COVID-19 Class Struggle Timeline
Marx21's updated timeline of coronavirus-related walkouts, sick-outs, strikes,
and worker demonstrations in the United States starting from March 16, 2020.
by marx21 (US)
On September 1st, plans for a strike authorization vote in New York City public schools were cancelled as the city backed down on its school reopening plans. The City reached a decision with the AFT union to delay in-person classes till September 21st, prepare school buildings, and set up a monthly program of selective Covid-19 tests. The MORE rank-and file caucus, who had been building grass-roots support for sickouts and the strike vote, welcomed the delay but condemned the “backroom deal” between the union and the city. Teachers in MORE have continued concerns over school ventilation upgrades, plans for safe school lunches in packed cafeterias, and cuts to school nursing; and they want a more universal testing schedule. The MORE caucus continues to demand no full reopening of in-person schools until 14 days of no new cases, financial support and real childcare options for families.
During August, campus workers have taken part in several protests and actions on college campuses across the country calling attention to their health concerns about Covid-19 as students return back to campus. At large public universities in Texas, Florida and North Carolina, and other colleges, teachers have resisted administration efforts to bring back many students to the classrooms and dorms that produce tuition and housing revenues.
On August 28th, union workers at Georgia College staged a “die in” against the college's "willful negligence" during a Covid surge. Staff lay in the grass, six feet apart, with signs saying “I can't teach if I'd dead” and “we don’t want our students to die.” More than 800 had signed an online petition for virtual learning. There have been 450 new cases in students who have returned to campus since the week of Aug. 17, and some professors have half their students in quarantine. The action was part of United Campus Workers of Georgia's statewide campaign against “forced campus re-openings." The state flagship University of Georgia had their own die-in earlier this year.
On August 6th, Students and Staff collaborated on a "die-in" at University of North Carolina, noting that over 100 students had already been infected, and protesting plans to call students back to campus on August 10th, which the Orange County Public Health department had advised against. On August 31st, students in Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo held protests against the lack of safety plans, and calling for on-line learning.
On August 18th, union workers at the University of Maryland took part in a protest car caravan. Union workers were nervous working in proximity with groups of students not wearing masks. AFSCME local 3 had previously won mandatory testing for those returning to campus, and now want regular ongoing testing guaranteed.
After the August re-opening at City Colleges of Chicago, faculty threatened to strike if they didn't see safety improvements. They were partly inspired by Chicago public school teachers, who's threat changed the City's policy (see below). "While a strike itself would be illegal, if our members decide it's necessary, we will do so," said CCCTU President Tony Johnston.
Despite initial resistance from their own union, teachers in Rochester, NY with the help of RORE (Rochester Organization of Rank-and-File Educators) used a survey, public feedback, August 3rd demonstration, petition, a union resolution, and agitation to approve a "safety strike" to push their union into pushing the district--and won a fully remote school opening. An article by a Rochester teacher in Labor Notes explains how. RORE is now pushing for free high-speed internet for all students, and cancelling planned layoffs of support staff, using money saved by stopping the planned $16 million new police station.
Friday, August 14th, a "sick-out" by Arizona school staff concerned about coronavirus risk has forced the state's schools to cancel plans to reopen in-person classes. The seven-school Greater Phoenix J.O. Combs Unified School District and one other district had earlier voted to reopen on Monday the 17th. The Arizona Educational Association (the teacher's union) pointed out that neither district met the benchmarks from the state department of public health. By late Friday afternoon, 109 teachers and other staff members from the district had already called in sick. A statement from the District Superintendent cancelling the reopening mentioned the "high volume of staff absences..citing health and safety concerns" and "an overwhelming response from staff." They did not give a new date for schools starting.
Arizona teachers had gained experience organizing around their six-day strike as part of the 2018 "red state" rebellion.
On the August 3rd Day of Resistance, Tiffany Choi, president of Denver teachers union, addresses crowd from the back of a truck: “Our students deserve safe, healthy and equitable schools.”
Monday, August 3rd, teachers around the country took part in a "National Day of Resistance" against unsafe plans for reopening schools, leading to immediate change of plans in at least one school district. A week earlier, head of the American Federation of Teachers Randy Weingarten said the AFT would support local "safety strikes" if health precautions are not met during reopening, "as a last resort," and teachers in Detroit threatened to stay home if their Covid-19 concerns were not met. The largest rally on the 3rd was in Chicago, fully backed by the Chicago Teachers Union.
