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Opinion: Keep workers safe, healthy and on-the-job

Ron Bieber

The labor movement has always led the charge in protecting working people from workplace injury, illness and death. We’ve all seen heroic workers on the news during the COVID-19 outbreak, working in jobs from health care to food service, risking their health and the health of their families in the process. 

The AFL-CIO has been working to advance protections in Michigan and federally to ensure we reopen the economy in a way that’s appropriately cautious and importantly, avoids a second wave of this awful virus. I’m grateful to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer for all the actions she’s taken to protect Michigan’s working families. Her efforts have truly saved lives. Now the Republican majorities in the Legislature need to step up and do right by working people and work with Democrats to pass laws that make sure that these protections stay in place for the future, because this crisis isn’t over yet.

The AFL-CIO has been working to advance protections in Michigan and federally to ensure we reopen the economy in a way that’s appropriately cautious and importantly, avoids a second wave of this awful virus, Bieber writes.

Working with the Michigan Legislative Labor Caucus, we’ve outlined legislation that would do just that. Our priorities include keeping front-line workers safe and secure. Rep. Jim Haadsma has introduced a bill to create a presumption within workers compensation for first responder heroes who have post-traumatic stress disorder. 

We also want to ensure that we keep workers employed. Rep. Tenisha Yancey’s bill would restore the 2018 Paid Sick Leave initiative that was gutted by Republicans in the Legislature, and ensure that all workers who get sick are able to stay home and receive earned paid sick leave so they aren’t forced to go into work when they’re sick and risk infecting others. 

We must keep Michigan healthy. Rep. Alex Garza has introduced a bill to codify best practices based on worker safety and sound science, provide personal protective equipment to workers, conduct screenings, and identify and protect people who work in high-risk areas.

Another priority is that we keep state and local governments, our public schools, and the U.S. Postal Service solvent and working. We need Republicans in Washington and Lansing to step up to make sure budgets stay balanced and public workers stay on the job. In Washington, Republicans should get to work on another round of funding and protections to continue aiding the economy in this time of crisis. 

Last Friday, President Donald Trump said he would support additional stimulus. It’s my hope that they get this done soon. In Lansing, Republicans haven’t so much as proposed a budget in 2020. This work needs to happen now, so that schools and local towns and counties have the financial information they need to plan for what looks like an uncertain economy. 

We also need to keep Michigan and our country competitive by hiring people to finally get to work on our infrastructure. The governor’s bonding plan is already fixing roads and bridges, and we are rebuilding from the terrible floods that affected folks in the Midland and Gladwin area. 

Whitmer is doing everything she can, but we need continued support from the federal government, both in aid to states, and in direct spending on rebuilding our country’s crumbling infrastructure. 

Incredibly, some folks believe that we should be leveraging this opportunity to undermine workers and the unions who protect them. Just last Friday the Michigan Civil Service Commission announced proposed plans to attack the collective bargaining rights of the very workers who kept us healthy, safe and fed during this coronavirus crisis. This shameful political attack must end now.

The Civil Service Commission must do the right thing by these heroes and immediately cease their ill thought-out plan and show these workers, who had our back when we needed it most, that we will have theirs.

Especially right now, leaders at all levels should be doing everything they can to protect those workers who keep us safe and healthy. 

Ron Bieber is president of the Michigan AFL-CIO.

Labor Voices 

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.