreach, from Governor Murphy's office on actions NJ has taken and may take to slow the spread as well as discuss the prospect of a vaccine coming to NJ early in 2021.  We were also joined by Gillian Gutierrez, Director of Strategic Planning and Outreach, and Justin Baker, Chief of Occupational Health, from NJ Department of Labor and Workforce Development to examine the rollout and impact of the workers' protection order, Executive Order 192, and to answer participant’s questions.  Also on the line to answer questions were Gary Centifonti, Director of Consumer Environmental Occupational Health, New Jersey Department of Health and Christine Blumauer, Policy Advisor in the Commissioner’s Office with the New Jersey Department of Labor & Workforce Development.


December 8: Race, Class, and Covid 

This week we were joined by Les Leopold, co-founder and Executive Director of the Labor Institute. Les, who is the author of several books on the financialization of the US Economy, including Runaway Inequality: An Activist’s Guide to Economic Justice, spoke to the role the ultra-rich, hedge funds and other financial institutions have played in exacerbating COVID-19’s impact, specifically on communities of color and poor communities. He covered the economic mechanisms these institutions use to extract wealth from our medical infrastructure, resulting in the severe lack of preparedness for public health disasters we are currently experiencing, and extreme inequalities in access to safe jobs, preventative care, and adequate treatment. 

Les emphasized organizing across silos, talking to people in our workplaces who we don’t agree with about our shared interest in fixing these inequities, and building a mass, popular movement for economic justice.


December 1: Tackling Covid-19 through Training and Health and Safety Committees

This week, we were joined by representatives from the Communication Workers of America, including Fran Ehret, CWA NJ National Staff Representative, Bill Bradley, CWA NJ Senior Campaign Lead, Jim McAsey, CWA NJ National Staff Representative, Keith Felder, Executive Vice President of CWA Local 1087, Trina Scordo, Executive Director of New Jersey Communities United, and Jon Worley, President of CWA Local 1084

The first two speakers discussed some of the educational and skills-building trainings the national health and safety committee has facilitated with over 350 rank-and-file H&S committee members from over 20 Locals in the public and private sectors in NJ. We also heard from local leaders about several successful collective efforts to win strong COVID health and safety measures in their workplaces. The message was clear: through education, organizing, and taking action, workers can improve the conditions in their workplaces. Over 100 participants joined the call. Resources can be found below.  

CWA NJ Presentation    

CWA New Jersey Health & Safety Toolkit 


November 17: NJ Executive Order 192 – What are the New COVID-19 Protections for Workers?

This week’s webinar focused on Executive Order (EO) 192 which Governor Murphy signed on October 28 and went into effect on November 5. The EO, one of the strongest in the country, mandates a series of COVID-19 protections for workers in both public and private sector employment settings. There were more than 97 people who attended this webinar. 

Lou Kimmel, Executive Director of New Labor who spoke to the success of  EO 192 after a six-month campaign by the Protect NJ Workers Coalition. The EO expands worker protections by requiring employers to establish social distancing protocols, provide masks and hand sanitizer at no cost to employees, develop a notification system for any known COVID workplace exposure, routinely clean and disinfect all high-touch areas in accordance with CDC and DOH guidelines, conduct health checks, and send home sick employees in compliance with applicable leave laws. 

We were also joined by Elena Lavarreda, NJ Political Director of 32BJ who spoke to the empowerment this EO has given their members. 32BJ is notifying all of the employers it works with about the requirements of the order, as well as educating its 6,000 members. “Grievance reps can help file complaints, support members and help provide education to other members,” said Lavarreda. 32BJ is also working on passing S2453/A4209 to secure COVID paid sick days. 

WEC Executive Director, Debra Coyle McFadden, joined us to discuss COVID training opportunities provided under the EO. 

Resources: 

DOL Worker Complaint Form private Sector

Worker Complaint Form public sector

COVID Training Sign Up

Full EO 192


November 10: Peg Seminaro, former Director of Occupational Safety and Health for the AFL-CIO 

This week, we were joined by Peg Seminario, Former Director of Occupational Safety and Health for the AFL-CIO from 1990-2019. Peg talked about the failure of federal OSHA to protect workers from not issuing an emergency infectious disease standard to not requiring employers to report workplace COVID cases and the general lack of inaction in the early days. She also noted that neither the federal or state governments have established data collection systems to track COVID cases in the workplace. 

