Gov. Gretchen Whitmer speaks during a press conference | Screenshot
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Michigan AFL-CIO President Ron Bieber during a virtual press event on Wednesday observed Workers Memorial Day and urged the U.S. Senate to pass pro-union legislation.
Workers Memorial Day is held each April 28 to remember those who have died or been disabled on the job over the past year. Whitmer thanked a variety of workers during the presentation, especially those with key roles during the COVID pandemic.
“Nurses and other health care professionals who care for our sick and the dying, grocery and restaurant workers who have kept us fed, postal workers who have kept us connected and who have helped millions of us during the pandemic,” said Whitmer. “Teachers who have gone above and beyond the call of duty to ensure that the children keep learning, transit operators who deliver goods to where they need to go, and state workers and utility workers who made so much of this possible. The list goes on and on. Those people who show up every day and have spent long days away from their families and have exposed themselves to risk. These are the true heroes of the past year.”
After the passage of the landmark Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) 50 years ago, hundreds of thousands of workers’ lives have been helped by rules designed to improve workplace safety, “but many working people remain in serious danger,” Bieber said.
In 2019, the most recent year for which data exists, and before COVID-19 gripped the U.S, more than 5,000 Americans lost their lives from workplace injuries and illnesses, he added. The number includes 164 Michigan deaths.
Whitmer and Bieber also called for the passing of the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act. It is designed “to increase worker power, rebuild our economy fairly and grow America’s labor movement,” Bieber said.
It would amend the National Labor Relations Act and related labor laws to:
- Revise the definition of “employee” and “supervisor” so that employers are prohibited from classifying employees as “contractors” to exempt them from labor law protections
- Prohibit the termination or discrimination of workers who participate in strikes
- Prohibit employers from requiring employees to attend meetings that discourage union membership
- Remove barriers that would otherwise prohibit workers from participating in class action lawsuits
“This last year we’ve seen firsthand the need to treat working people like heroes and give them the pay and protection that they deserve,” said Ron Bieber. “As our country recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic, we need to build back better with unions, to improve the economy for all of us, not just the wealthy and well-connected. That starts with the PRO Act — and with all of us working to adopt fairer labor laws, so that everyone who wants to form a union can do so.”
The Democratic-led U.S. House approved the legislation in 2020 but the GOP-led U.S. Senate did not take up the legislation. The Democratic-led House again passed the measure on March 9. Democrats now narrowly control the U.S. Senate.
U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) supports the legislation, as does Democratic President Joe Biden.
Bieber also encouraged Michiganders to take the COVID-19 vaccination. He said that such an effort will protect workers, especially those who work at grocery stores, in restaurants and in the health care field.
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