For essential workers in Oregon, there are two very different worlds that exist in America today.
In one world, Mitch McConnell and Senate Republicans have unabashedly picked the side of corporate America over working America by refusing to bring a vote on the HEROES Act (Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act) to the floor of the U.S. Senate. This bill is the much-needed COVID stimulus and relief package passed with urgency by the U.S. House of Representatives over two months ago that was built upon the national labor movement’s five economic demands:
- 1) Keep Front-Line Workers Safe and Secure;
- 2) Keep Workers Employed and Protect Earned Pension Checks;
- 3) Keep State and Local Governments, Public Schools and the U.S. Postal Service Solvent and Working;
- 4) Keep America Healthy by Protecting and Expanding Health Insurance for All Workers;
- 5) Keep America Competitive by Hiring People to Build Infrastructure.
To date, McConnell has refused to entertain a serious, urgent, and much-needed debate about additional relief, calling the vital funding for state and local governments in the HEROES Act a “blue state bailout” and suggesting that states should just be allowed to go bankrupt.
In this same world, President Trump has been carelessly handling a global pandemic with little regard for the lives of the nearly 150,000 lost victims of the coronavirus, or any working person bearing the brunt of the dangers posed by this pandemic. It’s also the same world where his Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, has pushed to fully reopen schools in the fall with no enforceable safety plan and despite the rapid increases in new COVID cases at the same time his Secretary of Labor, Eugene Scalia, has been using the crisis as an excuse to dismantle our nation’s labor laws and protections. And on this Administration’s watch, federal OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) has issued just one citation for workplace violations related to COVID and has fewer inspectors than at any time in its history.
This world—where President Trump and his allies live—couldn’t be further from the world we live in.
In our world, over 40 million working Americans have lost their job, and many of those have also lost their healthcare when that job ended. Hundreds of thousands of workers have contracted the virus at work, and many have lost their lives because of it. BIPOC (Black, indigenous, people of color) Oregonians are bearing a disproportionate brunt of this crisis, shown clearly in both contraction and death rates. At the end of this month, millions of workers across the country will lose the additional $600 in weekly unemployment insurance benefits —benefits that have greatly helped keep workers and the economy somewhat afloat — because of Senate Republicans’ inaction. This is just one narrow glimpse at the world we live in today, one that gets more challenging and dangerous by the day.
Luckily, Oregonians have two U.S. Senators who have been fighting for workers throughout this dark period in our history. It’s now up to Mitch McConnell and Senate Republicans to start acting with the kind of urgency this crisis demands in passing the HEROES Act. Without additional federal stimulus and relief, working Oregonians will, yet again, suffer due to the inaction, elitism, and callousness of these leaders. We expect and deserve better.
The Oregon AFL-CIO is a 138,000-member-strong federation of labor unions.