Inland Empire Labor Council opposes re-opening Riverside County without necessary protections for workers

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The Inland Empire Labor Council announced its opposition to the Riverside County Board of Supervisors’ motion to lift health and safety restrictions put in place to protect workers and the community from infection by the COVID-19 virus.

The potentially life-saving health and safety guidelines were put forth by the county’s public health officer and include the continued closure of schools and businesses until the risk for infection has been significantly reduced. The Riverside County Board of Supervisors chose to ignore this public health advisory and scheduled a vote to lift the restrictions at its meeting on May 5.

“This is a clear example of putting profits before people,” said Inland Empire Labor Council Secretary-Treasurer Ricardo Cisneros. “We understand the need for employers to open their businesses and for workers to return to work but not at the cost of the health and safety of our members on the front lines,” Cisneros said.

“Our members who work in meat processing facilities and in grocery and pharmacy retail stores found themselves suddenly on the front lines of this global health crisis,” said Joe Duffle, President of the Inland Empire Central Labor Council and UFCW Local 1167. “These brave workers have accepted their new role with honor and dignity.

“We fully understand the need for all workers to return to their jobs and we encourage a re-opening of our communities by following the recommendations of medical professionals and health care experts. We vigorously support the enforcement of the guideline for workers and the public to wear face masks and honor social distancing when they are in enclosed spaces in order to minimize the possibility of spreading the disease,” Duffle said.

Riverside County is ranked 2nd in the state for total COVID-19 infections. The reopening of schools and businesses without a proper safety plan in place is careless and unacceptable. The voices of workers and their communities must be included as we put together a solution to open up our county responsibly.

“Warehouse and other workers across Riverside County are facing COVID-19 outbreaks in their workplaces and are being required to put themselves in danger for the profit of their employers,” said Sheheryar Y. Kaoosji, Executive Director of the Warehouse Worker Resource Center. “We believe that now is the time to listen to public health experts and protect our most vulnerable people, especially those who are compelled by their employers to work without adequate protections,” Kaoosji said. William J. Perez, Executive Secretary and Business Manager of the Building & Construction Trades Council of San Bernardino and Riverside Counties, said a simple recission of County Public Health Orders falls far short of a comprehensive plan.

“Responsible opening requires that multiple stakeholders be involved in recommending the Health & Safety needs of employees, owners and customers,” Perez said, “as construction has been identified as “Essential” in most areas of the country and state. “Our North America’s Building Trades Unions (NABTU) and State Building Trades Council of California work closely with project owners, contractors and public agencies to develop strict guidelines for construction sites,” Perez said.

“With over 4,000 cases, and new cases being reported, is shameful that Riverside officials lack the vision and leadership to hold steady and follow medical recommendations,” Javier Hernandez, Executive Director of the Inland Coalition For Immigrant Justice, said. “This is reckless endangerment of our most vulnerable populations, particularly essential workers — many of whom are immigrants and communities of color. “This is risking their exposure and their families’ health — our community health.

We are placing those at the frontlines at an even higher risk of getting infected. This has a human and an economic impact that is not worth succumbing to the intransigence of residents who need to stay home.” Hernandez continued: “Our focus should be on ensuring the economic well-being of all people by creating economic stimulus packages that are accessible to all.”

“UDW home care providers are frontline, essential workers providing care to Riverside County’s low-income seniors, people with disabilities, and the immune-compromised—those who are most at risk of the worst effects of COVID-19. It is our job to protect our clients as best we can and yet we struggle to secure access to basic supplies and PPE,” said Doug Moore, UDW Executive Director. “Our county has the second highest amount of COVID-19 cases. It is still too early to reopen the county while so many of our community members are still at risk.

The Board of Supervisors must put people first, or else we risk losing too many lives,” Moore said. “Last month, we held a peaceful protest for PPE because we’re dangerously ill-equipped to safely handle the patients we currently have. Many of us are going 13 hours without meal breaks. There’s no way the hospital could handle a surge.

We urge the Supervisors to heed the advice and guidance of scientists and other healthcare professionals with expertise in the area of infectious disease and its transmission,” said Monique Hernandez, a Registered Nurse at Riverside Community Hospital and an Executive Board Member of SEIU Local 121RN.

“As communities of faith working together in the civic arena for the well-being of our families, Inland Congregations United for Change believes that the Riverside Board of Supervisor’s proposal to remove the Riverside County Public Health Orders during this time of uncertainty is misled.

We have to insure that we have seen 14 consecutive days of declining new infections to justify rescinding the public health orders that protect peoples’ health,” said Tom Dolan, Ph.D. and Executive Director of the Inland Congregations United for Change (ICUC).

The Inland Empire Labor Council AFL-CIO represents 298,000 members across its affiliated unions.

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