Front-line workers lead in times of crisis

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By DAVID A. COOK
President

Since the beginning of the pandemic, Local 655 has fought to keep our partners safe. Above all else, we have a responsibility to make sure hardworking men and women have a safe place to work. Ultimately, we made great strides in meeting this goal.

Thanks to swift action by your union and your employer, Local 655 partners have been able to enjoy a workplace where safety is emphasized and danger limited. We remain vigilant on this front, and are pleased with the results so far.

FALLING SHORT WITH HAZARD PAY
Safety is only the first major consideration, though. There’s something else we have to consider, even demand. Workers on the frontlines like the ones we represent have waited too long for hazard pay, and the continued failure of our leaders in elected office or in corporate board rooms is inexcusable.

Many of our employers did offer some compensation at the onset of this crisis, and while those increases in pay were too small and too short, the sentiment was clear and the intentions were good. At the time, I believed those early and temporary increases were laying the groundwork for more meaningful compensation in the future. Sadly, that has not yet been the case.

While I believe it is an employer’s responsibility to adequately compensate workers, this burden should never have fallen on them. Our elected officials in Congress should have allocated funds for frontline workers long ago. As we all know: Congress is deeply dysfunctional and the White House has not made hazard pay a priority.

AS WE PROVIDE FOR THE PUBLIC, THE RICH WATCH FROM A DISTANCE
Failures of leadership in Congress and corporate executive offices means that work will be harder for regular men and women, which is too often the case.

While politicians bicker on TV and throw stones on social media, working Americans do not have the luxury of debating and posturing. For millionaires in corporate America or the halls of the U.S. Capitol, this pandemic and the economic hardship it brings is all theoretical.

Those men and women are protected by their wealth and their privilege. They don’t have to stand all day as thousands of members of the public come streaming through their workplace. They don’t have to make the hard choice to work at an essential business despite the risks posed. They don’t have to make the choice between risking their health and paying their bills.

As is usually the case during the hardest times we face, regular Americans are doing the hard and heroic work, while the rich, famous and powerful watch from a distance in comfort.

YOUR UNION FIGHTS FOR YOU
I admit, I am privileged during this crisis. For months, I was able to work safely from my office at home. I only left the house when necessary, and I didn’t have to choose between my health and my paycheck. Representing our partners, our frontline workers, during COVID-19 has humbled me in ways I didn’t realize were possible.

This has also given me a sense of deep resolve in the fight for workers.

I have heard your stories about working during a pandemic. I have heard from parents with elderly family members at home, wondering if they are going to bring home an illness that could take their life. I have heard from partners with their own health conditions making the hardest choice between work and safety. I have heard from parents who did not know who would care for their children when school began but the actual school buildings remain closed.

At every step, Local 655 has done its best to address these concerns. We secured leaves of absence in the early months to allow those who wished to remain home without losing their jobs; we changed our benefits to ensure our partners could use telehealth services to see a doctor and be spared the cost of
COVID-19 testing; we fought tooth and nail to try to get Missouri’s own politicians to declare our workers “temporary first responders” so they could get access to priority testing, workers’ compensation, and childcare benefits. Sadly, Missouri Gov. Mike Parson failed those workers on this front, and we should not let him forget it.

WORKING MEN AND WOMEN ARE THE TRUE LEADERS
This union will continue to advocate for worker safety and for better pay. It will continue to lobby elected officials to help frontline workers.

Those workers, the men and women of Local 655 and the millions more across the country, have been the true leaders during this crisis. They didn’t shrink from the challenge or hide in a bunker. They didn’t refuse to work with one another because of petty squabbles, and they didn’t get wealthier while staying home. Those workers got up and did the important work of keeping this country going. They staffed our hospitals, protected our streets and made sure we had our food and medications.

Those workers — workers like you — are heroes. It’s time our “leaders” paid them like heroes.

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