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Ohio AFL-CIO President Burga: Coronavirus responses are right to support working people

The state of Ohio has been nationally recognized as a leader in implementing policies and directives in the effort to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in our communities. Gov. Mike DeWine has decisively directed state agencies to take necessary measures in this public health crisis and those actions will no doubt make a huge difference.

Alongside the public health aspects, we need action to mitigate the economic and workplace safety risks that workers face in these unprecedented circumstances.

Now is the time to put a stake in the ground on behalf of a worker-first mandate. Past government responses to other crises saw corporate CEOs and shareholders receive nearly all of the government assistance. Let this crisis usher in a new era for protecting those who are at increased risk due to the nature of their work and extend compensation to those that get laid off or need paid sick leave. Our values and beliefs are now tested, and we call on all policymakers to rise to the occasion to prioritize working families.

On the federal response, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which was initially passed by Congress, is an early and important first step in dealing with this crisis.

While this package is not a complete response to the crisis, it is an urgent measure that will get necessary assistance to working people facing serious health and financial risks. This bill will encourage working people to seek testing for infection by making the tests free for most people covered by employment-based insurance, Medicare, or Medicaid. This is a crucial step to contain the spread of the virus.

Further, the bill mandates that workers who are sick or affected by quarantine orders receive up to 14 paid sick days and up to 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave per year. This is an absolute necessity to make it possible for workers to stay home when they need to, and protect them from financial hardship.

Unfortunately, hundreds of thousands of workers will not be eligible because the White House insisted on exempting large employers from this requirement. Subsequent legislation and orders to address this pandemic need to expand on these provisions to protect all workers.

As originally introduced in the House of Representatives, the bill included a requirement that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration issue an Emergency Temporary Standard to ensure that health care facilities implement comprehensive infectious disease exposure control plans to keep front line health care workers safe. The Trump administration demanded that the House drop this provision and we now urge lawmakers to reassert this provision on a priority basis in future legislation.

In state, the unemployment insurance directives of Gov. Mike DeWine to assist laid off workers are very helpful and a good first step to help those in need. As the state legislature reconvened, Ohioans counted on our lawmakers to stand up for workers during this time of crisis.

Safe workplaces, access to personal protective equipment, broadened paid sick leave, expanded benefits for displaced and injured workers and childcare are some of the critical areas where urgent action is needed.

It is clear that the only way to resolve this crisis will be for the entire community to be involved and committed to protecting public health and supporting our workforce. Ohio will get through this crisis, and the working people on the front lines will be the ones who deliver us. Let’s be sure our policy responses deliver for them.

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