On the heels of May Day—when we recognize the contributions of workers worldwide—Congress will debate which of the myriad needs of American workers to address in the next round of coronavirus response legislation and the right way to “reopen the economy.”
We call on them instead to embed in their crisis response the seeds of a new economy founded on an infrastructure of caring, equity and respect.
Let’s start with relief. While Congress’s response has provided some benefits to some working people, it falls far short in critical ways.
Emergency paid leave represents essential pay and protection for those still working—yet Congress denied coverage for those who work for the biggest corporations in America and allows broad exemptions for many putting their own health on the line to serve and care for others during this crisis, such as EMTs and nurses.
Even for those who are covered, the 12 weeks of emergency paid leave applies just for closures of school or child care—not for lengthy recovery or caring for a loved one recovering from COVID-19.
As disappointing as this is, it also makes clear the way forward: The next recovery package must prioritize workers—not lobbyists, big corporations or the ultra wealthy.
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Our frontline and childcare workforce need meaningful investment. It’s their labor that ensures that we can continue to function. The bill must support women—hit hard by COVID-19’s double-whammy of increased caregiving demands and loss of income—through policies that value care and address women’s access to healthcare and paid leave. And it must respond to the urgent health and economic needs of black and brown communities, who have been disproportionately hit by the virus and cut out of the other relief bills.
The proposal put forth by Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Rep. Ro Khanna—the Essential Workers Bill of Rights—does all of these things. By providing a wage you can live on, universal paid sick leave and family and medical leave, support for child care, and healthcare security, the Essential Workers Bill of Rights gets at the interdependent nature of our lives.
We need systems that ensure everyone is included in our nation’s prosperity and every working person’s contribution to that prosperity is given due respect and properly valued.
If this nation is to come out of the coronavirus pandemic better than we were, we must accept that what many considered the “normal” economy wasn’t working for most people. We reject our nation’s economic structures that were built on our historic dependence on coerced or underpaid labor and the marginalization of women—particularly black and brown women—immigrants, indigenous and enslaved people.
We need a new economy that rights these inequities and honors the invisible caregiving work that undergirds every industry and every workplace. Opening the door to a new economy founded on an infrastructure of caring, equity, and respect is both necessary and urgent.
Wealthy power brokers who stand to benefit from a return to an unsustainable “normal” will continue to lobby for a limited and skewed response to the current crisis—but they are not the majority and they are not the true engines of the U.S. economy.
As we commemorate May Day, working people need more than words of appreciation—we need systemic and permanent change. Real appreciation means passing a coronavirus relief package that prioritizes the needs of working people over big business and over business as usual, establishing a precedent for an economy that works for all of us.
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