Now more than ever we see the plight of our frontline and essential workers. These workers care for the sick, the young and the elderly, cleaning homes, offices, and public spaces, picking up trash, cooking, serving and delivering food, and providing other vital services that are necessary to sustain our society.
With the onset of COVID-19, we see millions of workers without jobs, healthcare, and paid leave, and we see millions of frontline workers putting themselves in harm’s way — many without basic protections, benefits, or a family-supporting wage.
These workers face systemic challenges deeply embedded in our society, including the lack of affordable healthcare, paid sick leave, on-the-job health, and safety protections, and basic economic security. COVID-19 has cast a bright light on these inequities and structural vulnerabilities, exposing risks that if not properly addressed, can and will continue to devastate families, businesses, and communities.
The impact of COVID-19 has been particularly devastating in the Black, and other underserved communities of color, because they are more likely to work in dangerous jobs that cannot be done from home, denied proper protective equipment, and face barriers to adequate treatment and care. Many of these frustrations are being laid bare in the recent Movement for Black Lives and the demands to end the systemic and structural racism that leaves Black and Brown people more vulnerable to pandemics like COVID-19.
We are proud to enthusiastically support the call of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and their newly launched the four-tenet Protect All Workers campaign. Not only does this campaign highlight the systemic vulnerabilities that COVID-19 has made so abundantly clear, it urges corporations, governments, institutional investors, and elected officials to seize the moment and fight for actionable solutions to protect our workers, strengthen our businesses, and enhance the health and long-term security of our communities.
- Fully-funded and accessible healthcare for every worker in America, including 12 weeks’ paid leave and 100%-paid testing and treatment for COVID-19.
- Job, wage, and economic security for every worker, including reimbursing workers for lost wages and providing increased access to emergency child care funds, debt-relief, and housing assistance.
- Immediate investment in the health and safety of every worker, including providing emergency relief for states and local governments to hire and train more healthcare workers and first responders, and immediate measures to ensure clean and safe work environments.
- Put working families at the center of every emergency relief package, including addressing the disproportionate impact of economic and health crises on diverse communities.
Affordable healthcare has never been available for many workers, the implications of which has now become especially apparent. Individuals who don’t have access to affordable healthcare may be forced to allow preventable or chronic conditions, such as diabetes or hypertension, to go unaddressed, which, according to the CDC, makes them more susceptible to COVID-19.
Corporations need to provide full healthcare coverage with additional paid leave to employees obliged to stay home to either quarantine themselves or provide care to loved ones. Paid sick leave provides workers affected by COVID-19 the best chance at recovery by ensuring that they can still pay their bills and maintain healthcare coverage.
Maintaining the safety and security of workers goes beyond providing access to paid sick leave and healthcare. To protect occupational health and safety and prevent the outbreak of diseases, corporations need to ensure clean, safe, and sanitary work environments. As Illinois’ State Treasurer and President of the 2 million members of SEIU we have advocated on behalf of workers to urge companies to provide transparency and protect the health and safety of their most important assets. It is clear how widespread COVID-19 is among our communities and work environments. To ensure all employees a safe working environment, it is necessary to continually reassess health and safety needs, including the provision of PPE and support for additional training. This helps ensure business continuity and preparedness during acute or systemic crises.
COVID-19 is a wake-up call. Now is the time to provide our workers with fundamental healthcare and employment protections that will strengthen the resiliency of American families, businesses, and governments to weather this storm and those to come.
Written by SEIU President Mary Kay Henry and Illinois State Treasurer Michael W. Frerichs.