Workers on the front lines need our support during crisis

Stuart Appelbaum, President, Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union | 3/19/2020, 1:59 p.m.
During this unprecedented public health crisis, working men and women are on the front lines in the battle to keep ...
Stuart Appelbaum

During this unprecedented public health crisis, working men and women are on the front lines in the battle to keep New Yorkers safe and supplied, and to slow down the spread of the coronavirus; so our health care professionals can keep the situation from spiraling out of control.

RWDSU members in New York––including those at pharmacies and grocery stores––have an incredibly important role during these unprecedented times. Fortunately for them, they have a union voice, and it’s a voice we are using to ensure their workplaces are as safe as possible for workers as well as the general public. Workers need to be provided with the proper protective equipment and sanitizer, clean workplaces, and enough space or protective barriers to make workers safer. Workers also need proper security on hand to control crowds and keep workplaces safe.

For other retail workers, we need to protect income as stores close. The economic disruption in their lives is going to be massive, and we need to ensure that they aren’t missing paychecks as this pandemic drags on.

The general public should be thankful for the heroic efforts of these brave workers who are still doing their job amidst this unprecedented crisis. And we need to do our part to keep them healthy; wash hands constantly, use sanitizer, and keep safe distance from others and workers as much as is possible. We need to address the growing childcare needs for service workers who don’t have the option of working from home.

And we need to give stores time to receive deliveries and re-stock shelves, and we must not panic to a point that we are adding to the stress and chaos in stores.

At the same time, it’s important to be mindful of the impact this is going to have on all workers. For non-union workers, without a voice on the job and without contract protections and benefits, this is an even scarier time, since they are depending solely upon management to keep their workplaces safe. And for all workers, we are entering an economically precarious time, the likes of which we haven’t seen or even imagined.

The goal of any recovery action and legislation needs to be simple: no worker should suffer loss of income because of this pandemic, including those who aren’t sick or caring for the ill. Any bailouts to corporations needs to be tied to job retention guarantees. There should not just be a bailout for corporate executives; any bailout needs to help everybody from the ground up––or our workers, communities, and our economy will be unable to recover. We cannot leave any worker behind when it comes to paid time off legislation at the federal and state level, and we must include undocumented workers at any size of business.

As we rebuild our economy and our state, we can leave no one behind. We will only have one chance to get this right.

Stuart Appelbaum is president, Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union;; twitter: @sappelbaum