Texas AFL-CIO: To Protect Communities From Coronavirus, Protect Working People

As the coronavirus threatens Texans, the Texas AFL-CIO today called on political and business leaders to take actions suggested by front-line union workers who face elevated risk of becoming ill.

"Texans looking to steer clear of the coronavirus and safeguard their families know that protecting working people protects communities," Texas AFL-CIO President Rick Levy, joined by representatives of several unions, said at a news conference.

"The union members of the Texas AFL-CIO know the landscapes of their work in ways that no one else does," Levy said. "Teachers, nurses, government employees, transit workers, airline workers, hotel and food service workers, and others in frontline jobs have come forward with good advice on maintaining safe workplaces to minimize danger."

"More needs to be done to fight the coronavirus and protect our communities, especially given that Texas has refused to expand Medicaid and continues to have the highest percentage of people without health insurance," Levy said. "And it can be done without panic or resort to xenophobia or false rumors about the spread of the virus."

The Texas AFL-CIO supports the following actions (a working paper with more detail is attached to this news release):

  • Expand access to paid sick days for workers if they or a loved one have been exposed to COVID-19, are experiencing symptoms, or have underlying medical conditions putting them at heightened risk.
  • Listen to frontline workers: nurses, hospital workers, EMS workers, airline industry workers, educators, public health experts and more about the necessary steps to keep working people safe on the job and to protect our communities.
  • Make sure no Texas worker or family unfairly experiences catastrophic financial consequences as a result of measures to keep our communities safe.

"No Texans should have to choose between going to work sick so they can pay their bills and staying home without pay to keep our communities safe," Levy said. "In the case of the coronavirus, that bad choice could be a matter of life and death."

"Texas working families are right to be nervous about the coronavirus. We certainly don't pretend to have all the answers, but we have long experience in advocating for safety first in the workplace" Levy said. "We call on our state's leaders to rise to the challenge posed by the coronavirus and do the right thing."

Unions and union organizations who have contributed to the suggestions below include: National Nurses United, Service Employees International Union, UNITE HERE, CWA-Association of Flight Attendants, Transport Workers Union, American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, Texas State Employees Union, Texas American Federation of Teachers, Amalgamated Transit Union, Austin EMS Association, American Federation of Government Employees, Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance, Texas Alliance for Retired Americans, and more.

The Texas AFL-CIO is a state labor federation that includes 245,000 affiliated union members who advocate for working families in Texas.

Texas AFL-CIO Proposals to Protect Texas Communities and Families From Coronavirus

  • Governor Greg Abbott, Attorney General Ken Paxton, the Texas Public Policy Foundation and the National Federation of Independent Business should immediately drop their lawsuits in Austin and San Antonio, which are currently preventing hundreds of thousands of Texas workers from accessing earned paid sick days. Despite overwhelming public support for paid sick days policies passed in those cities in 2018, and recommendations individuals exposed to COVID-19 self-quarantine, the lack of paid sick days for millions of Texas workers will force an untold number of our state's residents to choose between going to work to pay the bills, and staying home or seeking medical care.

  • The state of Texas should use incentive funds controlled by the Governor's office to offer economic stimulus and security to workers and small businesses who are affected by jobsite closures, layoffs, work-stoppages, and quarantines.

  • The Governor should issue an emergency declaration to waive "work-search" requirements and waiting period requirements so that workers who experience job losses and work stoppage can receive Unemployment Insurance.

  • Employers in Texas who do not already do so should be encouraged to provide paid leave to employees who may have been exposed to coronavirus, who demonstrate symptoms, or who have underlying health conditions. Consistent with the best guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and other appropriate authorities, individuals who may have been exposed to COVID-19, or are at heightened risk, should limit their contact with others in order to minimize transmission risks. But too many Texans do not have access to paid sick time. Business leaders should provide paid leave to employees who need it during this crucial period.

  • The federal government should ensure free testing and treatment for COVID-19 to every person who needs it, independent of that person's income, insurance coverage, or immigration status. If the federal government does not act in this regard, the state of Texas should. It is not good enough that testing and treatment for this disease simply be "affordable" – local, state, and federal governments must step up and protect our families and our communities by ensuring that COVID-19 testing is not denied to any child, senior citizen, or everyday person because of the size of their bank account, or their immigration status.

  • State and federal elected leaders should be transparent with the public and with frontline workers about suspected cases of COVID-19. Political leaders must provide unfiltered analysis and advice from health care workers and scientists to Texas communities.

  • The Governor and the Legislative Budget Board should consider using emergency budget authority to provide funding for state agencies, cities, counties, school districts, hospital districts, and other local government bodies to fund additional "no-penalty" paid sick days for workers, if they or a loved one have been exposed to COVID-19, are experiencing symptoms, or have underlying medical conditions putting them at heightened risk.

  • State agencies should remove all limits on employee use of pooled paid sick days. And workers who have been exposed to COVID-19, are experiencing symptoms, or have underlying medical conditions putting them at heightened risk should be granted "no-penalty" use of those days.

  • State agencies, including the General Land Office and the Texas Land Commissioner, should explore appropriate programs to make emergency rent or mortgage grants available to workers who are unable to work and who do not have access to paid sick time. The program should be available to workers who cannot work due to quarantine, work-stoppages, or the need to miss work because they or a loved one have been exposed to COVID-19, are experiencing symptoms, or have underlying medical conditions putting them at heightened risk.

  • Businesses and employers should include the voices of their workforces, including honoring demands-to-bargain by nurses, hospital workers and other frontline workers who are worried about staying safe on-the-job. State agencies should hold stakeholder meetings – including employee organizations and unions – in developing agency-level policy responses. And OSHA should issue an emergency temporary standard for infectious diseases.

  • State agencies, including HHSC, TEA, TDCJ, and others should release funds to school districts, hospital districts, correctional facilities, and local government entities to replenish safety supplies, including soap, cleaning solution, and gloves.