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How the Pandemic Has Intensified Union Fights for Worker Safety

The labor movement is built on collective action to fight for worker rights. The 40-hour work week, paid holidays, and overtime laws, among other benefits many of us now take for granted, were not handed to workers from generous employers. They were enshrined in law because working people fought tirelessly for them. And now, with COVID-19 laying bare how precarious life is for many American workers, a strong labor movement is essential.

Union members continue to demand stronger workplace safety measures be put in place for all workers, including calling out the federal government for lapses in OSHA'S regulatory oversight, demanding more personal protective equipment be provided to frontline workers, and fighting for hazard pay. Unions such as SEIU Local 668 and AFSCME District Council 13 have been fighting to ensure Pennsylvania public workers receive OSHA protections, as nearly half of all public workers in the U.S. lack those protections.

Unionized workers across the country are also fighting for COVID-19 safety protocols in the workplace, such as AFSCME Council 28, which represents public employees in Washington state. At the onset of the pandemic, members proactively bargained for additional COVID-19 protections. They won paid quarantine leave, telework for state employees, and health screenings for employees who work in a congregated care setting. And in Pennsylvania, SEIU Local 668 members negotiated telework and staggered shifts for welfare caseworkers across the state.

When members use their union to make demands of management, they’re more likely to win. And because of the labor laws union members have fought so hard for, union members are more likely to speak up. One recent study, comparing the number of workplace safety complaints filed with federal and state agencies in unionized and non-unionized worksites, found unionized worksites 30% more likely to have health and safety inspections.

The pandemic has provided a stark illustration that many essential employees can’t simply rely on their employers’ good graces or the government’s rapid action to keep them safe. Being part of a union empowers workers to speak up, and gives them the tools to fight for a safer workplace.

People have been joining unions and fighting for worker protections for decades, not just in a Pandemic. If you are a social service worker in Pennsylvania, you have the right to form a union and fight for potentially life-saving health and safety policies at your worksite. For more information on union organizing, please complete this form, and an organizer from SEIU Local 668 will contact you.