Opinion: Workers organize during COVID-19 pandemic for protection
Workers are facing unprecedented challenges in the age of the coronavirus. Many have lost their jobs, been temporarily laid off with no idea when they are going to return or been forced to work despite the ongoing health crisis. It has been a stressful time for millions in Michigan and across the country.
But instead of letting anxiety over an uncertain future get the best of them, many workers are choosing to get organized. Hardworking Americans, even those toiling in sectors that have traditionally not been union friendly, are recognizing the value that comes from membership. As many struggle to get proper personal protective equipment and sanitized workspaces, they understand that coming together with co-workers can have benefits.
Even before COVID-19 took hold across the nation, union popularity was on the rise. A 2019 poll by Gallup found 64% of Americans approved of unions, the highest level since 2003. Why, you may ask? Because in an age of growing income inequality, more and more people understand that when workers organize, they get better pay, benefits and working conditions.
The median union worker makes $10,000 more annually than the median non-union worker. They are also more likely to receive health insurance and retirement benefits and work in a safer workplace. At a time when there is so much at risk, joining the labor movement offers some proven results.
The Teamsters, who represent more than a million essential workers, are on the front lines against efforts by politicians to provide overly broad, blanket liability protection to businesses, making it more difficult for workers or patrons to hold employers accountable if they discard safety standards.
While Teamsters and workers everywhere are ready to get back to work, there must be safety and health standards in place that are effective and enforceable. If employers purposefully discard safety guidelines, this union is making sure that penalties will exist.
It’s efforts like these that have created fear within the corporate class. They don’t want to see unions expand because they aren’t as interested in protecting their workers as they are growing their profits. That’s why the Teamsters are working so hard to support fellow Americans.
As a result, this union is prioritizing collective bargaining as one of its top issues for the 2020 campaign. Elected lawmakers must push for a leveling of the playing field so workers have an ability to come together and advocate for themselves on the job. As it stands, there are constant attacks against workers and the rights of union members, and the National Labor Relations Board has introduced unfair regulations that make it more difficult for the Teamsters to organize new members.
Workers deserve to have a voice on the job, and the ability to advocate and address their grievances with companies. In June, for example, Teamsters working in the food supply chain in some 30 cities across the country rallied to demand change in the wake of recent COVID-19 outbreaks in the food industry, specifically the need for enforceable safety standards, government funding for paid sick and family leave, hazard pay, access to PPE and testing capacity.
This nation needs more of that, not less. Hardworking Americans are facing tough times right now. A union will ensure that they are protected.
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.