Recommendations she made for OSHA included issuing an infectious disease emergency standard, using the Illness and Injury Reporting and Record Keeping rule to report COVID cases in the workplace, and, most importantly, aggressively enforcing standards and protections for workers that are already in place. She also emphasized the important role of educating and empowering workers and how local communities can come together to demand change. 


October 27: The Importance of Reporting: Filing an Effective Complaint

Today Ellie Barbarash, Health and Safety Coordinator for Health Professionals and Allied Employees, drew upon her experience and long track record of filing successful OSHA complaints. 
With changing CDC COVID guidance and no OSHA standard for infectious disease, Ellie identified five health and safety areas relevant to COVID exposure including respiratory protection, PPE, hazard communication, recordkeeping, and, depending on the circumstances, bloodborne pathogens. Ellie talked us through collecting worker exposure stories, collecting information, identifying witnesses, composing and submitting a complaint. Ellie acknowledged that an effective complaint is labor-intensive. However, doing your homework and filing a detailed complaint does significantly increase the likelihood of success -- Ellie herself has filed more than a dozen complaints during the pandemic that have resulted in a citation. 

Additional resources: 

Ellie’s PowerPoint presentation 

HPAE’s Exposed and At-Risk report 

HuffPost article: “Workers tried to blow the whistle on COVID. Then people died.”


October 20:  How Prepared are We for a Second Wave? Lessons Learned and Challenges Still Ahead in Healthcare

This week we were joined by Debbie White, RN, President of HPAE, who recapped the horror, confusion, and trauma of the first wave of COVID for patients and healthcare workers, while outlining how we can best be prepared to avoid the same issues during a second wave of COVID.  

She emphasized the importance of worker voices in pandemic preparedness and how labor unions can lead in fighting to improve health and safety protocols to protect workers and patients. She also elaborated on bills the New Jersey legislature has passed, because of strong organizing from workers, including: Workers Compensation – Presumptive Eligibility (S.2380/A.3999), COVID-19 Racial Data  Tracker (S.2357/A.3943), and Healthcare Worker Exposure Data (S.2384/A4129). 

Here is Debbie White’s PowerPoint presentation. 


October 13:  Is Covid Cleaning Making you Sick?  Disinfectants may be effective, but are they safe?    Domestic Work, Workers Rights, and Covid-19

In this episode, we discussed toxic cleaning practices and the recent DEP advisory on fogging/misting that are not permissible for human exposure. Our guests spoke about the differences between various types of disinfection methods, some best practices, and safer alternatives. We will also talked about what questions you should be asking when it comes to cleaning and disinfecting in your workplace and how to obtain information from your employer on chemicals in the workplace. 

 Guest Speakers: 

  • Representative from NJ-DEP (invited)  
  • Allen Barkkume, MS, Industrial Hygiene Consultant 
  • Cecelia Giligan-Leto, Project Director, NJ Work Environment Council  

October 6:  Domestic Work, Workers Rights, and Covid-19

Many labor laws passed in the New Deal area explicitly excluded domestic workers. Today, protections that have been legally guaranteed in most occupational sectors for nearly a century are still denied to those who do perhaps the most essential work of all: raising our children, caring for our family members, and keeping our homes clean and healthy. Our panelists explained how, as COVID-19 shines a spotlight on the precarious conditions of domestic work, the current moment presents both new urgency and new opportunity to confront institutionalized racism and sexism and win long-overdue protections for this essential yet excluded workforce. 

Debra Lancaster and Elaine Zundl, Executive Director and Research Director at Rutgers’ Center for Women and Work and recent co-authors of Domestic Workers in New Jersey, kicked off our panel with a synopsis of the report’s findings. The report incorporates the direct experiences of over 400 domestic workers, compiled through a survey developed by workers’ advocacy organizations and executed by workers within their communities. Their needs are reflected in the principles of a Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights, which New Labor community organizer Jenifer Garcia broke down for us. Key principles include the elimination of legal exclusions, health and safety safeguards for private homes, portable benefits systems that multiple employers can pay into, and state reforms to worker’s compensation law that ensure all domestic workers are covered.  

