Here is just some of what unions have done to help their members during the pandemic:
- Insurance continuation: Unions have successfully negotiated with employers to maintain health insurance and other benefits and insuring employers continue paying for health care premiums during furloughs and layoffs.
- Priority reinstatement: Many union contracts provide that furloughed or laid off workers be given priority when jobs become available again. Others have successfully negotiated reinstatement for workers when the pandemic eases.
- Severance packages: Some unions have negotiated severance packages for laid off workers.
- Remote work: Unions have successfully negotiated for some workers to work remotely from home during the pandemic.
- Paid leave: Unions have obtained agreements for employers to offer paid leave for employees during the coronavirus pandemic.
- Hazard pay: Unions have negotiated hazard pay for essential workers.
- Social distancing and safety: Unions have successfully negotiated with employers to implement social distancing and other safety measures for workers. They have also helped members file OSHA complaints for safety violations.
- Hammering out details of remote work: For those that are working remotely, unions are negotiating the rules and expectations for working from home.
- Preventing furloughs: Some unions have managed to negotiate to prevent furloughs altogether.
- Lobbying: Multiple unions have lobbied Congress for relief for workers, including seeking assistance with health insurance payments, fighting for safe working conditions, fighting abuse of the Paycheck Protection Act, and fighting for personal protective equipment.
- Financial relief: Many unions are offering financial relief to members in the form of grants or loans.
Bottom line is that our country has almost no social safety net left and very few protections for workers. Those working in non-unionized workplaces have little or no protection. Unions are necessary to balance power between workers and management. It isn't too late if your workplace doesn't have a union. How about taking the time during your furlough or layoff to start looking into unionizing when you get back to work?
The first thing I'd suggest is talking to a union about how to unionize. They have organizers who can help you. Find the union that matches your workplace. There are unions for just about any kind of work you can imagine. I wrote an article here about how to start a union. More useful information on how to form a union can be found here, here and here. If you find a union you are interested in, they may have their own how-to page on their website. There are laws about what is allowed, so don't just try to unionize without getting some help from a union.