For Immediate Release
Black Workers and Labor Leaders Urge US Senator Thom Tillis to Support the HEROES Act
JUNE 17, 2020 (RALEIGH, NC) – Today is a national day of action for America’s labor movement. In “Workers First Caravans” rolling out across the country, union members are raising their voice to call for racial and economic justice, including this morning on a press call with Black frontline workers and labor leaders in North Carolina about the continued need for elected officials to address the triple threats of COVID-19, mass unemployment, and structural racism and to demand that Senator Tillis support the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act.
“The wage gap between white and black workers is the largest it’s been in 20 years,” said MaryBe McMillan, president of the NC State AFL-CIO. “This racism in our economy means that people of color are too often underpaid, underemployed, or unemployed, and not surprisingly, it means that more Black and brown people live in poverty.”
McMillan called for policy solutions to combat racial and economic inequality that are in line with the AFL-CIO’s Five Economic Essentials, including keeping frontline workers safe, protecting vital public services, and providing employment opportunities. “Most urgently, we need the HEROES Act and other legislation to deal with the impacts of COVID, especially on communities of color,” McMillan said.
“The HEROES Act would keep frontline workers safe by requiring OSHA to pass an emergency infectious disease standard and by mandating that employers provide proper training and protective equipment,” McMillan said. “In addition, it would provide hazard pay to frontline workers and provide needed funding to our postal service, our public schools, our states, and our cities.”
Black workers have contracted and died from coronavirus at much higher rates in North Carolina and elsewhere due to long standing inequities and the prevalence of Black workers in essential industries, often working multiple jobs for low pay and without health insurance, explained William Munn, a health policy analyst with the NC Justice Center. “That’s why we’re calling on Senator Tillis to support our essential workers in this time of unprecedented crisis,” Munn said.
Two Black frontline workers, Sherita McCullers and Ivy Jones, also spoke out for the need of structural change.
McCullers is a GoRaleigh Transit Operator and said she worries about bringing the disease home to her family. Her godmother died because of the virus and her brother was recently admitted into the hospital with COVID-19.
“I know COVID-19 is real, and it’s not going away,” McCullers said. “So I’m asking Senator Thom Tillis, we need to keep all frontline workers safe and secure. We need you to do your job and support the HEROES Act.”
Ivy Jones is a postal service worker. The United States Postal Service has been a critical resource for American communities for over 200 years. She said the institution has provided many employment opportunities for Black Americans, and privatization or allowing the USPS to become insolvent could have disastrous effects.
“Black women make up nearly 18 percent of the public workforce, or about 1.5 million workers,” Jones said. “The current administration wants us to go backwards, but Black people won’t go backwards, the labor movement won’t go backwards. We refuse to go backwards.”
Commenting on the over 1,200 people in our state who have died from COVID-19, Jocelyn Bryant, a retired AT&T worker and volunteer community activist in Greensboro, said, “Most of them were retirees like me. How can we pretend it’s over when people are still dying?”
President McMillan ended the press call by calling all union members and allies to flood Senator Tillis’ office with calls to support the HEROES Act.
“Frontline workers are heroes, black workers are heroes,” she said. “It’s time that Senator Tillis and other elected officials recognize that and pass this legislation. It’s also time to address the economic inequality and systemic racism that plagues this country and causes constant pain for our Black brothers and sisters. We as a country and as a people are better than this.”
Recorded video of the press call can be viewed on our Facebook page at this link.
Contact: Jeremy Sprinkle, 336-255-2711 // firstname.lastname@example.org.
The North Carolina State AFL-CIO is the largest association of unions of working people in North Carolina, representing over a hundred thousand members, working together for good jobs, safe workplaces, workers’ rights, consumer protections, and quality public services on behalf of ALL working people. PO Box 10805, Raleigh, NC 27605.