As New York City enters Phase 4 of reopening (as of July 20, 2020), employers too will soon seek to reopen workplaces. While many employers have been transparent and communicative with the Guild, you and your colleagues have a voice in what returning to the office safely looks like. Along with our unit leadership, we can all take an active role in advocating for a safe return. That means appropriate precautions are ready and agreed upon prior to reentry and for those working in the field. It also means that there are specific plans to address the needs of our colleagues who may need to take care of a loved one or remain at home with their kids. 

Each workplace has its own circumstances when considering reopening, but the effects of COVID-19 are a shared problem we know is best addressed collaboratively. 

Building on existing contract language, and following guidelines put forth by TNG-CWA, the Guild’s Health & Safety committee has identified the following priorities for creating and maintaining a safe and healthy workplace.  

1. Timing and criteria for resumption of normal operations
Until there is a vaccine and limited threat of contracting the virus, we advise that employers should allow continued work from home for workers. Reopening should happen when it is determined safe to do so, and only after a workplace risk assessment is conducted with participation from our union. 

2. Workplace safety
Workplace cleaning and sanitation must be a priority and a shared responsibility between management and you and your colleagues, with input from the Guild. When reopening the office, steps should be taken to ensure your safety and to reduce the risk of infection, including but not limited to: mandatory safety training, safely-distanced workspaces, staggered schedules, staggered office schedules, and available masks and disinfectants.

3. Workplace screening and record-keeping 
Prior to entering workplaces, all workers should be screened for current or recent COVID-19 symptoms, including fever. Anyone with symptoms should be sent home and advised to self-isolate and seek medical care as necessary. Initiate contact tracing for anyone with a suspected case of COVID-19, in line with local health department and CDC best practices, but keep Covid-19 positive status of any employee confidential where possible. If the company insists on using an app to track you

4. Expand benefits related to Covid-19 
Companies should provide Covid-19-related benefits, including but not limited to: free Covid-19 testing, vaccinations, expanded EAP and mental health programs, hazard pay, medical, sick leave, and family leave for workers. You and your coworkers who take time off for Covid-19 should suffer no loss of pay, reduction in sick leave or paid time off. No employee should have to sign any document to waive their rights. If you’re presented with a waiver, contact your unit leaders and Local Representative immediately.

5. Accommodation of individual circumstances
Employers should accommodate your individual circumstances and provide flexibility for you and your colleagues for travel and childcare. Employers should provide (or reimburse) all materials you need to do your job (ergonomic work equipment, high speed internet, office supplies, etc).  

6. Workplace buildings and facilities
Company leaders should ensure safe facilities — from HVAC systems, to water supply and from clean and functioning refrigerators down to utensils. Employers should ensure safety procedures (such as fire exit plans) are updated and to code. Extra precautions should be put in place for our colleagues who come into contact with the public or work in the field. 

7. The Guild will regularly review safety procedures with management
Your unit and Local Representative will stay up-to-date on state and local government guidelines related to reopening our workplaces and newsrooms. The Guild will work to develop internal procedures for dealing with non-compliant employers. 

While this is not an exhaustive list of what we expect management to consider and implement in regard to office health and safety, we do anticipate that certain guidelines may change in order to effectively respond to the progression on COVID-19 across the country. If you’re interested in a more detailed list of expectations, please contact your unit leadership or Local Representative. 

Additionally, we’re encouraging all units to create a member-led Health and Safety Committee in your workplace to collaborate with management in working to develop site-specific safety plans to discuss concerns on an ongoing basis with employers. If you’re interested in starting a Health and Safety Committee, but not sure where to start, email Guild Executive Committee member Stephanie Davis.