The union that represents employees at the Philadelphia Tribune has accused the publication of forcing staffers to report to work without taking safety precautions against the fast-spreading COVID-19.

Back in their Center City offices since late May, Tribune employees haven’t been provided with protective gear such as masks, and the facility hasn’t been prepared with signs calling for social distancing, union officials said.

Founded in 1884, the Tribune is the nation’s oldest continuously running African American newspaper. It publishes online at www.phillytrib.com, and its offices are at 520 S. 16th St. Robert Bogle is president and CEO.

Union president Chris Woods, head of District 1199C of the National Union of Hospital and Healthcare Workers, said the union has already filed grievances with the National Labor Relations Board, the federal agency that enforces labor law.

About 10 Tribune staffers are members of the union, which represents some workers outside of health care. A former employee said the staff numbers about 25.

“This is a pandemic, and it’s affecting each and every one of us,” Woods said. “An employer is required to do everything possible to make sure the environment in which people come to work is safe.” He said the union employees may go on strike if conditions don’t improve.

Alonzo Kittrels, an independent contractor who is the Tribune’s director of administrative services, declined to comment about the allegations. Kittrels, who also writes a weekly column for the publication, said the newspaper had filed a response to the union’s grievance.

Employees at the Philadelphia Tribune must place a hand on this device, which monitors when they arrive and leave work at a time that a highly contagious virus is spreading. Employees told the union that there was no regular cleaning of frequently touched surfaces.
Courtesy of a source
Employees at the Philadelphia Tribune must place a hand on this device, which monitors when they arrive and leave work at a time that a highly contagious virus is spreading. Employees told the union that there was no regular cleaning of frequently touched surfaces.

The Inquirer obtained an undated internal union memo on Wednesday that detailed the allegations of unsafe conditions. The union memo explains that a 1199C investigation found that the Tribune “failed to provide even the most basic protections for office workers.”

Tribune workers complained that the newspaper wasn’t providing employees with masks, nor was hand sanitizer widely available, among other allegations, according to the memo, written by Guild director Barbara Mann and addressed to Woods.

According to orders issued by the office of Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf last month, businesses are required to have employees work remotely whenever possible.

A current newspaper edition for sale in an honor box outside the Philadelphia Tribune building on South 16th Street, Aug. 12, 2020. It is the oldest continuously published African American newspaper in the country and is facing a strike by workers over coronavirus working conditions.
TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer
A current newspaper edition for sale in an honor box outside the Philadelphia Tribune building on South 16th Street, Aug. 12, 2020. It is the oldest continuously published African American newspaper in the country and is facing a strike by workers over coronavirus working conditions.

Staff writer Juliana Feliciano Reyes contributed to this article.