Letter: As pandemic continues, keep working Minnesotans safe
Despite the fact Walz’s executive orders are keeping workers safe, Republicans in the Minnesota House and Senate continue to stage votes to end the peacetime emergency without any concrete plans or policies to keep workers safe.
The nearly year-long COVID-19 pandemic has impacted nearly every working Minnesotan. Thousands of workers saw their jobs disappear, some were forced to work from home while caring for their children, and many more workers continue to report in person to do essential frontline work in health care, grocery stores, food service and production, transportation, and countless other industries.
While this critical work has continued, countless Minnesotans have depended on Gov. Tim Walz’s executive orders to stay safe at work and pay the bills. While the vaccine has provided a light at the end of the tunnel, we still face many more months before we can declare victory over COVID-19. That’s why it’s so disheartening to see some state lawmakers continue to call for a premature end to the peacetime emergency while we’re still fighting this pandemic.
Contrary to the noise that a small minority of people continue to make, Minnesota’s peacetime emergency and Walz’s executive orders are about more than what’s open and closed. For example, the statewide mask requirement is protecting health care workers from being overwhelmed with COVID patients and protecting all workers who interact with the public on a daily basis. Furthermore, because of Walz’s executive actions, many working Minnesotans who lost work due to COVID-19 and would otherwise be ineligible for unemployment insurance became eligible to help stay afloat. Most of the protections that workers have been depending on for the last year would disappear if lawmakers decided to end the peacetime emergency.
Since the executive order allowing Minnesotans to report and refuse to work under unsafe working conditions without retaliation, the Minnesota AFL-CIO has been fielding reports from workers who don’t have the protection of a union contract and connecting them with state OSHA investigators. We’ve received reports of employers failing to produce any COVID-19 mitigation plans, refusing to provide workers with masks and other PPE, not observing social distancing, disciplining workers who miss work due to COVID exposure, and other unsafe situations. In most cases, the Department of Labor & Industry intervened to make sure these employers fixed the problems and workers were able to safely return to their jobs. Had it not been for Walz’s executive orders, these workers would have had to choose between unsafe working conditions or losing their jobs.
Despite the fact Walz’s executive orders are keeping workers safe, Republicans in the Minnesota House and Senate continue to stage votes to end the peacetime emergency without any concrete plans or policies to keep workers safe. We can only assume they are either playing games to score political points or genuinely don’t care about working Minnesotans’ safety. Both scenarios demonstrate a complete lack of leadership during a pandemic that has killed more than 6,000 Minnesotans.
Unlike the GOP’s months of political theater, these safety protections didn’t come out of thin air. Workers spoke up, demanded safer conditions, and Walz listened to their concerns and took action. The workers of Minnesota’s Labor movement are committed to protecting and expanding these worker safety protections – both for the remainder of the pandemic and beyond. We will not be deterred by PR stunts or wealthy conservative interests who put their own profits ahead of worker safety and well-being. We will oppose any attempt to put workers at risk by prematurely ending the peacetime emergency.
Bill McCarthy is president of the Minnesota AFL-CIO, the state federation of labor representing over 300,000 members of over 1,000 local unions throughout Minnesota.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Forum's editorial board nor Forum ownership.