Labor’s strength in 2020 brought us all closer together
We will remember 2020 forever as a year like we’ve never seen before, with unprecedented hardships and daily reminders of the suffering and death that the coronavirus pandemic unleashed on New Jersey and the nation in a plague that’s still raging.
Health-care workers put their lives in danger every day. First responders race to emergencies not knowing if they will become the next COVID victims. Retail workers keep stores sanitized and shelves stocked in the midst of shortages. Teachers adapt overnight to remote learning and hybrid schooling. Drivers bring people to work and keep the supply chain going. Every working person in every sector of labor struggles to keep the economy going and maintain a sense of normalcy when there is no “normal” to be had.
The massive challenges of 2020 did not and cannot defeat us, and our Labor Movement is stronger and more united. In 2020, the New Jersey State AFL-CIO’s officers and staff thanked our essential frontline heroes every day.
In 2021, our gratitude and advocacy for our brothers and sisters will continue nonstop.
When the deadly COVID-19 pandemic struck, the Labor Movement quickly and effectively stepped up to stem the tide of hardships: Job losses. Evictions. Food insecurity. Loss of health care. Lack of PPE and safe, clean workplaces. Remote work. Remote school. A health care system overwhelmed.
To tackle those challenges and many more, the New Jersey State AFL-CIO and our affiliated unions and allies lobbied vigorously and tirelessly for key pro-labor legislation in Washington and Trenton.
Early in the coronavirus outbreak, the Labor Movement shaped the $2.2 trillion federal CARES Act, which provided direct payments to Americans and reinforced the unemployment insurance system and supplied other paycheck protections. Labor demanded federal emergency workplace safety standards and plentiful protective gear to be distributed nationwide. Labor then guided the late-December federal stimulus bill of nearly $1 trillion, but only as a down payment on real relief.
The New Jersey State AFL-CIO and our affiliates laser-focused on pro-labor state legislation all year. Dozens of bills that our Labor Movement advocated for are now New Jersey law or are about to become law.
Family Leave and Unemployment Insurance enhancements originally championed by the state labor federation were updated and adapted for the age of COVID. Workers are protected from termination for missing work because of the coronavirus. Workers who quarantine can get full pay without using sick days, and workers who come down with COVID can file for temporary disability benefits without a waiting period. Employers are responsible for maintaining a COVID-safe workplace.
In a true labor victory, if any of our frontline heroes who have contact with the public on the job contract the virus, then it’s presumed the infection came at the workplace. This burden-of-proof reform to Workers Comp covers all essential workers in all sectors of labor in any health emergency.
Besides COVID-related laws, New Jersey Labor also supported the passage of a state budget with the largest pension payment in history; a business incentive package that provides good union jobs; hospitality staffing ratios, hotel cleanliness and worker safety standards; due process and arbitration reform for non-teaching employees; and a guarantee that prevailing wages and apprenticeship requirements at chemical and oil facilities now apply to private jobsites.
The New Jersey State AFL-CIO’s Labor 2020 election activities underwent a substantial transformation because of the coronavirus. The nationally acclaimed Labor Candidates School shifted to online classes and made sure our Labor Candidates were well-versed in cutting-edge digital tools. The Labor Candidates planned their work, worked their plans, and achieved 41 victories in local races, including a history-making runoff election for mayor and council in Perth Amboy. The Labor Candidates program has achieved 1,134 wins since 1997.
With its brand-new CODE-U social media program, the COPE Team delivered factual messages via multiple platforms on state and national issues facing working families. With virtual phone banks, peer-to-peer texting and other information blasts, New Jersey Labor got out the vote in New Jersey and in battleground states – right until the minute the polls closed November 3 – that helped elect the Biden-Harris team, Sen. Cory Booker and House members from New Jersey.
Organizing and Labor Victories
Early in 2020, Machinists Lodge 61 struck the IKEA distribution center in Burlington County after rejecting IKEA’s “last best offer.” New Jersey State AFL-CIO officers and staff stayed on site to help their sisters and brothers. Central Labor Councils and union affiliates joined brothers and sisters on the picket line. We stood in solidarity with our strikers, and all our efforts paid off with a new contract.
And to close out the year with a holiday to celebrate, IFPTE Local 196 had two big wins. The union successfully concluded a 2½-year effort to organize 80 of the essential workers of the South Jersey Transportation Authority who deliver Meals on Wheels and, before COVID restrictions, gave senior citizens some independence by driving them to doctors, shopping and more.
Meanwhile, new contracts with Chapters 1 and 12 of Local 196, representing 550 toll takers and other workers on the Garden State Parkway, were forged just before Christmas, replacing contracts that expired in 2013. Workers received raises and back pay.
The New Jersey State AFL-CIO continually urged working families to fill out their Census forms, making it clear how many billions of dollars an inaccurate count would cost the state.
Twice in 2020, the New Jersey State AFL-CIO, its Union Veterans Council and several affiliates brought lunch and union-made, union-donated snacks to retired veterans and their caregivers at the state memorial Veterans Homes that were ravaged by COVID-19.
After the virus hit, the State AFL-CIO engineered Operation Feed Atlantic City, a union-led, union-run partnership with government, business and charitable organizations that provided more than 25,000 meal kits totaling about 3 million pounds of groceries to families hit hard by the closing of the casino industry and related sectors of labor.
It was the biggest, longest-lasting union program of its kind in the nation. For almost 10 months, from spring through the end of the year, union donations provided the groceries and union volunteers provided the organizational skills and muscle to make sure their brothers and sisters in need could put food on their tables, including festive meals at Thanksgiving and Christmas. Smiles and words of encouragement from member to member were as plentiful as the foodstuffs.
A Year of Victories, a New Year of Solidarity
For the New Jersey State AFL-CIO and all of New Jersey Labor, 2020 was a year of flexibility, creativity and innovation, and rededication to the dignity and worth of work.
When we look back on 2020, we will remember all our victories over incredible obstacles, because we worked together and we won together.
And as we look forward to a brighter New Year, we know for certain that solidarity will continue to sustain our working families, make us stronger and bring us even closer together.
We wish you a happy, healthy and safe 2021 with our deepest gratitude.
The Officers and Staff of the New Jersey State AFL-CIO