Essential Workers Nationwide Participate in May Day Strike for Improved Working Conditions During COVID-19 Outbreak

As most citizens across the United States continue to shelter in place to slow the spread of the novel Coronavirus, workers at grocery stores, department stores, pharmacies, parcel delivery services, and other essential businesses have been forced onto the frontlines, constantly putting their health at risk.  These essential workers assume this risk oftentimes for low wages and without adequate personal protective equipment (“PPE”).  

Accordingly, workers in cities across the country will walk off the job or call out sick on Friday, May 1, 2020 – also known as “International Workers’ Day” or “May Day” – to demand, among other things, additional time off and hazard pay, as well as the provision of PPE and cleaning supplies.  The workers are also demanding paid sick leave.  Indeed, while New York and other states provide paid sick leave as a matter of law, most states do not, leaving many workers with no choice but to report to work even if they contract COVID-19. 

Those participating in the strike work for various businesses that federal and state governments have deemed essential, including Amazon, Whole Foods, Wal-Mart, Trader Joe’s, Instacart, Target, and FedEx.  The workers have appealed to consumers nationwide not to patronize these businesses during the strike.

In a related May Day strike, nurses will take to the streets outside more than 130 hospitals in 13 states to protest a lack of PPE.  The nurses are also protesting retaliation by their employers for speaking out about unsafe working conditions.  More than 60 nurses across the country have died of COVID-19, according to strike organizers. 

To be sure, federal, state, and local governments have passed legislation granting workers additional protections during the COVID-19 pandemic; however, these protections fall far short of the strikers’ demands.  While federal legislators recently proposed an “Essential Workers Bill of Rights” providing for much of the relief that strikers are demanding, this relief is far from imminent.  Therefore, strikers have taken matters into their own hands, recognizing that improvements to their working conditions are needed immediately to protect their lives and those of their families.

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About Alex Hartzband

Alex Hartzband's practice is focused on employment litigation. Alex is a senior associate in the firm's New York office.

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