Ron Bieber: The pandemic shows why we need to put workers 1st

September 7, 2020 6:57 am

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Labor Day is obviously a big deal for Michigan’s labor movement. Were this a typical year, today we’d be marching in Detroit and many other locations across our state with thousands of our brothers and sisters. We’d be joined by clergy, community leaders, and many worker friendly elected officials like Gov. Gretchen Whitmer; U.S. Sens. Gary Peters (D-Bloomfield Twp.) and Kamala Harris (D-Calif.); and former Vice President Joe Biden. 

But this Labor Day won’t be a typical one. We’ll be celebrating virtually, and we’re all grateful for the technology that allows us to reach even more folks, even if they can’t make it to events in Detroit. But this pandemic, and this holiday celebrating working people, have served to underscore the importance of what we fight for every single day. 

The labor movement has always led the charge to protect working folks from getting hurt, sick or dying on the job. But in 2020, we face threats like nothing we’ve seen before. More than 100 days after the U.S. House passed the HEROES Act, Republicans in Washington still haven’t taken action on the much-needed COVID-19 relief package, and we have a president who is too weak to confront the pandemic. To be clear, the virus isn’t Donald Trump’s fault. But his total failure to address the pandemic is his fault.

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It seems obvious that in a crisis, we should be taking action to protect those whose need is most desperate, and those who are working on the frontlines to keep the rest of us safe and healthy, but incredibly, Republicans seem more focused on not letting this crisis go to waste. 

The Republican Party isn’t just hostile to working people — they are now hostile to facts, science, and American values like equality and justice for all. This awful disease hasn’t lessened the desire of Republicans to launch attacks on working people — it seems to have increased it. 

So we see last week Republicans holding hearings on bills to release corporations and businesses from any liability for people who get sick and/or die from COVID-19. At a time when we should all be united in fighting this virus, they want to destroy accountability for negligent actions by bad employers, giving them a free pass for failing to take precautions to protect folks from the deadly risks of this highly contagious virus.

This would obviously also hurt working people, providing them with no remedy if they get sick at work and take the virus home to their families, even if they have taken all of the necessary precautions to keep themselves safe and healthy. 

So this Labor Day, let’s recognize that even as strong unions built the great American middle class, we still have so much work left to do.  Everything that defines what it means to live a good life — 40 hour work week, paid leave, health care protections, a voice in your workplace — is because workers organized and fought for it. 

Let’s appreciate and celebrate our solidarity, and resolve to continue to build a better, fairer, and kinder state, so we are stronger to meet the next crisis that threatens the lives and livelihoods of the working class. 

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Ron Bieber
Ron Bieber

Ron Bieber is president of the Michigan AFL-CIO. Ron is a third-generation UAW member, and the son of former UAW President Owen Bieber. Prior to his election as President of the Michigan AFL-CIO, he served as Director of the UAW’s Community Action Program.