The next day, the CTU decided they would call for a strike vote. Following that announcement, Chicago officials quickly backed off their proposal for part-time in-school teaching, and said the school year would start with 100% remote learning. A rally in New York City of 500 people against unsafe opening was not given the same official support, but built largely by the MORE rank-and-file caucus within the UFT teacher's union and individual teachers who were already on the left or had been touched by Black Lives Matter and other activism. In DC, where the school opening with be "virtual" till at least November 6th, teachers with DC CORE (DC Caucus of Rank-and-File Educators) canvased and pushed for equity of technology access and support for all children.
On July 20th, in alignment with the "Strike for Black Lives" protests, 1,500 San Francisco janitorial workers represented by SEiU Local 87 participated in an unfair labor practices strike. They demand fair negotiations between SEIU and employer Able Services to ensure the health and safety of janitorial workers, and called for personal protective equipment and alerts for when co-workers test positive for COVID-19. Hundreds of striking janitors held a press conference, then marched to a Black Lives Matter rally at City Hall, joined by other union members and supporters. On the way they stopped to take a knee for 8 minutes and 46 seconds in solidarity with George Floyd.
On Monday, July 20th, over 700 members of the National Union of Healthcare Workers at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital in Sonoma County, California went on strike against a concessionary contract proposal. Hundreds of nursing assistants, respiratory therapists, medical technicians and others picketed six feet apart for five days. The trauma center is owned by Providence Health, which received a $500 million bailout from the CARES act, brought in $201 million in operating profit, and is sitting on $12 billion in cash, but is pushing cuts to health care and paid sick leave. “We don’t have enough PPE to keep us safe, but management wants us to pay twice as much to insure our families,” said radiology technician Shannon Signer. The continuing dispute will be watched throughout the healthcare industry, and needs all the solidarity it can get.
Labor Notes reports during the Monday, July 20th national “Strike for Black Lives”--“a day of protest (though it included few conventional strikes)”--“Members of the Communications Workers in Memphis, Tennessee, protested outside an AT&T Mobility call center where 10 out of 20 new hires had contracted COVID-19 after the company refused the union’s request to do their training remotely. The union pointed out the company’s hypocrisy in issuing statements supporting the Black Lives Matter movement while ignoring the demands of the disproportionately Black and female Memphis workers.”
On Wednesday, July 15th fast food workers in Illinois and California staged demonstrations and strikes against McDonalds and Burger King branches, and filled complainants with local government, about a lack of adequate Covid-19 protection. The protests came just days after the death of Angela Martenez Gómez, a transgender woman worker at a Santa Monica Burger King. According to her colleagues, she had worked for at least a week while exhibiting symptoms of Covid-19 (including coughing and nausea) while management brushed off her symptoms, saying they were probably just side-effects of her hormone injections. California OSHA is investigating. Workers there filed a complaint alleging infrequent cleaning of high-touch surfaces, lack of face masks and lax enforcement of social distancing. Also on Wednesday, McDonald's workers throughout Chicago walked out and staged protests about similar issues.
A Northeast Portland Burgerville location had its scheduled reopening Friday July 10th postponed, when the “Burgerville Workers Union” announced they had gone on strike due to concerns related to one staff member testing positive for COVID-19. The Union has filed a complaint with OSHA, and expressed concerns about reopening too soon. The strike closed the location for a week, and gave workers “at least 2 weeks paid time off since last exposure with the infected worker” to quarantine, get tested and receive the results, said the union. The Burgerville Workers Union was formed in 2016, and is associated with the IWW.
July 10th, workers walked off the floor in a wildcat strike at the JBS Swift beef plant in Greeley Colorado. What started as a pay dispute with the "black hat" workers on the production floor spread to others. The strike was not planned by UFCW local 7, the union which represents most of the workers at the plant, and a union spokesperson quickly distanced themselves from the action. Covid-19 had been spreading in the plant, and over 300 employees had tested positive. Earlier this year, workers at the meat plant walked off the job after one of their co-workers died of COVID, forcing the company to temporarily shut the plant for cleaning and pledge a range of protective measures (see March 31, below). Now, after the eighth death, more workers are demanding more pay for this dangerous work. One Spanish speaking employee told the Greeley Tribune: “Now isn’t like before,” this employee said.
“Before, there were many Latinos who were fearful and there was a lot of separation between the people. Today, what we showed is it doesn’t matter where you’re from, if you’re Hispanic, Puerto Rican, Mexican, El Salvadoran, we’re all united today. And we all left together.”
By July 20th, workers won an additional $1.85 an hour, without re-opening the contract. Since workers returned to work, their union, UFCW local 7, has also filed complaints against the company-- one with OSHA for unsafe working conditions, and one Unfair Labor Practices complaint with the NLRB for illegal individual direct dealings with union members at the plant.