Tatiana Bejar, New York City Organizer with Hand in Hand Domestic Employers’ Network, shared lessons and resources from another front of the domestic workers’ rights movement -- mobilizing employers in support of the workers they hire and depend on. All speakers emphasized that COVID-19 calls for additional action by both employers and policymakers. Virgilio Aran of the National Domestic Workers’ Alliance pointed out that many domestic workers are undocumented and therefore ineligible for unemployment. In the past six months, some advocacy groups have also coordinated mutual aid, distributing food and raising funds for unemployed domestic workers. 

Debra Lancaster closed our conversation with a question: “What might a caring recovery look like?” To join the fight for a domestic workers’ Bill of Rights and the right to refuse unsafe work, visit the National Domestic Workers’ Alliance and New Labor websites. You can also reach out to Virgilio Aran directly at virgilio@domesticworkers.org.

If you employ a cleaner, nanny, home health aide or other care worker in your home, join other employers in the Hand in Hand program to learn and take action in solidarity with domestic workers. Register with the portable benefits system Alia to directly pay into health insurance and other benefits for your employee! With questions about employment practices, reach out to Tatiana at tatiana@domesticemployers.org.

Other resources:


September 29:  Building Ventilation and Minimizing Exposure to Covid-19

This week's webinar focused on the fundamentals of building ventilation, including important steps that can be taken in your workplace to reduce COVID-19 transmission. 

We were joined by David M. Newman, M.A., M.S. EOHS Associates LLC Environmental & Occupational Health & Safety Industrial Hygiene and a consultant to WEC. Dave stressed that while it is impossible to make buildings “safe” during the COVID crisis, we can reduce the risk of contracting the virus by utilizing a number of “tools” such as proper physical distancing, masking, PPE, cleaning and disinfecting, contact tracing, and adequate ventilation. Here is Dave's slide presentation.


September 22: Disaster Preparedness During a Pandemic   

Two experts joined us today to advise on what climate impacts New Jersey is experiencing and should anticipate, as well as to offer tips on how we can prepare our families and communities for extreme weather events while staying as safe as possible from COVID. Dr. Anthony Broccoli, Co-Director of the Rutgers Climate Institute, offered an overview of the main weather changes triggered by climate change and which of these trends New Jersey should prepare for. Click here for powerpoint presentation. This context helped to frame Keith Adams’ presentation on his work as Executive Director of NJ Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD), a coalition of organizations focused on developing and sustaining community resilience after disasters. Keith shared a set of general guidelines for disaster preparedness, then spoke to the unique challenges of preparedness during a pandemic, including factors such as housing and food insecurity, the infeasibility of shelters with social distancing, and the potential for multiple waves of the virus. Click here for powerpoint presentation.


September 15: Worker Health = Public Health During a Pandemic 

This week we were joined by Peter Dooley (MS, CIH, CSP) Safety and Health Senior Project Coordinator for National COSH and President of LaborSafe, who spoke about the importance of health and safety organizing, and its connection to broader public health issues, in building worker power. He went on to discuss national COSH’s historical work around these issues through community RIght to Know campaigns around the country. We were also joined by George T. DeFerdinando, Jr., MD, MPH, FACP, Chair of the Princeton NJ Board of Health and on the Executive Committee of the New Jersey Local Boards of Health Association, who spoke about some of the challenges workers face in regards to COVID19 and air quality, and the importance of enforcement in regards to state action. Finally, Rosanna Rodriguez, Laundry Workers Center (LWC) founder, organizer, and key developer in LWC’s workplace justice and policy programs, training institute, and women’s leadership committee, spoke about the LWC’s efforts to organize workers in the face of the COVID19 crisis.  

All three presenters emphasized the importance of worker organizing and power, and issues of health and safety, in light of the COVID19 crisis, as a key area of solidarity among workers from different political backgrounds. There were more than 71 participants on this webinar.


