Guest Columnist

Five ways Iowa can finally put workers first

The Iowa Capitol is seen in Des Moines on Thursday, Dec. 19, 2019. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)
The Iowa Capitol is seen in Des Moines on Thursday, Dec. 19, 2019. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)

As America continues to struggle with its long and complicated history with race, African American workers have been harder hit by the economic impacts of the COVID-19 crisis than others. It’s long past time that America’s workers are put first ahead of corporations.

The AFL-CIO has Five Economic Essentials for Racial and Economic Justice, and they should be included in any legislation that comes before Congress addressing the COVID-19 pandemic.

1. Keep front-line workers safe and secure — As millions of Americas are working from home, the essential workers directly exposed to the coronavirus are disproportionately people of color. As they work to keep us safe, we must reopen the economy safely, not prematurely.

2. Keep workers employed and protect earned pension checks — While the May unemployment rate dropped modestly to 13.3 percent to 14.7 percent, black unemployment rose to 16.8 percent. In the face of mass unemployment, America’s workers need COVID-19 unemployment benefits and a framework to keep workers on payroll and protect the pension of 30 million of America’s workers and retirees in the public and private sector.

3. Keep state and local governments, our public schools and the U.S. Postal Service solvent and working — The COVID-19 economic crisis is threatening the finances of state and local governments, our public schools, and the Postal Service, critical resources for America’s communities. Again, this has a disproportionate impact on black communities.

For example, black women make up 18.5 percent of public-sector workers.

4. Keep America healthy, protect and expand health insurance for all workers — Black Americans of all ages not only have persistently lower health insurance coverage rates, but they also are likely to have lost the insurance they already have during a pandemic with no end in sight. We need 100 percent federal support for COBRA extensions preserving laid-off workers’ health insurance, as well as free COVID-19 treatment.

5. Keep America competitive by hiring people to build infrastructure — Our schools and hospitals, transportation, energy and telecommunications systems — are key to the immediate job creation we need and to our long-term competitiveness. Communities of color suffer from crumbling infrastructure, and it needs updated and fixed now.

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America needs action on many fronts to address the racial disparities in this nation. We believe America should adopt these economic essentials to help not just African American workers, but the entire working class of this nation.

Charlie Wishman is president of the Iowa Federation of Labor AFL-CIO.

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