These States Are Telling Workers: "Endanger Your Life or Starve"

We all know that the COVID-19 pandemic has upended our previous lives. We're staying home, only seeing friends and family from 6-feet away or through video calls. We're grappling with exacerbated mental health struggles as anxiety and fear levels leap through the roof. And many are also unemployed, laid off as shops have shuttered. This, in turn, is ushering in a new great recession.

Of all the above concerns, Republican lawmakers seem most concerned with the last one — economic impact. Given the choice about whether to care about regular people's health, safey, and ability to make money to pay for their lives, or the wellbeing of corporate CEOs, they have unequivocally chosen the latter. As a result, numerous states — including Iowa, Oklahoma, Texas, and Florida — are throwing away their public health restrictions to keep the financial juices flowing to the top.

Sign the petition to demand that these U.S. states continue to put workers' health and safety first!

There are smart ways to do this. And then there are cruel ways. Unfortunately, these states prefer cruelty. Now that states are reopening, governors don't just want to give laid-off employees the option to return back to work — they're actually forcing them.

While stores, restaurants, and factories were closed in order to reduce the spread of COVID-19 infections, millions of people were eligible to apply for vital unemployment benefits, such as healthcare and replacement wages. This was a hugely important provision, not only because laid-off workers still need to eat and pay rent, but also because it allows people to stay home rather than desperately seeking out new employment options. And as we all know, staying home is the #1 best way to prevent contagion and deaths.

Now, though, many Republican-led states have decided that they've apparently "flattened the curve" enough, and they're telling their industries to re-open for business. And as part of that effort, they've issued everyone on pandemic-related unemployment an ultimatum: return to work in the middle of the pandemic or lose all unemployment benefits. As the AFL-CIO describes it, the message is: "endanger your life or starve."

Going back out into the workplace can be a life-threatening proposition. Most of the individuals affected by these ultimatums work low-wage jobs in the service sector. Naturally, many will be very hesitant to return to jobs that may require them to interact with the public or be in very close quarters with other staff members, because these are all conditions where coronavirus spreads rapidly — all while receiving extremely minimal pay.

It's worth noting that, even if governors and CEOs force minimum-wage employees back to work, they can't force customers to come back and spend the money to support these businesses. There are already reports that those in the service industry aren't making enough money to live off because so many people are still not participating in consumer spending.

Not only are individuals afraid of contracting the deadly virus themselves, but they're also afraid of bringing it home to vulnerable loved ones. But these states don't care about that. Worried for your health and safety? Not a priority to them. Their only concern is forcing their economies to re-start, regardless of the risk. And they're taking retaliatory action. For example, authorities in Iowa have told businesses to report any employee who "refuses to return to work."

This is outrageous AND dangerous. No one should be forced to choose between breathing and poverty. Sign the petition to tell these state governors to drop their plans of retaliation against health-wary workers.
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