September 1: Labor Day Celebration & The Importance of Worker’s Voice During the Age of COVID, with Special Guest Elise Bryant

We were joined by acclaimed labor activist Elise Bryant, Executive Director of the Labor Heritage Foundation and President of the Coalition of Labor Union Women. Elise shared that one in three jobs categorized as essential are held by women. She spoke about how women have held multiple rolls during the pandemic and shared that Black and Latina women have suffered the largest job loss and biggest pay gap. Sadly, domestic abuse has also skyrocketed during this time as well. Ms. Bryant stated that this is the time for the women’s communities to come alive, engage and to organize. Many resources can be found at the Coalition of Labor Union Women website. Elise shared with us, “this is a time where people are recognizing that we are stronger collectively than we are individually”. Please visit the links that Elyse shared during the webinar: Coalition of Labor Union Women and Labor Heritage Foundation.


August 25: A Conversation with Deborah Cornavaca

This week Deborah Cornavaca, Deputy Chief of Staff, Office of the Governor, State of New Jersey joined us to give an update on the Governor’s response to COVID-19 and answer questions. Deborah spoke about the Governor’s proposed budget, which has significant cuts compared to the budget that was presented in March due to the economic crisis caused by COVID-19.


August 18: Mental Wellbeing and Coping with Stress During COVID-19

This week we discussed how stress during the COVID-19 crisis can affect your mental health and the wellbeing of your family, friends, work colleagues and community.

We were joined by Ashlee Fitch, Director, United Steelworkers’ Tony Mazzocchi Training Center, who discussed the importance of recognizing different kinds of stress, stressful and life-altering events, symptoms of mental health problems and post-traumatic stress disorder.

We were also joined by Tracy F.H. Chang, Ph.D., M.B.A., Associate Professor, School of Management and Labor Relations, Rutgers University, who discussed ways in which workers can equip themselves to deal with the stresses of modern workplaces, especially under COVID19.


August 11: State-Level Action on COVID-19 Worker Protection

This week’s topic addressed State-Level Action on Covid-19 Worker Protections. As the federal government continues to shirk its responsibility to protect workers, advocates across the country have turned their attention to states and local municipalities to demand action. Many states, like NJ, currently only have executive orders regarding COVID-19 which are very difficult to enforce and provide little to no worker protection.

We welcomed Debbie Berkowitz, Worker Health & Safety Program Director, National Employment Law Project who has deep legal and policy expertise and works on and promotes policies that improve workers’ lives.

We were also joined by Jason Yarashes, Lead Attorney and Program Coordinator, Virginia Justice Project for Farm and Immigrant Workers works to address the systems which keep people impoverished, and by Lou Kimmel, Executive Director, New Labor, which is working with partners in the NJ Work and Safety coalition on a worker health and safety council and training safety liaisons in NJ. 


August 4: Dr. David Michaels on OSHA’s Response and Protecting Workers from COVID-19

This week we spent the hour with Dr. David Michaels, epidemiologist, professor and former Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA under the Obama Administration. Much of Dr. Michaels’ work has focused on protecting the integrity of the science underpinning public health, safety and environmental protections. He is the author of Doubt is Their Product: How Industry’s Assault on Science Threatens Your Health and The Triumph of Doubt: Dark Money and the Science of Deception. It couldn’t be a more relevant moment to hear from Dr. Michaels, as public health guidance in our country is politicized and health experts and policymakers face backlash for advocating for sufficient protections.


July 28: Revenue, Services, and Equity: State Budget Challenges in the Era of Covid-19

This week’s topic addressed our state’s preexisting issues with equity, taxation, and funding, and how those issues have been deepened by the COVID-19 crisis.

Brandon McKoy, President at New Jersey Policy Perspective, spoke on New Jersey’s state tax policy’s direct link to issues of equity, and how the Covid-19 crisis has impacted working class communities and communities of color most aggressively.

Brandon Castro, Campaign Organizer and the Work Environment Council, touched on public banking as a way for the state to reassess its values and to invest directly in Covid-19 relief, racial justice, environmental justice, and good paying jobs.


July 21: Protecting and Celebrating Facility and Manufacturing Workers During Covid-19

This week’s topic, Protecting and Celebrating Facility and Manufacturing Workers During Covid-19 welcomed a panel of guests who represent property service, essential manufacturing, and facility operations workers who have worked hard to keep public and private buildings functional during the pandemic.

