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Oregon’s Unions Call for Greater Worker Protections In Response to COVID-19

The Oregon AFL-CIO, the statewide federation of unions representing over 300,000 working Oregonians, adopted a resolution on March 6 calling for increased workplace flexibility and greater worker protections amidst the outbreak of Coronavirus COVID-19. The resolution was unanimously passed by the Oregon AFL-CIO Executive Board and articulates Oregon’s unions’ concerns about the impact of the virus on working people across the state. The resolution calls on Oregon employers to follow recommended protocols to prevent the spread of COVID- 19, to allow for telecommuting, to allow workers to stay home when sick or to care for family members, and to ensure workers are compensated if they are impacted by COVID-19.

“The COVID-19 outbreak highlights a number of shortcomings in how working people are protected from infectious disease,” said Graham Trainor, Oregon AFL-CIO President. “Oregon has made strong advances in mandating employers provide paid sick leave and passing paid family and medical leave, but the rise of COVID-19 infections in Oregon has made it clear that we have to do more to ensure workers can care for loved ones or stay home if showing symptoms of this fast-spreading virus. At the same time, we absolutely have to ensure frontline workers such as first responders and healthcare workers have every protection available to them.”

The resolution calls attention to the misclassification of workers as independent contractors, which exempts them from standard workplace protections, including paid sick leave. While Uber has offered an ambiguous two-weeks of time off to drivers with COVID-19, it’s not enough says President Trainor:

“It should not take a virus outbreak for employers to institute common-sense policies to protect their employees. For years, companies like Uber have used an intentional strategy of misclassifying their workers as independent contractors to maximize profits at the expense of workers' rights. It’s critical for the health of our communities that companies like Uber correctly classify their workers as employees so that they are properly protected every day, not just during a widely-publicized public health crisis.”

In coordination with other Labor organizations across the country, the Oregon AFL-CIO is encouraging Oregonians to contact Congress to urge the Occupational Health and Safety Administration to issue an emergency temporary standard for infectious diseases. The Federation will continue to mobilize and advocate for expanded protections for COVID-19 and future health crises which disproportionately impact working people.

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