Texas Workers Need Enforceable Standards; Anything Less Is a Charade

By President Rick Levy - 

Gov. Greg Abbott should revise Texas's ill-considered, inconsistent, and largely unenforceable rules for reopening the economy.

The coronavirus pandemic has demonstrated in stark terms that work connects us all. Texans are seeing with new eyes the ways frontline workers keep our state running every day. We need policies that respect and honor that work. Workplace safety and community well-being must occupy the center of any policy response.

Low-road behaviors hold consequences for all of us. Gov. Abbott has failed to provide clear leadership, bouncing back and forth between local and state control, and between addressing public health and aiming to please the "right to infect" portion of his base. It is now clear the voices of those who are willing to endanger more workers in a misguided and premature attempt to get the economy moving have prevailed.

When the President, Governor and Lieutenant Governor demonstrate on the record that they know opening up will result in more infections and more deaths, they are talking numbers. Each nugget of data, though, represents a real working family, a family that has no representation on state task forces. Our families are much more than data points on a politician's spreadsheet. We are on the front lines. We are not an acceptable loss. And we will bear the brunt of these decisions.

Texas is seeing outbreaks among front-line workers in fields like healthcare, nursing homes, transit and transportation, groceries, meatpacking and construction. Since the reopening, workers are returning in too many cases to find employers who ban masks, fail to provide adequate PPEs, ignore physical distancing, or otherwise undermine the recommendations of medical experts. The Texas plan cites valid science but offers mere suggestions. Workers and their families are suffering and, in the worst cases, workers are dying. "Surge Response Teams" will show up only after the damage is done and with little power to overcome the individual beliefs of each business. Adequate PPEs and testing are needed for all front-line workers now - not after the fact.

The Texas labor movement wants our state to reopen as much as anyone, but that reopening must have at its core a comprehensive plan to keep workers safe. Any plan that doesn't effectively address the right to a safe workplace is fundamentally flawed. Any plan that tells workers they should just stay home if they are not feeling well but makes no provision for paid sick leave is immoral. Any plan that leaves out mention of how millions of Texans who lack insurance will get health care is cruel. Yet the Governor's plan has these blindspots and more.

The state's own data do not support the current Texas timetable or the current Texas plan for reopening. Without revisions, the Governor's moves will simply backfire in a very big way, harming both Texas workers and the economy.

The Texas AFL-CIO has proposed these principles: 1) Worker Voice, because workers have the most hands-on view of what is needed to stay safe; 2) Use of sound science; 3) An enforceable national OSHA infectious disease standard; 4) Massive increases in PPEs; and 5) Massive increases in testing. Incorporating physical distancing and attention to hygiene, state standards based on these principles would give Texas the best shot at slowing COVID-19 until a treatment and a vaccine arrive.

Workers need enforceable standards and real solutions, and they need them now. Anything less is a charade.