Aaron Jones and Carla Thomas, Service Employees International Union, Local 32BJ (SEIU); Mike Fisher, Sub-District Director, United Steelworkers (USW); and Frank James, Financial Secretary, International Union of Operating Engineers, Local 68 (IUOE) spoke to the occupational safety and health challenges confronting workers during the COVID-19 health crisis.


July 14: Student Health, Worker Safety, and Funding Challenges for Higher Education in a COVID-19 World

This week’s topic focused on student and worker safety in the tumultuous and ever-changing landscape of higher education. We heard from three inspiring women who have been organizing higher education faculty and staff across departments and sectors for conditions where every single worker can work safe and receive just compensation.

Christine O’Connell, President of the Union of Rutgers Administrators (URAAFT), began our panel with the story of the Rutgers Coalition of Unions, a network of all unions representing Rutgers employees which formed to help workers support one another across union lines. Rebecca Kolins Givan, Vice President of the Rutgers AAUP-AFT and Associate Professor of Labor Studies and Employment Relations at Rutgers, shared her experience organizing alongside Christine with the Rutgers Coalition of Unions and spoke about ways in which unions can bargain for the common good. Marcia Kleinz, higher education field representative for NJEA, explained funding challenges faced by many New Jersey colleges and current organizing to make sure that cuts do not fall on the backs of workers.


June 30: Update on the Updates

For this week’s episode, Update on the Updates, we checked back in with several of our previous webinar participants for a roundtable discussion. We were joined by Marcia Kleinz, Field representative for Higher Education, NJEA, Barry Kushnir, President, IFPTE Local 194, and Hudson County Central Labor Council and Nancy Miller, membership assistance program coordinator, UFCW Local 1262. They gave updates on the continued challenges COVID-19 presents for their members in higher education, Turnpike toll takers and retail..

We also wished Mike Merrill, PH.D., director at Rutgers LEARN a happy retirement, and heard touching stories about Mike’s career from a few colleagues. Mike stressed the importance of continued labor education and the importance of forums like this to bring workers and community members together to have conversations and learn from each other. Thank you, Professor Merrill and best of luck to you! 


June 23: Working Parents Need Child Care: An Update on the Reopening

This week’s episode was also co-sponsored by the Center for Women and Work at Rutgers University.

Executive Director, Debra Lancaster, co-moderated a panel with the following speakers:

Meghan Tavormina. President of the New Jersey Association for the Education of Young Children and the Executive Director of the Learning Path in Chatham. Cynthia Rice, an attorney and Senior Policy Analyst with the Advocates for Children of New Jersey works with local, state, and federal leaders to identify and implement changes that will benefit New Jersey’s children. Ms. Rice spoke of the uncertainty concerning the access and availability of childcare. And Dr. Beverly Lynn, CEO of Programs for Parents, the largest childcare and resource and referral agency in the State of New Jersey. In addition, we also received an update from Trina Scordo, Executive Director of NJ Communities United of their organization’s partnership with CWA 1037 on childcare issues to assist some of the most vulnerable families and to work with childcare providers to increase the grassroots organizing work needed to ensure health and safety for all.


June 16: Public Health, Worker Safety, and Funding Challenges for Public Transportation in a COVID-19 World

This week’s COVID-19 update focused on the NJ public transit system which puts hundreds of thousands of commuters and thousands of transportation workers at risk for sustained, exposure to the coronavirus and other pathogens, and what is needed to reduce risk.

We had the opportunity to hear from Nick Sifuentes, Executive Director of Tri-State Transportation Campaign and he spoke about what riders need to feel safe in order to continue to use public transportation and how to help make public transportation as safe and effective as possible during the pandemic.

Our second panelist, Orlando Riley, Chairman, Amalgamated Transit Union, NJ State Council gave insight into issues surrounding workers on their over 2000 buses and some of the steps that have been taken to increase protections. We also heard from Jerome Johnson, General Chairman of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail, and Transport (SMART) Local 60 (United Transportation Union [UTU]) who spoke to the need for a public campaign to support health and safety on public transportation. 


