In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, some employers were not forthcoming with information about employees becoming ill and how it might affect the safety of other workers.
After word that an employee fell ill with COVID-19 in March of 2020, Conduent employees showed up to work with little information about their coworker and few guidelines when it came to workplace safety.
After talks with Communications Workers of America (CWA) Local 1102, which represented the workers, the Conudent call center switched to a remote workplace, a situation that exists to this day.
Hope Gilmore, Lead Organizer for CWA Local 1102, joined America’s Work Force Union Podcast to discuss the CWA effort to get management to commit to a remote work environment and what that means for the safety and health of workers.
A concern for worker safety
Gilmore remembers showing up to work in March after hearing a coworker tested positive for COVID-19. She was relieved to encounter Steve Lawton, President of CWA Local 1102, handing out fliers informing workers that COVID-19 had been detected at the facility. Management kept quiet on the issue, citing HIPAA concerns.
Gilmore took a stack of fliers from Lawton’s hands and began handing them out. When Lawton suggested she might be expected at work, Gilmore responded that she would instead continue to work with Lawton to hand out the fliers because the health of her coworkers was too important.
Through her efforts advocating for the health and safety of her coworkers, Gilmore grew to become essential to Local 1102, eventually becoming Lead Organizer.
Gilmore was surprised to see Lawton at the site. It was a relief because she did not feel safe going into the building knowing there was a positive case for COVID-19. There was no information about the situation being provided by management, she said. This was distressing because awareness of the risk was vital to the health of everyone working at the facility.
Remote workplace adopted for worker safety
After a couple months of deliberations with the CWA, management agreed to allow a remote work environment for the health and safety of workers.
Everyone at the call center continues to work from home, aside from a few that come in occasionally to deal with technical issues, Gilmore said.
Gilmore also discussed the New York HERO Act, state legislation mandating extensive workplace health and safety protections in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Having proper procedures and protocol in place is essential to the health of all workers, Gilmore said. Every employee has the right to a safe and healthy work environment, she added.