Representing Workers During a Pandemic

Representing Workers During a Pandemic

“Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favorable conditions at work, and to protections against unemployment. Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work. Everyone who works has the right to just and favorable remuneration, ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, but other means of social protection. Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.”  

Liz Feitl, AFL-CIO Community Service Liaison at United Way of Monroe County, read this passage from Article 23 of the United Nations General Assembly Universal Declaration of Human Rights to kick off the Wake Up! with United Way discussion about “Representing Workers During a Pandemic.”  

The discussion was joined by guest speakers Linda Gales, Executive Vice President of the IU Unit of Communications Workers of America, Local 4818; Neil Gath, Attorney specializing in labor law at Social Security Disability and Workers Compensation; Joseph Varga, Professor in the Department of Labor Studies at the IU School of Social Work; and Brett Voorhies, President of Indiana AFL-CIO.

The panelists discussed multiple topics that are important to the labor movement and workers’ representation during the COVID-19 pandemic. Varga explored the issues of union membership, collective bargaining, and overall workers’ safety.  

“Unionized workplaces where workers operate under negotiated collective bargaining agreements are safer than non-union workplaces,” he said.  

To support this, Varga said that unionized nursing homes in New York have had a 30 percent lower mortality rate for both staff and patients during the COVID-19 pandemic than non-unionized nursing homes.  

Gath shared information and resources for anyone who is unemployed due to the pandemic. Indiana unemployment benefits are available, and those applying should specify on the application that they are experiencing COVID-related unemployment.  

Because Indiana is experiencing a large backlog of pending unemployment applications, Gath recommends calling your State Representative or Senator with these issues. He also recommends that everyone out of work apply for unemployment, even if you do not think you will be eligible. Pandemic Unemployment Assistance is available to those who do not traditionally qualify for unemployment.  

Workers also have the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which provides compensation to those that must miss work to quarantine due to exposure or symptoms and expanded family medical leave for those who must miss work to care for a family member who has COVID-19 or for children who are at home due to school closures.  

Gales spoke on the mental health effects COVID-19 has had on workers, specifically though the experiences of Indiana University employees. They have been dealing with mandatory breaks, raise freezes, and work furloughs. Many who are working from home are struggling to create a workspace while caring for children who are adjusting to e-learning.  

“Most of this isn’t a pretty picture for anyone,” Gales said. “But the general opinion is we’re all in this together and we will survive.”  

Voorhies discussed the effects of COVID-19 on the labor movement and how the Indiana AFL-CIO is able to support workers during the pandemic.  

“We certainly are going through some pretty trying times right now,” he said. “And it’s certainly been very trying for the labor movement as well.”  

The Indiana AFL-CIO has been hearing from workers that many are fearful to be exposed to COVID-19 at work, fearful of bringing it home to their families, and frustrated with workplace’s failure to provide proper personal protective equipment. Voorhies said that for any workers experiencing issues with workplace safety, unemployment benefits, or unionization, the Indiana AFL-CIO is an available resource.

“The Indiana AFL-CIO is here to represent all workers, not just union workers,” he said.  

If you’d like to engage in this topic further, watch the full event, or explore the resources below.  


Labor Movement Resources

Helpful Resources:


Stay tuned for Wake Up! with United Way 2021!

Wake Up! with United Way is a collaborative project of United Way of Monroe County and IU’s Political and Civic Engagement Program, with thanks to The Greater Bloomington Chamber of Commerce and the Bloomington Board of Realtors for series support. Thanks also to NALC Branch 828 and Southern Indiana Area Labor Federation, AFL-CIO for event support.