The Relief Workers Need Now

April 6, 2020

Congress Must Act for the Common Good

Statement of UE officers

In order to bring the COVID-19 public health crisis under control, we must: 

  • Shut down all workplaces except those truly critical to sustaining life;
  • Give workers in those critical jobs everything they need to do their work safely and compensate them for the immense risk they are taking; and
  • Provide robust economic support for everyone else to allow and incentivize them to stay home.

We spoke to the need for workers to fight to achieve the first two points in a previous statement, Workers Lives vs. Corporate Profit. But now Congress must act in order to fulfill the third point.

The CARES Act passed by Congress and signed into law on March 26 was a critical down payment on the economic relief that working people need in the face of an unprecedented health and economic crisis. But this economic assistance will not be enough to see workers through the current public health crisis and the recession likely to follow.

Far more will be needed in order to ensure that all people have food, shelter, healthcare, and telecommunications to stay connected through the length of the public health crisis. In addition, in order to avoid the potential of an economic depression not seen since the 1930’s, it is necessary that the American people have enough money in their pockets to be able to return to the spending levels needed to put most people back to work when the pandemic eases. Only the federal government, with its power to deficit-spend, is capable of making the expenditures needed to put this kind of money into the economy.

Congressional leaders have said that they will now begin discussing what goes into the next COVID-19 relief package, with passage of the bill expected in the coming weeks. We call for enactment of the Priorities for the Next Coronavirus Package as laid out by Senator Bernie Sanders. We believe that enacting this set of robust proposals is exactly what working people and our economy need. It will put more money into the hands of everyone in the country, thereby ensuring that many more workers can stay at home to stop the spread of the virus. It will guarantee health care to all, and paid sick leave for those who need it. It will ensure hazard pay and better safety protections for frontline workers, and use the Defense Production Act to produce the equipment and tests we need. It will provide emergency aid to states and cities, make sure no one goes hungry, suspend monthly payments for necessities like housing and utilities, cancel all student loan payments for the duration of this crisis, and place an immediate moratorium on evictions, foreclosures, and utility shut-offs.

We join the Labor Campaign for Single Payer in calling for Congress to expand Medicare to cover everyone in America for the duration of this crisis and to forgo premiums, co-pays and deductibles. Literally tens of millions of Americans are losing their health coverage right now as they get laid off, joining the tens of millions who already are uninsured or underinsured. All of these people will likely be bankrupted if they need hospital treatment for COVID-19. Many of them will try to avoid getting medical treatment even if they need it, increasing the likelihood of their spreading the disease and very possibly of their own death. 

We also demand that all elements of the economic package and medical benefits must cover everyone in the country, regardless of immigration status. We greatly weaken our ability to beat this virus if millions of people have no income and therefore have to venture forth each day to scrape together some kind of work. If they are sick and go without diagnosis and treatment, the virus will spread even faster. Leaving millions without money to spend will create a further drag on getting our economy going again. Furthermore, undocumented workers generally pay all the same taxes the rest of us do, and their employers normally pay payroll and unemployment tax for them too, so they have earned these benefits just as the rest of us have. And it is simply immoral — and a failure of solidarity — to leave any of our fellow human beings behind in a crisis like this.

As Congress crafts a new relief package, they need to refrain from providing further giveaways to big corporations, and they need to put real restrictions on the ones they included in the CARES Act. Any private corporation that receives funding from the federal government should be subjected to stringent regulations to ensure that they are using that money to maintain good jobs and provide socially useful goods and services, not to fatten their profits. No federal loans or grants should be used to pay bonuses to any members of senior management, not just airline CEOs. Any corporation receiving financial assistance from the federal government must agree to a $15 per hour minimum wage and neutrality in union organizing campaigns. Taxpayers should receive an ownership stake, to ensure that these measures continue once the crisis has passed, and if corporations providing essential goods and services refuse to comply with these requirements, the federal government should consider taking them over.

This is no time for half-measures. The health, economic well-being, and very lives of the American people depend upon Congress putting people over profit and enacting a bold and far-reaching relief package now.

Carl Rosen
General President

Andrew Dinkelaker

Gene Elk
Director of Organization