President Edwards' requests for Labor COVID-19 to the Maryland General Assembly
Dear Honorable President and Speaker:
The Maryland State and D.C AFL-CIO is being proactive and leaning hard into the issues affecting workers in Maryland during this COVID-19 health crisis. We continue to have extensive conversations with our affiliated unions discerning the challenges that our members and all workers face, and developing plans to keep workers and their families safe.
The impact of this crisis will be felt be everyone and is inevitably impacting workers’ lives. The health crisis is extremely disruptive to hourly workers and low-wage workers. As large events and gatherings are cancelled, travel is limited with significantly less people using public transportation and going through our airports and train stations, universities and schools are closed, and businesses urge their employees to stay home, thousands of workers in our state are currently laid off, thousands more are suffering dramatically reduced pay because their shifts have been cancelled.
What all of this means is NO WORK and NO PAYCHECK. This sudden and dramatic loss of income makes workers and their families extremely vulnerable. They are worried about paying for food, rent, mortgages and medicine. They need financial relief so that the health crisis does not evolve into a lingering financial crisis for these workers, their families and the communities where they live. They also need access to free health care now so they are not deciding between going to work sick and contaminating others because they cannot lose a day’s pay or worse, lose their job.
During a crisis we think of the health and safety of emergency and public safety first responders, hospital staff, workers in 24/7 facilities, nursing homes and other medical services. But we are not thinking of the essential work being done and the risks to the unseen workers cooking the meals, cleaning the facility, washing the laundry and a multitude of other jobs. There are thousands of workers in the grocery stores, pharmacies and other retail that are more vulnerable to exposure than other workers especially during these times when people are stocking in supplies.
Additionally, there are also thousands of State essential/mission critical employees working at full capacity to serve the public and in constant contact daily with new clients. This is also true of county and city employees who must continue to provide services. Vulnerable child and adults must be visited in their homes. With the thousands of workers laid off and the expansion of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Plan and Medical Assistance Plan, significantly more people are applying for assistance at already unstaffed Departments of Social Services in each county. These state workers must report to work to serve the residents. Unemployment Insurance applications are increasing and these workers must process benefits timely. In every corner of the state, workers’ lives and livelihoods are being suddenly impacted.
While the Governor announced a State of Emergency, as I write this no State Department has issued a detailed written plan for how they will continue operations while protecting their employees and how they will mitigate the spread of the virus to the public or their employees in their facilities that are open. It is still business as usual in most locations around our state.
With the exponential speed this crisis is developing it is difficult to anticipate the totality of needs of workers and their families. Bold and decisive action is necessary to prevent the public-health crisis, COVID-19, from turning into a full-blown financial catastrophe for millions of Marylanders. We have identified several concrete actions that the Maryland General Assembly should take to protect Marylanders now and from the lingering affects this crisis yields.
We ask you to consider emergency legislation or other action to:
- Provide COVID-19 testing free of charge for any Marylander who is symptomatic and requests it.
- Provide full paid sick and childcare leave to all impacted workers for the duration of the time that workers are forced to be off their jobs.
- Provide a hotline staffed by medical professionals so that people who do not have primary doctors or nurses can receive clear health instructions so that testing and other home services can be coordinated.
- Provide free broadband internet services so that all students (K-12 and college) and residents without service can be connected for school work and emergency communication.
- Protect workers from disciplinary actions or dismissal for being absent due to illness or family illness due to COVID-19. Encourage employers to expand or relax leave policies so that workers can recuperate and not spread the virus because they are scared of losing their income and job.
- Extend Unemployment Insurance Benefits by:
○ Waiving the waiting period to collect unemployment benefits.
○ Waiving the “job search” requirement for unemployment benefits.
○ Temporarily extending UI from 26 weeks to 30 weeks for people reaching the maximum during the COVID-19 crisis.
Establish a moratorium on:
○ All evictions and foreclosures.
○ All utility cut-offs – gas, electric, water, oil deliveries
- Immediately require that all State offices:
○ Receive a thorough cleaning either by State contracted cleaning firms or informing private property cleaning contractors to increase use of disinfectant cleaning and especially focus on common touch points and continue this level of cleaning daily.
○ Equip all offices with hand sanitizer, soap and other disinfectant supplies for full use by employees and the public accessing the buildings.
○ Equip staff having contact with the public or maintaining public facilities with health and safety equipment and training for screening potentially infected people including non-touch thermometers with detailed training of screeners.
○ Clearly post each Department’s and DBM’s written Operational COVID-19 Plan including who are essential workers, what is and who can utilize telework, emergency numbers to contact managers, what to do if you have contact with infected person, and other policy/protocols specific to each office/agency.
- Request each State Department to submit to the General Assembly leadership, its detailed written COVID-19 Operational Plan.
This list is not exhaustive of every eventuality that will face workers and their families, but it will ease the pain of what we know is coming. We implore you to act on these measures now, to gird our State against the far worse outcomes that will certainly happen should we fail to act boldly in this moment.
Thank you for your leadership and commitment to the health, well-being and safety of all Marylanders.
Donna S. Edwards