Skip to content Skip to footer

Unions Helped Stop the Spread of Ebola. They’re Trying Again With Coronavirus.

This isn’t the first time working people have used their collective power to slow the spread of an infectious disease.

Airport workers organized by the SEIU strike at Denver International Airport over lack of training, understaffing and unsafe working conditions in June 2019. The SEIU played an important role in 2014 in demanding support and planning for workers on the front lines of the ebola epidemic, and its workers are again demanding more training and equipment in the face of the coronavirus.

As the number of U.S. coronavirus cases climbs, people are justifiably frightened by the Trump administration’s lack of preparation. It’s hard to feel safe when, at a rally last Friday, the president called the virus the Democrats’ “new hoax” and compared it to immigrants crossing the southern border.

There is, however, a glimmer of hope in the actions of nurses, hospital staff, baggage handlers, and other working people.

Nationwide, flight attendants are calling on commercial airlines to help stop the spread of COVID-19, the infectious disease caused by coronavirus. They’re demanding hand sanitizer stations, equipment, ticketing change waivers for sick passengers, and more.

In Oregon, health care workers are raising concerns about the health care industry’s ability to cope with a widespread contagion. Members of Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 49 and the Oregon Nurse’s Association are requesting training and more equipment.

In New York, airport workers are buying their own respiratory masks as they wait for airlines to do their part.

“You have cabin cleaners who come into contact with blood, vomit, mucus, feces, all types of bodily fluids, and they have no more training today than they did before the outbreak,” Kevin Brown, the New Jersey state director of 32BJ SEIU, told USA Today. “We’ve requested this and we’ve gotten nowhere.”

Security workers at Australia’s biggest airports have even threatened to strike unless members are given equipment to guard against catching the virus.

This isn’t the first time working people have used their collective power to slow the spread of an infectious disease.

Back in 2014, as an Ebola outbreak spread beyond West Africa, medical interns, residents, and fellows were concerned about inadequate plans for caring for patients at their facilities. Through joint labor-management committees at hospitals across the country, the SEIU Committee of Interns and Residents convinced administrators to collaborate on plans to keep both staff and patients safe.

When New York’s Bellevue Medical Center admitted its first Ebola patient, the plan was put into action and no one in the facility became infected. However, at the nonunion, privately owned Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas, which didn’t have the plan, several staff became sick after treating a patient with Ebola.

The 8-hour workday. Social Security. Smaller class sizes in public schools. This isn’t the first time working people fought together on behalf of everyone.

​​Not everyone can pay for the news. But if you can, we need your support.

Truthout is widely read among people with lower ­incomes and among young people who are mired in debt. Our site is read at public libraries, among people without internet access of their own. People print out our articles and send them to family members in prison — we receive letters from behind bars regularly thanking us for our coverage. Our stories are emailed and shared around communities, sparking grassroots mobilization.

We’re committed to keeping all Truthout articles free and available to the public. But in order to do that, we need those who can afford to contribute to our work to do so.

We’ll never require you to give, but we can ask you from the bottom of our hearts: Will you donate what you can, so we can continue providing journalism in the service of justice and truth?