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As vaccinations progress, more industries fight to move their workers to the front of the line

The city of Long Beach will begin vaccinating essential workers outside of the healthcare field on Tuesday, Jan. 19, and dockworkers at the Port of Long Beach say they should receive the vaccine alongside them.

Currently scheduled to be vaccinated in March, which still gives them priority over other industry sectors, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union has made its plea to the city, the county and the governor that they shouldn’t have to wait any longer.

“We’ve had numerous people pass away,” said Daniel Miranda, president of ILWU Local 94. “We just want to be moved up and slotted correctly.”

Port workers are not unique in their efforts to pressure local and statewide leaders for priority in receiving vaccinations. Since December, unions and advocacy groups for various industries have lobbied to secure their members a spot at the top of the list, each making the argument that workers in their field are essential and especially at risk of falling ill or spreading the virus to others.

So far, the city of Long Beach has decided to stay in line with the state’s priorities in crafting its vaccination schedule.

“Our goal, of course, is to give it to everybody,” Long Beach City Health Officer Dr. Anissa Davis said. But for now, she added, the city is “focusing on those of the highest risk.”

The amount of doses of the vaccine the city receives also plays a significant role in determining who can get vaccinated at which point.

“It’s really difficult to plan and to add people because we just don’t know what we’re going to have,” Davis said, referring to the unpredictability of vaccine deliveries.

But union officials said there’s no time to waste when it comes to port workers.

Since cases began ramping up again in November, the union local of 393 members has seen 40 coronavirus infections, according to Miranda, with three workers currently hospitalized. Across the three local union chapters of 9,260 members, 10 ILWU workers have died of COVID-19.

“The economic impact if we had a shutdown at the ports would be huge, throughout the country,” said Daniel Miranda, president of ILWU Local 94.

“A chain is only as strong as its weakest link,” he added. “If we’re weakened, it would affect the whole supply chain.”

But even advocates for industries with a smaller local footprint are making their plea to be included among the priority groups or moved up to an earlier tier.

Elliot Lewis, owner of the Catalyst brand of marijuana dispensaries, which has several locations in Long Beach and the surrounding area, said workers in his industry should receive priority as well.

“Cannabis is high on the hierarchy of needs for people,” said Elliot Lewis, owner of the Catalyst brand of dispensaries, which has several locations in Long Beach and the surrounding area. “I think cannabis workers should be as high as anybody on that list.”

The pandemic has not left the industry or Lewis’ business unaffected, as several of his staff members caught the virus over the course of the past year. “It’s been an ongoing battle to stay open, and keep workers and the public safe,” he said.

The city did not clarify whether cannabis workers would receive any priority over other groups.

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