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[WASHINGTON, D.C.] — Congressional Progressive Caucus Co-Chairs U.S. Representatives Pramila Jayapal (WA-07) and Mark Pocan (WI-02) are demanding relief for frontline workers facing retaliation for organizing for safer working conditions during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. 

In a letter signed by 33 of their House colleagues, Reps. Jayapal and Pocan are calling on the National Labor Relations Board’s General Counsel Peter Robb to use the Board’s legal powers to seek immediate relief for workers fired for COVID-19 related organizing activity. The lawmakers cite some of the many incidents of workers who have been punished for speaking up about unsafe working conditions which put them and those they serve in danger of spreading COVID-19 in their letter:

  • Essential workers in the food supply chain in Yakima, WA report that when they asked for improved safety provisions and other COVID-19 related improvements to their working conditions, they were interrogated and threatened by their employer. 
  • Food service workers in Colorado report that they were fired after joining together to ask for improved safety precautions prior to returning to work. 
  • Poultry plant workers in Delaware report that their wages were reduced to fund payments for personal protective equipment, and that they were forced to attend anti-union meetings in small, cramped spaces – leaving them especially vulnerable to COVID-19 transmission. 
  • Crawfish processing workers in Crowley, Louisiana report that after they developed COVID-19 symptoms, their supervisor forbade them from leaving employer-owned housing and then fired them for going to the hospital to seek medical attention. 
  • A fast food worker in Chicago, IL reports that he was fired for participating in a lawsuit alleging unsafe working conditions, including inadequate PPE and failures to inform workers when co-workers tested positive for COVID-19. 

The NLRB has authority under the National Labor Relations Act to seek temporary injunctive relief. However, only five injunction petitions have been authorized in 2020; three since President Trump declared a national emergency due to COVID 19 on March 13. The lawmakers write that such an action, during the COVID19 pandemic, is “especially warranted.”

“Workers are vulnerable to both illness and to the dangers of being unable to find other employment if they are fired, and any retaliation provides a stark reminder of that fact,” the lawmakers write. “During this crisis, a single act of retaliation can so effectively chill an organizing drive that, by the time the NLRB has finished the normally extensive and lengthy process of processing the case, the drive would be irreparably destroyed. We expect the NLRB to safeguard workers’ exercise of their rights to the fullest extent possible.” 

The full text of the letter can be found here.