The People’s Health Demands that Workers Take Action
Statement of UE officers
The rapidly growing COVID-19 pandemic brings into sharp relief how bosses put their own profits ahead of workers' lives, something workers have known for generations.
Too many companies are continuing to operate their facilities, either falsely claiming they are essential or just outright ignoring the obvious public health need to stop business as usual. And too many of the workplaces that are actually essential are failing to take the steps needed to protect the health of both their workforce and their customers. Even more shockingly, some prominent government and business leaders are pushing to prematurely end the workplace shutdowns that are in place, some openly saying that they are willing to see people die in order to get back to business as they know it, in other words the business of making profits.
Who are the people most vulnerable to the virus and who these bosses are willing to let die? The people they view as disposable: The elderly, who no longer work, and therefore no longer contribute to bosses’ profits. Those with underlying health conditions, who might not be able to keep up with the boss’s demands for speed and efficiency. People who have health problems thanks to living in areas with higher pollution and poorer quality food. People who have had less access to quality preventive healthcare. In other words, our family members, co-workers, and fellow members of the working class.
We see how this is playing out in our own workplaces: upper-level managers are working from home to keep themselves safe, while workers continue to keep plants and offices open, forced to put themselves at risk so that the boss can profit.
It is time for workers to fight back against these outrages and demand that all but the truly essential workplaces close and that safety measures be greatly stepped up at those locations that need to stay open. We should not have to wait until a co-worker is sick or dying before preventive steps are taken.
Fortunately, despite largely being written to once again bail out Wall Street, there are aspects of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which is now law, that will make it economically feasible for workers to demand that their non-essential workplaces be closed. Thanks to the tremendous leadership of Senator Bernie Sanders, the new law contains the best unemployment benefits workers have ever seen in the U.S. With a $600 weekly boost to unemployment compensation for up to four months, most workers will receive as much or more pay if they are laid off than if they kept working. The law also contains a provision whereby the government will essentially reimburse businesses of under 500 workers for the cost of paying their workers’ wages and benefits for up to eight weeks, even if they aren’t working.
Although this is outside our normal experience as workers in the U.S., these expanded benefits make absolute sense in the face of the COVID-19 virus that is ravaging countries across the world. We must practice aggressive public-health measures, including shutting down non-essential workplaces, for as long as necessary to slow the spread of the virus and to give our healthcare workers a fighting chance to care for those who become ill. These benefits ensure that can happen while allowing laid-off workers to continue to provide for their families.
This is a clarion call for all workers in non-essential workplaces, union and non-union, to aggressively demand that their employers shut down. Otherwise workers are being forced to put their lives, as well as the lives of their family members, on the line with no compensation, only extra profits for the boss. The selfishness of corporate bosses and their political toadies, who put their own financial well-being ahead of the public health of society, deserves nothing but scorn and rejection.
Workers need to fight like their lives depend on it — they do.
Director of Organization