Commentary

National “Workers First Caravan” to promote racial and economic justice on Wednesday

This is a sad and unsettling time. We’ve experienced months of pandemic-related job loss, sickness and death, but it’s important to acknowledge that Black people are dealing not only with the disproportionate impacts of COVID-19, but also with centuries of racism in America — racism that pervades our criminal justice system, our schools, our politics, our economy.

Since the murder of George Floyd, Americans have come together to demand a better society for all working people even as the pandemic continues to upend our lives and our economy. And these crises — the pandemic,  historic levels of unemployment, and systemic racism — are all interconnected.

For too many working on the front lines of this pandemic, simply going to work could mean getting sick or even losing their lives. Millions of workers are now unemployed. As workers and communities of color are among the hardest hit, we must come to terms with the racial injustice that has plagued our country for far too long.

We need action by elected officials to address the growing economic inequality that has left so many Black families behind. And we need solidarity. All of us, especially white folks, need to condemn white supremacy and the divide and conquer tactics designed to keep all of us —Black, Latinx and white — from uniting and fighting together for shared prosperity for all of us. It is crucial that elected leaders at all levels act to save our economy and save workers’ lives. That’s why we are joining together to demand action with America’s Five Economic Essentials and the Workers First Caravan for Racial and Economic Justice on June 17.

First and foremost, we need to keep workers safe and healthy on the job. Frontline workers are heroes. They are essential, not expendable. They deserve hazard pay, proper safety protections and workers’ compensation coverage in the event they contract coronavirus on the job.

Second, we must ensure that working people are kept on the payrolls for the duration of this crisis, and we demand that the government protect our pensions and other retirement benefits.

Third, Congress needs to invest in our state and local governments, our public schools and the U.S. Postal Service — all vital public services that are being stretched to the breaking point by the pandemic.

Fourth, we need to expand healthcare coverage. The first thing millions of people are losing along with their job is their health insurance, which is especially harmful for communities of color who have disproportionately suffered from COVID-19.

Finally, we need to provide good jobs for anyone who needs one. With record unemployment, there is no better time to reinvest in building the vital infrastructure we need to protect our country and boost employment.

The HEROES Act is federal legislation that would address the twin crises of the pandemic and unemployment, and we urge Sens. Richard Burr and Thom Tillis to support its passage.

We must also do more to combat the crisis of racism and violence against people of color. We at the NC State AFL-CIO firmly believe that the labor movement can play a critical role by bringing people of different occupations, races, and beliefs together and creating opportunities for honest dialogue that fosters reflection, repentance, and reform.

We need to listen to our Black sisters and brothers who are in pain now and have been for over four centuries. We need to commit to marching, organizing, and voting to protect their freedoms as we would our own. We must speak up and stand up, and most importantly, we must stand together.

MaryBe McMillan is the President of the North Carolina State AFL-CIO.

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