Opinion: Lawmakers must prioritize safety of all essential workers
Our country is facing unprecedented uncertainty due to the coronavirus pandemic. It is not only threatening our health, but our wallets as well. Many workers are rightfully worried about the future.
There are no easy answers. But the Teamsters are doing all they can for their members and all workers to make sure they are protected so they can continue to care for their families. That means advocating for their well-being before Congress.
The Teamsters represent more than 50,000 health care workers. It goes without saying that their safety and that of all those in the medical field is paramount as they tend to the tens of thousands of Americans with COVID-19. Thankfully, Capitol Hill lawmakers took a substantial step toward attending to their need for additional personal protective equipment (PPE) when they approved stimulus legislation last week.
But there are still many essential workers whose health and safety has not been addressed. Whether it’s those in the food supply chain from manufacturing workers, drivers who transport goods to market, those who stock the shelves or cashiers who handle the sales, these are critical workers who need to be on the job. They, and others like them, need government to outline industry-wide standards that would ensure their personal safety in the midst of this coronavirus crisis.
In Michigan, the Teamsters have joined with other unions to call on Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity to expand emergency rules for workers disability compensation so that protections provided for first responders are extended to all workers who are required to work outside of their home by their employer.
Workers have also been left out of mandates for federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Currently, there are no OSHA federal standards regarding coronavirus, but the agency could issue a temporary emergency standard that would stay in effect for six months.
Creating a standard that would protect workers exposed to such infectious diseases has been an OSHA priority since the 2010 H1N1 flu pandemic. The Teamsters have called on the current administration to have OSHA issue temporary rules to compel action from all employers in these essential industries to keep members safe on the job.
We are pleased that Congress took action on legislation that will boost unemployment benefits to those who have been put out of work by this pandemic, provides billions of federal dollars to hospitals and community health centers to be used for medical supply shortages, and makes available more than $60 billion in relief for the airline industry, a significant amount of which will go to support its workers.
But we now encourage lawmakers to immediately turn their efforts to fighting for these industry-wide worker safety priorities in the next stimulus bill. In a time when hardworking Americans are going above and beyond, we need elected officials to do the same for their constituents.
James Hoffa is president of the Teamsters.
Labor Voices columns are written on a rotating basis by United Auto Workers President Rory Gamble, Teamsters President James Hoffa, Michigan AFL-CIO President Ron Bieber and Michigan Education Association President Paula Herbart.