Without a doubt, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on Oregon’s workforce. As of mid-May, Oregon has seen over 2.5 times the number of unemployment claims as it did during the height of the Great Recession. For workers that have either continued working, have lost their jobs, or are returning to work, their futures remain uncertain. Without coordinated policy responses from state and local governments, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic will only worsen. Oregon AFL-CIO President Graham Trainor highlighted the importance of ensuring a recovery that prioritizes workers:
“Our elected leaders both in Salem and Washington D.C. must realize that unless workers are healthy, safe on the job, and rightfully compensated, plans to reopen will be doomed to fail. That’s why we’re calling on Oregon’s leaders to ensure worker protections are front and center as we reopen, so Oregon’s most vulnerable aren’t left behind on the path to recovery.”
As Oregon’s elected leaders begin to forge a recovery plan, the safety of workers and the communities they serve must be the central focus. Since the outbreak of COVID-19 in Oregon, workers have been asked to either work without adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) or to reuse it in a way that renders the equipment ineffective. As many of Oregon’s counties enter Phase 1 of re-opening, there must be additional precautions taken to ensure workers are safe on the job. On behalf of our 300,000 members, the Oregon AFL-CIO is asking the State Legislature to:
Acknowledge a range of workers who are at an elevated risk of exposure to infectious diseases, including health care, first responders, grocery workers, laboratory workers, transit operators, waste and wastewater management, occupations that require travel, and many others.
Incorporate the hierarchy of controls, utilizing engineering controls, like the plexiglass barriers you see in the grocery stores as the first line of defense.
Require employer-provided NIOSH-certified N95 respirators and other PPE for health care and other workers at an elevated risk, requiring all customers/clients/patients who can wear a mask to do so
Ensure social distancing can be followed in retail establishments by limiting the number of customers that can enter at any given time
Outline a risk-based model for many workers who require different levels of protection depending on the tasks they are performing and their potential exposures and industry.
Currently, workers have no protections to both maintain their future economic security and healthcare benefits. Workers who have either exhausted their paid sick time or who don’t have access to paid sick time are being put in the impossible situation of maintaining their economic security or going to work with symptoms. Furthermore, if these workers are on unemployment insurance, they risk being disciplined -or even terminated- for not returning to work.
The COVID-19 recovery must ensure the highest transparency of investment of dollars to employers and workers in the relief efforts. If workers aren’t guaranteed enforceable protections, they will be apprehensive to return and Oregon’s economy will suffer. We must expand access to paid sick leave protections for workers to care for themselves or family members that reflect the Coronavirus’ exposure risk. It’s time for Oregon’s legislature to take action to protect workers. You called us heroes, now treat us like heroes.