Back to Square One on Pandemic; This Time, Texas Needs to Do It Right

Texas AFL-CIO President Rick Levy and Secretary-Treasurer Montserrat Garibay posted this statement on Gov. Greg Abbott’s rollback of Executive Orders to reopen the state:

“Workers are suffering. We are now worse off in fighting this virus than we were before we first had to shut everything down and, unfortunately, Gov. Abbott’s decision to pause his failed response doesn’t go far enough. Without more, Texans will remain vulnerable to both physical and economic harm.

“Pretending we can proceed as if we are not in the crisis of our lives doesn’t work. Ignoring science may be popular among state and national leaders, but Gov. Abbott’s decision to re-open prematurely and at the same time take away the ability of local officials to protect our communities is now a failure for all to see.

“Workers are suffering. We are now worse off in fighting this virus than we were before we first had to shut everything down and, unfortunately, Gov. Abbott’s decision to pause his failed response doesn’t go far enough. Without more, Texans will remain vulnerable to both physical and economic harm.

“At Square One again, this time Texas needs to do it right. Texas needs to put workers first. The way to do that is, first, to rely on the collective wisdom of top medical experts grounded in science and data, and second, make sure Texas families have the resources and support they need to survive the tough times ahead.

“The state decision-makers who mapped out a failed reopening plan consist of business elites but no front-line workers — the people who know the stakes and have hands-on safety responsibilities day by day. Workers’ voices must be part of the decision-making. Our state’s early success in flattening the COVID-19 curve stemmed from strong local action that included workers’ voices. When Gov. Abbott canceled the authority of local governments to enforce precautions, he took ownership of the COVID-19 response. We must invest authority in local governments — the leaders that are closest to at-risk populations — to take the means necessary to protect lives and safety.

“As we have said throughout this crisis, the priorities of working families are intimately tied to the success of the war against COVID-19:

  • “We need a statewide mask order. The debate is over. Front-line workers who are seeing us through these nightmare times deserve every precaution to keep them from becoming sick. Masks are not about ideology or punishment, but about saving lives.

  • “Texas must immediately and dramatically improve access to health care right now.  We have the highest percentage of uninsured residents by choice and we must make the choice to end an era that has left millions of people on their own when they become seriously ill. Stop trying to kill the Affordable Care Act and knock tens of millions of Americans off health coverage. Expand Medicaid eligibility.

  • “Paid sick leave during this pandemic is a no-brainer. Forcing low-wage working people to choose between supporting their families and foregoing a paycheck is a recipe for spread of COVID-19.

  • “We need federal and state emergency infectious disease standards for all workplaces. Without them, and without any serious capacity to inspect for violations, working people and all Texans are at the mercy of the lowest-road practices.

  • “Because we are back to Square One, we must restore or extend federal and state programs that provided child care to essential workers. The pandemic has demonstrated the importance of a robust child care system at all times, but especially now.

  • “Now that we are headed in the direction of shutdown again, Texas residents who lose their jobs through no fault of their own must have a clear path to Unemployment Insurance benefits. Federal pandemic assistance has gone a long way toward protecting working families and should be extended beyond next month’s planned expiration. For as long as it remains unable to receive and process applications promptly, the Texas Workforce Commission needs to drop unnecessary hurdles to payment of earned benefits once eligibility has been established. That includes extending a soon-to-expire waiver of the work search requirement, dropping the requirement to “request payment” every two weeks, and formulating a clearer standard for working people asked to return to unsafe workplaces.

  • “We must find ways to support hard-working immigrant workers who are excluded from most of the benefits available to citizens. Immigrant workers can contract COVID-19 and spread it, and they are among populations that are least likely to be able to work from home.

  • "Gov. Abbott’s extension of early voting is not enough. Texas voters should have the option of voting safely by mail in the July 14 runoff and in the Nov. 3 general election. This is fundamentally about safety, not politics.

  • “Congress must immediately pass the HEROES Act, which addresses many of these problems. This is a national war against COVID-19, and we need our Senators to stop out from behind Donald Trump and do their part to help working families meet the challenge.

“Working families understand how to slow the virus, but we have always been at the mercy of those who are more interested in politics and profits. We need bold action, clear and enforceable rules, and a thorough consideration of all the ways regain ground. We are not interested in revisiting Square One — or worse — again and again.”