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President Burga Testifies To Ohio House Task Force To Protect Ohio’s Workers

The Ohio AFL-CIO is the state labor federation, representing 1.1 million workers and retirees touching all aspects of Ohioans daily lives and our economy. I appreciate the opportunity to present on behalf of two groups of workers, those who are on the front lines on the job, and those that are laid off through no fault of their own. It is critical to have the input of working people to keep us safely on the job, assist those who are laid off, and as we look to restart the economy. This Task Force can serve as a valuable policy resource, and as you move forward I encourage additional employee representatives to be invited to provide their specific trade, service and industry perspective.

It is often said that true character comes out during time of crisis. The last month has revealed the strength and character of our state as Ohioans have come together to take care of our families and our local communities while working essential jobs and delivering needed services.

We applaud the Governor in taking quick, decisive and consistent actions, utilizing the advice and analysis of his team of health experts. Ohioans have largely followed these directives, which have made a significant difference in slowing the spread of the virus and flattening the curve. We also recognize and appreciate the needed assistance to workers by providing a lifeline of compensation through expanded benefits for those who have been displaced, in numbers not seen since the Great Depression – over 855,000 claims filed in Ohio just in the last four weeks.

As this Task Force looks at the many issues of reopening the state and restarting the economy I ask that we first look at those that are putting their health on the line to support their families and serve our communities. I would like to acknowledge the unionized workforce of this state in emergency services, health care, food services and grocery, corrections, manufacturing, postal services and delivery, transportation, education, government operations, construction, communications, agriculture, mining and energy. The heroic efforts of our workers shine a bright light on just how valuable and irreplaceable they are. They have gone above and beyond to serve and protect, on and off the clock, and they deserve our appreciation and primary consideration on policy recommendations.

We strongly agree with the Governor that we will not come out of this crisis as suddenly as we entered it. As much as we want to get back to work, earn and produce, as the Governor has said, reentry must have the confidence of Ohioans that it is safe to work and pursue everyday activities.

We must ensure that we stick with the safety and health rules put in place, including Section 18 of the Stay At Home Order, and adopt additional measures, or we will not have public confidence and risk resurgence of the virus. To this end, we must continue to understand the science of this pandemic, ramp up testing, implement strong at-work health precautions and inspections and prepare for the threat of new pandemics.

As Ohioans, we have rallied around the state flag, each doing our part for our families and for the collective good and we ask from our state and local leaders to govern going forward with the same understanding that we are stronger together. We urge lawmakers in their deliberations to draw on the many positives on display and to learn from the flaws and inequities that have been exposed.

It is apparent, that as a nation, we were not prepared for this pandemic and as a result our national security remains at risk. We must immediately address the lack of sufficient stockpiling of personal protective equipment (PPE) and needed medical supplies and commit to producing these products ourselves. What is happening at our Medical Centers and Corrections Facilities with regard to the lack of PPE underscores this point.

Organized labor has been saying for decades that the offshoring and outsourcing of our manufacturing work is bad for our economy and makes us vulnerable. Let the fact that we must rely on China and other countries for simple protective gear, ventilators and testing elements and products needed for our safety and survival to sound the alarm. We need a national industrial policy to address this urgency, and let Ohio lead the way.

The value of our workforce has never been more evident than at this time, and policies are needed to properly protect workers and recognize their worth. As stated, the issue of available PPE for our essential workforce should be solved now and never again put us in such a defenseless position. The minimum wage needs to be raised significantly, paid sick leave should be afforded to all workers, “hazard” pay should be provided to essential workers, misclassification of employees as independent contractors should be shut down, pensions must be protected, OSHA infectious disease emergency workplace standards should be initiated and enforced with the hiring of additional inspectors, and workers getting sick from this or future pandemics should get workers’ compensation.

These are just some of the policy recommendations that acknowledge the indispensability of our workers and the value of their labor by looking out for their safety and financial security. We are also weighing in with Congress on these and other issues, including Ohio’s severe need for additional state and local government funding. To summarize, consumer and worker confidence is necessary to reopen the state, the health and safety of our workforce is the main priority, and putting more money in the hands of workers recognizes their worth, drives consumer spending and spurs the economy.

Ohioans want to get back to work fully, but re-entry must be incremental, guided by science and with clear worker and public safety equipment, measures and enforceable standards in place. Our economic revitalization depends upon a renewed commitment to value our workforce, which can be realized through forward thinking measures and actions to keep us safe, healthy and economically secure.

The Ohio AFL-CIO stands ready to assist the General Assembly and the Governor in these important policy matters and in ensuring that Ohio is as highly regarded coming out of this crisis as we were entering it. As the Governor has indicated, reopening the state won’t lead to our economic recovery if workers and consumers do not feel safe.

Working people are delivering us through this crisis, and I urge this Task Force and the General Assembly to adopt policies and procedures that deliver for them. Thank you for this opportunity and I’m willing to take any questions.

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