Every single day workers across Minnesota are putting themselves at risk; both in the battle against COVID-19 and in the effort to continue providing the essential goods and services Minnesotans depend on. These workers didn’t ask to put their lives on the line, but they are keeping Minnesota moving nonetheless.
Despite the best efforts of state government and labor unions to keep workers safe, many of our state’s non-union employers continue to put workers at unnecessary risk. In Shakopee, more than 50 workers at the Amazon warehouse walked off the job in the middle of the night to protest retaliation against workers with safety concerns. Caribou Coffee workers staged drive-in protests across the metro, protesting unsafe working conditions, lack of sick time and lack of hazard pay. In Cold Spring, more than 100 workers walked out of the Pilgrims’ Pride plant to protest how the company was handling worker safety.
Workers shouldn’t have to take drastic action to win basic safety protections. Workers must have a say and have their safety concerns addressed in any viable plan to save lives, defeat the coronavirus, and revive the economy. The AFL-CIO has proposed eight conditions for reopening the economy in Minnesota and across the country:
Workers must have a say in these decisions at every level: workplace, industry, city, state and federal.
Decisions must be based on worker safety and sound science.
Strong, clear, and enforceable workplace health and safety standards must be in place.
Workers must have stronger protections against retaliation.
There must be a massive increase in adequate levels and types of personal protective equipment for workers currently on the job— and then for those returning to the job.
There must be a massive increase of rapid and reliable coronavirus testing.
There must be a comprehensive system of recording, reporting and tracking worker infections.
Employers, in coordination with local and state public health departments, must trace the contacts of infected workers and remove exposed workers from work with pay and without retaliation.
Without properly addressing worker safety before lifting or relaxing preventive measures that are currently reducing the number of cases and deaths due to COVID-19 will result in more workers falling sick and dying and even more economic damage.
Minnesotans want to get back to work, but we need to do it the right way. While some have been loudly clamoring to “flip the switch” and reopen all businesses at once, a clear majority of Minnesotans in every area of our state understand how irresponsible and dangerous such a decision would be. They understand that our economy cannot rebound unless workers are protected. They support Governor Walz and our state government’s measured approach to protect workers and overall public health.
Minnesotans’ strength comes from us being there for one another. This crisis shows that when we face adversity, we join together to protect our neighbors and our co-workers. It’s by working together that we will get through this crisis and emerge stronger than before.
Bill McCarthy is Minnesota AFL-CIO President, and Dale Moerke is Southwest Central Labor Council President. The Minnesota AFL-CIO is the state labor federation made up of more than 1,000 affiliate unions, representing more than 300,000 working people throughout Minnesota.