Nurses at Riverside Community Hospital, Calif. are on a ten-day strike against unsafe staffing levels during the coronavirus pandemic. On June 27th, close to 600 Nurses came out to form a noisy picket on the first shift of of the strike, which runs to July 6th. Nurses with SEIU 121RN are demanding more staffing, more PPE, and more time for rest, especially now that the hospital is seeing a new wave of COVID-19 admissions. On July 2nd, the ICU beds were 99% occupied. Nurses say they now have to care for more patients and work longer shifts without breaks, affecting quality of care. “When I say I work 13 hours and I don’t get a drink of water, I’m not exaggerating" said 52 year old registered nurse Mary Martin, adding that is bad for patients: "it breaks my heart." “We’re out here for one reason, we are not in contract negotiations,” said Kerry Cavazos, union chapter president and RN in the hospital’s labor and delivery department. “We are here for one thing: safe staffing.”
Over 700 nurses at Amita Health Saint Joseph Medical Center Joliet, Illinois, went on strike Saturday morning, July 4th, the only strike at the Center since 1993 when they won the union with a 61 day strike. The nurses, members of the Illinois Nurses Association, have been working without a contract since May 9th, and are still negotiating over nurse staffing levels that the nurses say are unsafe, as well as pay and changes to certain benefits. Amita Health owns 19 hospitals in Illinois, and is paying millions for temporary agency nurses during the strike.
[Update: on July 20th nurses approved a settlement with 57.2% of those voting checking yes (only 43% of eligible employees). A previous offer had been rejected by 72%. While nurses saved some illness benefits and will be receiving small raises, they did not win their demands for safe staffing levels with enforceable contract language. The union says it will be pursuing improved staffing through State lawmakers.]
On Thursday June 25th workers at Fiat Chrysler' Jefferson North Assembly Plant in Detroit refused to work over concerns about the coronavirus, stopping the production line for both the day and afternoon shifts, and then into Friday as the C crew entered and also refused to work. Workers walked away from the assembly line after one worker reported feeling ill and was sent home. Later on Friday it was revealed the worker was negative for COVID-19. The action, by UAW members, is independent of the union.
The plant, where the Jeep Grand Cherokee and Dodge Durango are made, was one of those closed down by wildcat action in March, before the Detroit Three were forced to shutdown manufacturing in response to the advancing COVID-19 pandemic and close working conditions.
The strike of "Hoppers" (sanitation workers) in New Orleans has entered it's eighth week. See May 5th, below, for more on the strike by these low-paid workers, sub-contracted by the city to Metro Services Disposal Group, who still refuse to meet with the workers directly. The strike was sparked May 5th over safety and lack of PPE. The struggles of the all black workforce is now intersecting with the Black Lives Matter protests still erupting around the country, and recently received enthusiastic solidarity on their Juneteenth march. You or your union branch can contribute to help support the striking workers here.
JUNE 25: About 50 farm workers went on strike for one day at Primex Farms, a pistachio grower in Wasco, central California after hearing on television that dozens of their co-workers had tested positive for coronavirus. Primex later confirmed that 31 or its 400 employees had so far been confirmed infected. The workers (not union members, but being supported by the United Farm Workers), struck for one day, picketing with hand-made signs and red UFW flags. They demanded more information from the company, as well as better sanitation measures, free basic PPE, and payment during shutdowns. Primex will now close the plant from Friday to Monday for a “deep cleaning” and has offered free testing to workers on Monday. Veronica Perez, one of the workers, said the company had been selling workers cloth masks for $8.00 each, but began providing free masks a few days ago.
JUNE 9th: Over 100 Philadelphia sanitation workers, members of AFSCME Local 427, met at LOVE Park to rally and speak for better working conditions amid the coronavirus pandemic and oppose Mayor Kenney’s proposed budget cuts to the Philadelphia Streets Department. Among their demands: Increased personal protective equipment, hazard pay, temperature checks and COVID-19 testing sites designated specifically for sanitation workers. More than 50 Philadelphia sanitation workers have been diagnosed with Covid-19 so far.
Something like 80% of Philadelphia’s sanitation workers are black. "Black lives matter not only in neighborhoods or schools but at work," Daniel Reyes, a teacher, told The Philadelphia Inquirer. Other municipal workers, and the local chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America helped organize the rally. Streets Commissioner Carlton Williams wrote a letter Monday saying any worker who took an "unauthorized absence" to attend the protest would be disciplined, but they went anyway.
JUNE 11th: After an agreement from management, striking employees went back to work at Columbia Reach Pack, the last of the Yakima Valley fruit-packing plants that had been struck. Although management had refused to even meet with workers, they finally promised free PPE, safe working conditions, and no retaliation for striking workers. Workers need to stay organized, and react if any or the promises are not fulfilled.
