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.


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




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


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