June 9: COVID, Social Distancing, and the Economy: What Can We Learn from the Swedish Experience

This week we were joined by Professor Aman Russom, head of the bionanotechnology division at the KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, who works on the development and delivery of low-cost medical testing and technology for public health. Since March, Sweden has been functioning more or less the way New Jersey will function when it reopens.

Unlike the United States, Sweden never applied a total lockdown during COVID-19. Instead, relying heavily on voluntary stay at home protocols, hand-washing and recommended social distancing, Sweden focused on asking those who had even mild symptoms to stay at home and provided immediate income support to enable workers to do so. The authorities hoped thereby to prevent spread. Professor. Russom felt that Sweden’s approach had failed in regard to protecting the elderly, stating they should have done more to protect the elderly, and vulnerable populations, as 50 percent of those lost to COVID-19 were in eldercare.  Also, Sweden’s incidence of cases and death was much higher than their Nordic neighbors. The Swedish experience underscores the importance of being on guard for a resurgence of COVID as the state reopens.


June 2: The Impact of School Closings & The Challenges of Reopening

This week we were joined by 292 participants for an update which focused on K-12 schools. We discussed the impact of shutting schools down on teachers, staff, parents and students and the challenges of reopening our schools.

We were joined by Cary Booker, Assistant State Education Commissioner, State of New Jersey who acknowledged the sacrifices of educators and their families to meet the needs of their students. Assistant Commissioner Booker spoke to the inequities that plagued our education system long before COVID-19, their effect on remote instruction and food instability, and the state’s efforts to address them. 

Rosie Grant, Executive Director of the Paterson Education Foundation spoke to her organization’s efforts. Lack of internet and electronic devices have left many students behind in Paterson, 11,000 students still have no ability to access online learning. NJEA Organizational Development Field Representatives Michael Rollins and Robert Antonelli were joined by Bill Henning, Business Manager, OPEIU Local 32.  They spoke about the need for strong safety protocols to be in place to ensure that schools are safe and healthy for everyone as we look to reopen.


May 26: Public Sector Employee Safety and Health in the Age of Covid  

This week PEOSH (DOH and DLWD)  joined the call with a report on their activities. During the first 11 weeks of the emergency, the agency has received approximately 60 COVID-19 related complaints. During the emergency, it is not conducting onsite investigations. Instead, it relies on initial virtual investigations over the phone, with onsite follow-up visits as necessary. PEOSH affirmed that a COVID-19 case is OSHA-reportable, but only if it is work-related, of which there is no presumption. If whether a case is work-related is disputed, the burden of proof falls on the victim or their representatives. It is worth noting that there are only four PEOSH inspectors for the entire state. More than 200 people attended this webinar.


May 19: Workers’ Rights, Worker Safety and Workplace Justice

This week we were joined by more than 165 participants, who heard from Marcy Goldstien-Gelb, Co-Director of National COSH and Nancy Lessin, retired United Steelworker and COSH fellow on the Safe and Just Return to Work report; a blueprint for opening the economy with worker protections and worker justice in the forefront.

We were also joined by Lou Kimmel, Executive Director, New Labor to discuss a proposed Executive Order: COVID-19 Worker Protections that would implement a meaningful and enforceable right to refuse work in violation of mandated pandemic protections now before Governor Murphy.


May 12: Working Safer in Unsafe Times: What’s Happening in the Construction Industry and at Distribution Centers

This week, we welcomed a panel of guests who are organizing and representing workers deemed essential during the COVID-19 crisis. Anthony Abrantes, Organizing & Political Director for the Eastern Atlantic States Regional Council of Carpenters; Christian Smalls, an organizer and Former Warehouse Assistant Manager at Amazon; and Dave Hancock, Warehouse Campaign Director with the Laundry, Distribution and Food Service Joint Board, Workers United, SEIU. 


May 5: Worker and Community Health

This Week’s update was co-sponsored by the Center for Women and Work at Rutgers University and focused on family safety, health, and well-being. We were joined by Katherine Stoher, Deputy Commissioner of Operations, New Jersey Department of Children and Families (DCF) and Laura Johnson, Assistant Research Professor at the Center on Violence Against Women and Children (housed within the Rutgers University School of Social Work) to discuss family wellbeing during COVID-19. More than 140 participants attended this webinar.