At several other area firms agreements were made on coronavirus safety measures. Allan Brothers offered a $1 an hour bonus for working during the coronavirus pandemic, and recognized the workers' committee, Trabajadores Unidos por la Justicia. During the long strike, the Yakima valley, home to many "essential" and underpaid fruit workers, reported 175 new cases of Covid-19, bringing the total to 4,714 cases and 96 deaths, a hot spot for Washington, and the U.S.
JUNE 8th: Workers are back to work at Matson Fruit in the Yakima valley, Washington state, after winning Covid-protections, but not the wage gain they were asking for. A settlement reached Friday was said to be supported by all but five or six of the 35 striking workers who had been out since May 12th. Management will finally be enforcing six-foot distancing, and there will be access to masks and hand sanitizer. Management also promised to be "re-evaluating" pay based on seniority. But Ximena Hernandez, a Matson worker, said there were no real concessions by management, and complained the negotiating committee did not bring the agreement back to the workers for their approval. "The committee told everyone to go home, and we’ll be back tomorrow,” Hernandez said. “When I got home, there was a call that there was a paper ready.”
Familias Unidas por la Justicia filed a lawsuit against Washington state, seeking to strike down some emergency rules allowing bunk beds in multi-person farmworker housing, “contrary to scientific evidence" in the pandemic (see above).
On May 29 over 700 nurses at Amita Health Saint Joseph Medical Center in Joliet Illinois voted to authorize a strike, 558 to 53. The nurses, part of Illinois Nurses Association, have been working without a contract since May 9th. They are still negotiating and have not set a strike date. In addition to increases in benefits and pay, the union is asking for higher levels of nurse staffing. “We were short-staffed before COVID; COVID just escalated it,” said nurse and lead union negotiator Pat Meade. She did not want to strike during the pandemic, “but we have to have adequate staff to give excellent care to our patients.”
On Tuesday, May 26th a strike by 22 workers of the McDonalds in North Oakland, CA, shut down the store. Strikers were demanding a deep cleaning of the store, a two-week paid quarantine period, company-paid medical costs, and plus proper personal protective equipment after four workers tested positive for Covid-19, and others had symptoms. The workers had been told the restaurant would be completely shut on Monday, but they then found it open and people working.
The strike is supported by Fight for-15, members of East Bay Democratic Socialists (DSA), faith leaders, and others, who later joined workers in protests. As the strike continued, they found twelve workers there have tested positive for COVID-19, and so have eight of their family members, including a 10-month-old baby.
After striking for over a week, pickets continued on the weekend of May 16-17 outside Monson Fruit in Selah CA, calling for more protective equipment and safety measures at the plant. In addition workers had walked out at Columbia Reach Pack and Hansen Fruit and Cold Storage Co. Thursday morning to protest their working conditions, making it seven separate strikes in the Yakima valley, with hundreds of workers calling for paid sick leave, hazard pay, safer working conditions and protection from retaliation amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
On Wednesday, May 20th, workers shut down the assembly line at a Ford Truck plant in Dearborn Michigan after hearing of a fellow employee who had left work the day before and then tested positive for Covid-19. A worker told Labor Notes, "“When the B-shift showed up, multiple lines were short, but the company had more new temporary workers than jobs so they could have workers double up on jobs. That means working shoulder to shoulder, they definitely are not six feet apart. Everyone started to refuse to work and the line was not running. They were threatening to fire everyone who refused to be doubled up. I didn’t care, I walked out." Employees are told they are to work six feet apart, and there will be "deep clean" after an infected person has worked on the line. Workers felt the 1.5 hours before B shift began was not enough.
GM plants only started up on May 18th after a long shut down for coronavirus safety. GM has hired an estimated 680 temporary workers at the Dearborn Truck plant alone, expecting extensive absenteeism.
When owners of the Still Perkin' coffee shop in New Orleans asked workers to return on May 16th, five of the nine employees refused to come back until certain conditions were met. They are still on strike at the end of May, asking for hazard pay that would compensate for lost tips, and the start of paid family and medical leave. The five baristas were fired later in May. Owners have declined to take up the Governments PPP loan to cover wages, thinking it would probably not be forgiven.
Friday, May 15 Cook County Illinois healthcare workers at Stroger Hospital and UIC Hospital joined together in a public demonstration to call for the protection of all public hospital workers and the communities they serve. Hospital workers represented by SEIU Local 73 were joined by nurses with Illinois Nursing Association. During the afternoon shift change, workers met outside Chicago's Stroger Hospital, standing six feet apart, and spoke out, demanding universal PPE, testing, and hazard pay and pay raises. They then marched to UIC Hospital, where workers there spoke out. The maintenance and facilities workers are over three quarters black, and start at $13 an hour. The rally should be used to demand safe working conditions now, and build confidence and connections between workers for upcoming contract negotiations.