City, county, state, and federal leaders are considering extraordinary measures to protect public health during the COVID-19 outbreak. As they do so, they must take equally aggressive action to ensure the economic fallout of this crisis not fall on the backs of working people.
Putting people on furlough, laying them off, and cutting their hours are already devastating working families’ ability to ride out the shock of a shutdown. Workers stand to lose critical income, and many are already struggling to afford basic needs, like food and rent. Public health measures must take the needs of these workers into account.
Hany Khalil, Executive Director of the Texas Gulf Coast Area Labor Federation, said, “Policy-makers must take swift action to protect front-line workers, keep workers on the job, create a real safety net for the unemployed, and prohibit companies from using government assistance to lay us off, cut our benefits, or enrich themselves.”
“Aggressive measures that curtail economic activity and confine people to homes MUST be accompanied by economic relief measures that prioritize working families,” said Khalil. “We call on leaders at all levels of government to creatively use their authority to take steps such as:
- Guaranteeing paid leave during the crisis
- Subsidizing payroll
- Halting eviction proceedings
- Freezing rent
- Prohibiting utility shutoffs
- Stopping businesses receiving government loans from undertaking mass layoffs, cutting workplace benefits, and busting unions
- Prohibiting retaliation against employees for following lawful orders
“Unions believe policies should aim to keep the maximum number of workers in their job and in their homes while not on the job, so they ride out the economic storm and so the economy can be restarted as quickly as possible once the danger period has passed,” said Khalil.
Khalil continued, “Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo was absolutely right when she said last Thursday, ‘We are making very tough decisions, asking businesses to close, asking everyone to stay home. That obviously has an economic impact, and so, the last thing we want is for folks to be out on the streets… It’s the right thing to do, and from the health standpoint, you know, we’re saying stay home — you need a home to stay at.’ “