Bruce Murphy
Back in the News

Uline Workers Suffer Higher COVID-19 Rates

Owners and Trump donors the Uihleins have downplayed pandemic, worker complaints.

By - Mar 1st, 2021 01:31 pm
2019 Novel Coronavirus. Image by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

2019 Novel Coronavirus. Image by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Employees at the Wisconsin company Uline have suffered “significantly higher rates” of COVID-19 infection and “have filed numerous complaints about workplace safety to federal authorities,” according to an investigative story by The Guardian.

An “internal document” obtained by the publication shows that “at least 14% of Uline’s corporate workforce has tested positive for COVID-19 since last April, compared to 8.7% of the population in Kenosha county, where the company’s corporate office is located.”

“Nearly 19% of the company’s Illinois workplace has tested positive, 23% of its California-based workforce, and nearly 27% of its workforce in Texas,” the story reported.

“One complaint filed to federal worker safety regulators, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which was received in July 2020, described workplace hazards including: social distancing guidance not being enforced; lax mask-wearing inside the office; symptomatic employees being allowed to continue to work without face coverings; and employees being forced to return to work in close contact with others even when they could feasibly work from home.

“In one case, the complaint also pointed to the company’s hosting of a ‘lunch-and-learn’ meeting with former Wisconsin governor Scott Walker. A photograph of the meeting showed unmasked employees sitting closely together listening to Walker, a Republican, also standing without a mask,” the story reported.

Uline, a packaging company located in Pleasant Prairie, is owned by wealthy uber conservatives Richard and Liz Uihlein, who are among the top donors to Republican candidates in the country. In November the husband and wife both contracted COVID-19. This was after Liz Uihlein called the pandemic “overhyped,” lobbied legislators to overturn Gov. Tony Evers’ public health restrictions and backed a petition to have Evers removed from office, as a story published by Urban Milwaukee reported.

In response to the OSHA complaints, Uline told federal regulators in July that it had maintained its “in-office culture” but allowed employees to work remotely “where possible”. The company also said it “‘encouraged’ mask-wearing in common areas and when traveling throughout the building and that disposable masks had been made available to guests and employees ‘free of charge’,” the story reported.

But current and former Uline employees interviewed by The Guardian described a work environment that “takes a haphazard approach to safety, and one in which the founders’ conservative political views – including its opposition to Wisconsin’s stay-at-home orders, which Uline said it abided by – pervade the work environment… ‘The official stuff from HR will say to ‘distance’, but most people don’t really distance. Liz has meetings without masks,’ said one employee.”

“Some of Uline’s roughly 7,000 employees have expressed concerns that too few office and call center employees have been permitted to work from home without a strong case for a medical condition,” as previously reported.

The Uihleins live in Lake Forest, Illinois, but Dick has deep roots in Wisconsin. His great-grandfather August Uihlein was a co-founder of Milwaukee’s Joseph Schlitz Brewing Co., and his father co-founded the Illinois-based General Binding Corp., where Uihlein worked in international sales until he and his wife founded the Uline company in 1980.

Uihlein was merely a modest but reliable donor to Republican candidates, as Urban Milwaukee has reported, until the 2010 Citizens United decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, which opened the door to unlimited campaign spending by wealthy individuals. Since then he has become one of the nation’s top donors to right-wing politicians. That includes spending more than $7 million in a failed effort to elect Kevin Nicholson in a U.S. Senate race that was ultimately resulted in the reelection of Democrat Tammy Baldwin, and donating millions to help Senator Ron Johnson and former governor Scott Walker get elected. Uihlein “backed Roy Moore in Alabama even after he was accused of sexual misconduct with underage girls,” and has been an activist “opposing gay and transgender rights,” as the New York Times reported. The Times story called the Uihleins “The Most Powerful Conservative Couple You’ve Never Heard Of.”

Dick Uihlein was a big contributor to the Tea Party Patriots, who promoted the violent January 6 march on the U.S. Capitol. He contributed nearly $4.3 million in the past five years to the political action committee of the Tea Party Patriots, including $800,000 in October, according to federal records. That made him by far the single biggest donor to the Tea Party Patriots’ PAC, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. That has resulted in calls for Northwestern University to cancel its contract with Uline for packaging products.

An effort to boycott Uline has been launched at Instagram but does not appear to have gotten much traction.

More about the Coronavirus Pandemic

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One thought on “Back in the News: Uline Workers Suffer Higher COVID-19 Rates”

  1. Mingus says:

    He and Liz are probably “pro life” Republicans. Protecting the lives of persons already here is not a value for them.

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