April 28: NJ Whistleblower Protections – what is says, what it doesn’t, and how to use it

This week’s update featured labor and employment attorneys Rosemarie Cipparulo and David Tykulsker discussing whistleblower protections in New Jersey, including the Conscientious Employees Protection Act (CEPA). 130 participants joined us for the discussion.


April 21: Questions and Answers with OSHA

Yana van der Meulen Rodgers, Director of The Center for Women and Work at Rutgers University spoke about a report she co-authored about the causes for PPE shortages in the U.S, Personal Protective Equipment Shortages during the COVID-19 Pandemic: Structural Weaknesses and a House on Fire.

We heard from Laura Kenny, Assistant Regional Administrator for Technical Support, US-DOL, OSHA and Steve Kaplan, Deputy Regional Administrator, US-DOL, OSHA about the importance of employers conducting risk assessments, how Executive Orders from the State of NJ are not enforceable by OSHA, and facemasks are not considered PPE. Since the COVID-19 crisis began the region has received approximately 600 complaints and conducted 55 fatality investigations. More than 220 participants joined the webinar.


April 12: Question & Answer Session with Deborah Cornavaca, Deputy Chief of Staff for Governor Murphy

For the third webinar in this series, we were honored to welcome Deborah Cornavaca, Deputy Chief of Staff for Governor Murphy. Ms. Cornavaca spent the entire hour with us for a virtual question and answer session regarding safety measures taken by Governor Murphy to prevent the spread of COVID19 including recently signed Executive Order 122 that requires certain essential businesses to take additional safety measures. We were also joined by over 175 participants who are putting in the work every day to fight this disaster - either on the frontlines or by social distancing at home.


April 7: Recap From the Front Lines: Heroism, Shortages and Best Practices

From the current shortage of PPE to the coming hospital bed shortage, we heard what it is like for employees to go to work during this pandemic. Some employers have not implemented or enforced social distancing guidelines or provided proper PPE, while other employers have enacted stronger safety and health measures. With over 100 attendees, we discussed best practices employers can implement, victories won by unions to improve worker protections, and what needs to be done to protect workers and their families. 

Darren A. Spielma, PhD, Executive Director of The Senator Walter Rand Institute for Public Affairs (WRI) at Rutgers-Camden and an author of Timing County Hospital Bed Shortfall during COVID-19.

Barbara Rosen, Nurse Educator, and Vice President of the Health Professionals and Allied Employees – AFT about Protecting those Who Care.

Helen Polizzi Ireland, Director of Community Affairs and Education, United Food and Commercial Workers Local 360 and UFCW Representative Michael O’Brien about the concerns and demands of grocery store workers.

Dave Hancock, Warehouse Campaign Director, Laundry, Distribution and Food Service Joint Board, Workers United, SEIU and warehouse worker Maria Ortiz about some Best Practices and Ongoing Concerns of Warehouse Workers.

Lou Kimmel, Executive Director, New Labor, a membership-based organization of mostly low-wage immigrant workers in New Jersey about the issues their members are facing in the face of Covid-19.


March 17: Coronavirus: Protecting and Educating Workers 

Union, state and federal officials joined us for this webinar to give updates on COVID-19. There was an overview of what the Coronavirus is and how you can protect yourself; an update on actions that Governor Murphy is taking to protect the public; and an overview of the response from the Department of Labor and Workforce Development, the Department of Health, and a review of guidance issued from OSHA on protecting workers. More than 150 people participated in this webinar.

Speakers Included:

Deborah Cornavaca, Deputy Chief of Staff of Outreach for Governor Murphy

Robert Asaro-Angelo, Commissioner, NJ Department of Labor and Workforce Development

Chris Neuwirth, Assistant Commissioner, NJ Department of Health

Steve Kaplan, Deputy Regional Administrator, US-DOL, OSHA

Laura Kenny, Assistant Regional Administrator for Technical Support, US-DOL, OSHA presented Protecting Workers from 2019-nCoV

Barbara Rosen, Vice President and Nurse Educator, Health Professionals and Allied Employees presented Understanding Infectious Disease


The COVID-19 Update Weekly Webinar Series is Co-sponsored by:

NJ Work Environment CouncilLabor Education Action Research Network (LEARN) Jersey Renews