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Unions Continue to Lead Response to COVID-19

The reality of daily life during the COVID-19 pandemic has presented a “new normal” for workers everywhere. Each day, we are presented with unprecedented challenges — from balancing remote work with homeschooling lessons to struggling to keep food on the table. The spectrum of what is “normal” for working families has broadened dramatically since the year began. For some, the challenge of financial strain has been temporarily offset by state and federal assistance. Still, millions of workers — including undocumented immigrants, gig workers, government employees, entertainment workers, and more — remain unsupported. Fortunately, where our employers and elected leaders have failed, the Labor Movement has stepped in to help families recover from financial destitution.

Oregon AFL-CIO President Graham Trainor detailed why the Labor Movement is uniting during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Across the country and in Oregon, unions are demanding dignity and fairness for ALL workers. We are fighting to uplift and protect one another because we know -as we’ve always known- that our power is in collective action. United, we can ensure safety on the job and assistance for those in need, regardless of employment sector, country of origin, or gender identity. Working Oregonians deserve justice, and we won’t stop fighting until we get it."

After the passage of the CARES Act failed to fully address the needs of an increasingly unprotected and unemployed workforce, unions nationwide took swift action. Nationally, the AFL-CIO has called on Congress and President Trump to embrace America’s Five Economic Essentials as the centerpiece of the CARES II package to keep working families safe. This campaign urges Congress to:

  1. KEEP America healthy— protect and expand health insurance for all workers

  2. KEEP front-line workers safe and secure

  3. KEEP workers employed and protect earned pension checks

  4. KEEP state and local governments, our public schools and the U.S. Postal Service solvent and working

  5. KEEP America competitive— hire people to build infrastructure

Meanwhile, international unions are putting direct pressure on Congress to support their members. This week, AFSCME launched a TV broadcast advertising campaign calling on Congress to #FundTheFrontLines and support public service workers through state and local government aid. Similarly, the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) has begun urging congress for additional support for federal employees, including thousands of VA workers who are lacking sufficient personal protective equipment. Meanwhile, IATSE and UNITE HERE have also initiated robust legislative lobbying campaigns, as their memberships have seen massive layoffs since the entertainment and tourism industries have albeit halted. If a CARES II Act passes through congress, it will be in no small part because of the Labor Movement’s collective action.

As workers await sufficient federal funding, unions are also spearheading efforts to provide immediate relief for workers in need. Here in Oregon, organized labor and progressive organizations statewide have banded together to create the Oregon Worker Relief Fund, seeking to aid disproportionately affected communities falling through the cracks of federal relief efforts. Other unions have also set up funds, including the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades (IUPAT), who recently set up the Finishing Industries Disaster Relief Fund to assist members who are facing serious financial need. In addition to setting up a fund for members, UNITE HERE Local 11 in Arizona has organized a food pantry in partnership with a local food bank, providing much-needed relief to hospitality workers. These measures are helping temporarily mitigate financial strain, and will have to suffice until elected leaders take additional action. While there are many unknowns surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, one truth has been made abundantly clear: when we stand together in solidarity, we can give working families a fighting chance.



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