Workers’ Perspective: Six Things to Watch for When Texas ‘Reopens’

As Greg Abbott prepares to announce a plan to restart the Texas economy during the coronavirus pandemic, the Texas AFL-CIO today called for consideration of essential ingredients to ensure the safety and well-being of working people and make it more likely that the state will not need to revert to stay-at-home orders.

"We support the idea that Texas's move to reopen should happen in stages, with careful checking that each step avoids a resurgence in cases of COVID-19," Texas AFL-CIO President Rick Levy said.

"Reopening the economy must take working families fully into account, alongside the businesses that employ them. At the top of the list: the more than 1 million Texans who have lost their jobs in the last month and front-line workers who have kept Texas together in this unprecedented pandemic. Based on what we have seen so far, several issues need to be addressed":

Safety

Until the federal government produces a workplace safety standard for infectious diseases — it's ridiculous that one doesn't exist — Texas needs to fill that vacuum by insisting that any returning business take safety precautions based on recommendations by medical experts. Grocery workers, state employees, local government workers, construction workers and others have been forced to share or do without Personal Protective Equipment. Will Gov. Abbott commit to making an appropriate supply of PPE and adherence to doctor-recommended hygiene practices a precondition, with enforcement, of resuming business?;

Unemployment

While we are gratified that the Texas Workforce Commission has expanded hours and ramped up capacity, it remains unacceptable that Texans losing their jobs at record levels are having so much difficulty getting their applications for jobless benefits filed, approved and paid. Decades of cutbacks in the system have led to this moment, but looking forward, will Gov. Abbott commit more resources to help TWC catch up and allow more workers who have lost jobs through no fault of their own through the front door?;

Paid Sick Days

As the coronavirus pandemic has highlighted, paid sick leave is a vital, sometimes life-and-death public health matter. Gov. Abbott should instruct Attorney General Ken Paxton and urge his business and think-tank allies to drop their opposition to earned paid sick leave ordinances enacted in Dallas, Austin and San Antonio. Will Gov. Abbott commit to a basic workplace benefit that can protect all Texans?;

Immigrant Workers 

Instead of using scarce state resources to enter the jurisdiction of the federal government over border control, Texas needs to help immigrant workers who are essential to our economy but are excluded from health care, unemployment benefits, economic stimulus funds and other lifelines. Leaving immigrant communities outside the circle of support and public health not only unfairly damages these communities, but makes us all less safe. Will Gov. Abbott take steps to bridge the gap for immigrant workers or will economic desperation make it harder to contain the spread of coronavirus?;

Worker Voices 

Any committee assigned to get Texas moving again should include authentic worker representation. It is not enough to recognize the voices of working families through the filter of business executives. Will Gov. Abbott appoint a broad-based committee that includes the voices of all Texans?; and

Local Voices 

Though Gov. Abbott reversed course and backed local control of details at the start of the pandemic, he has since chosen to override several local health and safety orders. Will the state continue to supersede local orders because state officials are more interested in pressing their ideological agenda than respecting the will of communities across the state?"

Placement