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Fair Workweek New Jersey Urges Governor Murphy, Legislature To Elevate Standards For Front-Line Workers Keeping New Jersey Families Fed And Alive

Insider NJ — April 21, 2020

ELIZABETH, N.J. — Over a dozen grassroots community organizations, economic policy researchers, labor unions, and worker centers that are members of the Fair Workweek New Jersey coalition sent a letter today to Governor Murphy, Senate President Sweeney, Assembly Speaker Coughlin, members of the New Jersey legislature, and state agency officials urging them to take immediate actions to protect and safeguard frontline retail, grocery, warehouse, food production and food delivery workers during and beyond the current coronavirus pandemic. The letter contains detailed policy recommendations and corporate accountability demands to ensure that an expanded set of front-line workers (retail, grocery store, warehouse, food production and food delivery) are able to protect their health and that of the wider public, rapidly identify and resolve workplace hazards to prevent COVID outbreaks, and be able to have some sense of stability and predictability in their and their families' lives during this chaotic time, so that they can take care of themselves too.

The recommendations (linked here) are informed by thousands of conversations with workers over the past several weeks. The following is a summary of the coalition's proposals.

Roberto Sanchez, a food delivery worker and member of Make the Road New Jersey said:

"So many of us are working in warehouses and restaurants and have become sick with COVID19. We are not being given paid sick days when we are forced to quarantine, many of us do not qualify for unemployment insurance or temporary disability insurance, and many of us are afraid to speak up because we believe employers will fire us if we report hazards. Workers deserve the respect of hazard pay, assistance with paying for childcare and elders, and expanded paid sick time so they can afford to quarantine."

Tom Walsh, President of the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union (RWDSU) Local 262 said:

"Since this pandemic started, grocery store and frozen food warehouse workers across New Jersey are working increasingly erratic schedules and they are getting sick on the job. If they are lucky enough to have a union, they have healthcare, but most can not afford to lose their job and to not work for two weeks. We are proposing common-sense solutions that can empower front-line workers that are keeping all of us fed right now. These workers deserve the right to not work with pay if basic sanitary and social distancing measures are not maintained in their workplace. We are trying to keep the workers and all of our consumers, who are increasingly shopping for more than just one family at a time, safe from COVID19."

Barry Kushnir, President of Hudson County Central Labor Council said:

"As of today, 492 people have died in Hudson County because of COVID19. We are a county full of diverse working-class immigrants, who are working very dangerous jobs in very close quarters. They are delivering food, stocking our grocery stores, distributing goods through warehouses and more. The workers are best positioned to identify potential outbreaks and they should be given the right to speak out and prevent outbreaks. They need to have the certainty of knowing that they can take at least 15 paid sick days to quarantine and the respect of being paid with hazard pay. It's the least our state can provide to care for those who are allowing us to shelter in place."

Yarrow Willman-Cole, Workplace Justice Program Director at New Jersey Citizen Action and convener of the NJ Time to Care coalition said:

"We must protect essential workers and this includes ensuring that they have adequate paid sick days. Many workers in warehouses, grocery store chains, delivery services, and big box retail stores were completely cut out of the federal emergency paid sick days response. This is unacceptable as they risk their lives daily to perform their jobs and keep our economy running. We must strengthen our state Earned Sick Leave law to ensure these workers can afford to stay home without fear of retaliation so that they can protect their and their families' health and prevent the further spread of infection."

Imani Oakley, Legislative Director of the New Jersey Working Families Alliance said:

"Right now there is an unprecedented demand for essential services due to the COVID19 crisis. As consumer demands among household, food delivery, and dry food retailers reach all time highs, it is absolutely critical that we protect essential workers from exploitation and empower essential workers throughout New Jersey as they work everyday to keep our state running during these hard times."

Fair Workweek NJ is a growing coalition of community members, public health and child care advocates, and labor partners coming together to restore dignity and respect in New Jersey work- places through a Fair Workweek. Learn more at www.fairworkweeknj.org

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