Union leader says construction workers preparing to mobilize for COVID-19 surge response

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Coronavirus Disease 2019 Rotator Graphic for af.mil. (U.S. Air Force Graphic by Rosario "Charo" Gutierrez)

Robbie Hunter, president of the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California, says plans are in the works  to deploy tens of thousands of construction workers to retool and refit hospitals, hotels and buildings the state needs as a surge response to the coronavirus pandemic.

“We’re being mobilized — more than we’re being told to step back,’’ he was quoted as saying by Politico. The council represents 460,000 workers and 63,000 apprentices.

California’s government is currently acquiring and converting two hospitals devoted to treating coronavirus patients, one in Northern California and another in Southern California.

The state is also asking the federal government to send the USNS Mercy to California, which could provide 1,000 hospital beds, as well as mobile hospitals. All will require workers to prepare for a potential surge of thousands of Covid-19 patients, the website reported.

Hunter said officials in the trade union were assured that the governor’s shutdown order doesn’t apply to the vast majority of construction projects in California because its workers are on projects directly related to critical issues like trade, transportation, health care, supply chain and state operations.

“We are threaded through every part of keeping the infrastructure up,’’ Hunter said in an interview. “We are the people that keep the generators and service work sites open, and the police stations and fire stations and state buildings operational.”

The union has mandated that its members maintain social distance, bring their own lunch and prepare to dine alone — not in groups or in gatherings at food trucks. Construction sites that are too compact, close to the public or congested in urban areas “should be closed down,’’ Hunter said.

Hunter estimated the new work to stop the coronavirus spread and provide treatment would involve filling 24-hour shifts and potentially “tens of thousands” of jobs.

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