Belabored: Dangerous Work, with Debbie Berkowitz and Xian Barrett

Belabored: Dangerous Work, with Debbie Berkowitz and Xian Barrett

Workers are being asked, once again, to keep working despite a surge in COVID-19 infections. As employers push for a return to “normal,” how should we deal with the risks of returning to work?

Chicago Teachers Union members participate in a car caravan around City Hall to protest against in-person learning on January 10, 2022 (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

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A new year, a new wave of the pandemic. Workers are being asked, once again, to keep working despite a fresh surge in COVID-19 infections, and the Biden administration’s relaxation of guidelines on testing and isolation has sowed fear and confusion. Meanwhile, other federal safety standards are facing court challenges, as pro-business groups claim that the government cannot legally mandate vaccination or testing for workplaces with more than 100 workers. So as we enter year three of the pandemic, and corporations continue to push for a return to “normal,” what role should occupational safety regulators be playing in response to the ongoing public health crisis, and, now that much of the workforce is evidently being left to fend for itself, how should workers and communities deal with the risks of returning to work? We spoke with Debbie Berkowitz, a former senior official at the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, about the government’s failure to safeguard workers’ health. And we also talked to Xian Barrett, a special education teacher in Chicago, about the recent standoff between the Chicago Teachers Union and Mayor Lori Lightfoot over returning to in-person schooling.

In other news, we look at the end of the student worker strike at Columbia, the end of a nurse’s strike (with Marie Ritacco and Marlena Pellegrino, Massachusetts Nurses Association/Saint Vincent Hospital), the struggles of supermarket workers (with Dan Flaming, Economic Roundtable), and the start of a comics industry union. With recommended reading on travel nurses seeking justice and restaurant workers working sick. 

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Hungry at the Table, Economic Roundtable 

Ashley Wong, Student Workers at Columbia End 10-Week Strike After Reaching a Deal, New York Times

Rachel Himes, Why Columbia Graduate Workers Like Me Are on Strike, Jacobin 

Aparna Gopalan, Massachusetts Nurses Just Won an Epic 10-Month Strike, New Republic

Bill Shaner, Something sketchy this way comes, Worcester Sucks and I Love It

James Whitbrook, Comic Book Workers United Union Officially Certified, Gizmodo

Gita Jackson, The Image Union Is the Future of Comics, Vice


Debbie Berkowitz, Practitioner Fellow with the Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor. Georgetown University

Katherine J. Wu, Can You Leave COVID Isolation After Five Days? – The Atlantic, The Atlantic

Debbie Berkowitz, Can OSHA Keep Workers Safe? The Court Hears the Case Tomorrow, The American Prospect

Carmel Shachar and I. Glenn Cohen, The Danger of the Supreme Court Undercutting Biden’s Vaccination Rules, Time

Jeff Schuhrke, Chicago Teachers Voted to Teach Remotely Amid Omicron Wave—And Now They’re Locked Out, In These Times

Nader Issa, Chicago teachers approve deal to end walkout over COVID safety protocols, The Chicago Sun-Times

Argh, I wish I’d written that!

Sarah: Chris Crowley, The Restaurant Industry Has Always Treated Sick Workers With No Remorse, Grub Street

Excess mortality associated with the COVID-19 pandemic among Californians 18–65 years of age, by occupational sector and occupation: March through November 2020, PLOS One

Cory Stieg, Line cooks have the highest risk of dying during pandemic, plus other riskiest jobs, CNBC

Michelle: Alice Herman, The Big Business Behind Travel Nursing, In These Times