A vote to overturn public health protections is a vote against working people | Opinion

April 27, 2020 10:09 am

A counter-protester stands in the middle of 3rd Street across from the state Capitol as thousands of people gathered to protest Pennsylvania’s COVID-19 response (Capital-Star photo).

By Rick Bloomingdale, David Fillman, Gabe Morgan, Matt Yarnell, Steve Catanese, David Melman, and Maureen May  

No one understands the foundation of a hard day’s work on American society better than the women and men of organized labor. Our movement was built upon the principle that dignity and respect on the job are a key pillar of American life and family. The job losses suffered by more than 1.5 million newly unemployed Pennsylvanians as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic have torn at the very fabric of the labor movement.

These are unprecedented times that require unprecedented cooperation. This pandemic requires us to come together, workers from across racial lines and across industries, and elected leaders – both Republicans and Democrats, to act based on two important principles:

First, a return to everyday life in Pennsylvania must be governed by science, facts, and public health – not political pressures and partisanship.

Second, all workers must be protected as they return to the job. Whether you are a frontline worker who is risking your life and health to deliver essential services, or a worker coming back to the job once science and medicine has deemed it safe. No worker should be forced into a dangerous situation.

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That’s why the political games that some politicians in Harrisburg are playing are so dangerous.

Instead of cooperating with public health officials, and centering the needs of our healthcare providers and frontline workers first, some politicians are looking to score political points with a series of ‘reopening’ bills.

It started with an effort to overturn state health regulations by opening most industries, and has since moved to a piecemeal strategy of votes on one industry after another – car dealerships, retail, construction, real estate, garden centers, and the list keeps growing.

This is not a responsible way to govern.

Decisions around when it is safe to allow industries to return to normal operations must be made in deep consultation with the state Department of Health, and based on the collective wisdom of doctors and scientists.

Forcing the Health Department to play whack-a-mole with individual pieces of legislation forcing workers to return to work before it is time distracts from the overall mission of mitigating the crisis and keeping working people safe.

Collectively, we serve frontline workers who are keeping our hospitals operational, our nursing homes staffed, our buildings cleans, and our essential public services intact. We are also helping thousands of our members in retail, property services, county government, trades, and other industries navigate the crisis of unemployment and the delicate decisions of when it is safe to return to the job.

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Our union members have never been under more pressure, nor have they faced a greater threat. We are relying on our elected leaders to come together in this crisis to protect them. We need to pass legislation that would enforce OSHA style protections for public workers, expand paid sick and paid leave options, get PPE to the frontlines, ensure any worker can file a COVID-19 workers compensation claim, and more.

What working people do not need is legislation that distracts from those core issues. On behalf of working people in Pennsylvania, we stand opposed to this dangerous style of lawmaking. And we urge our Legislature to return to doing the work of working people.

This time, lives depend on it.

Rick Bloomingdale is the president of the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO. David Fillman is the executive director, of Council 13 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. Gabe Morgan is vice president of SEIU Local 32BJ. Matt Yarnell is the president of SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania. Steve Catanese is the president of SEIU Local 668. David Melman is the manager of the Pennsylvania Joint Board of Workers United. Maureen May is the president of the Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals.

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