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“Be True Patriots”: NC Workers Demand Senators Tillis and Burr Pass HEROES Act

Jeremy Sprinkle
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For Immediate Release

“Be True Patriots”: NC Workers Demand Senators Tillis and Burr Pass HEROES Act

RALEIGH, NC (July 28, 2020) Working people from across North Carolina are demanding that the U.S. Senate pass the HEROES Act, a comprehensive coronavirus relief package that would confront the three crises facing America: a public health pandemic, an economic free fall, and long-standing structural racism. Today in an online town hall and press call organized by the state AFL-CIO, members and leaders from unions of working people in North Carolina called on Senator Thom Tillis to support the essential role of working people in this pandemic by passing the HEROES Act, legislation which the U.S. House passed on May 15th to protect the lives and livelihoods of working Americans still grappling with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Unfortunately, Senator Tillis declined an invitation to participate in the town hall.

“I’m not surprised because Sen. Tillis has consistently turned a deaf ear to the pleas to pass this critical legislation,” said state AFL-CIO president MaryBe McMillan. “I wish Sen. Tillis were here so I could ask him: What in the world is the Senate waiting for?  Why are they talking about a relief package that is just a drop in the bucket, just a fraction of the help that working families need?”

The plan introduced by Senate Majority Leaders Mitch McConnell this week stands in sharp contrast to the HEROES Act. It provides $0 for state and local governments, $0 for the postal service, $0 for hazard pay for frontline workers, $0 in nutrition assistance, $0 for the uninsured and under-insured. Most egregiously, the McConnell Plan fails to extend the $600 weekly enhanced federal unemployment insurance benefits that have proven to be a lifeline for workers who are jobless through no fault of their own because of the pandemic. 

“Fear is a real thing for our workers,” said Lynn Shoemaker, a member of IATSE Local 491 in Wilmington representing workers in the shuttered film and television industry, many of whom have depleted their savings and even tapped their retirement benefits to make ends meet. “Our folks can’t go back to work until it’s safe, and the [coronavirus] numbers are going in the wrong direction. I don’t know anyone who can survive on state benefits alone.” 

“This will push many people into poverty,” said William Samuel, director of government affairs at the national AFL-CIO, of the Senate’s failure to extend the $600 per week in federally enhanced unemployment benefits, which expired for North Carolinians on July 25. “It’s also going to take a great toll on the economy.” Since implemented under the CARES Act, the federal supplement has pumped $800 billion into the economy by allowing recipients to pay for food and necessities, thereby keeping other people employed.

Unlike the McConnell Plan, the HEROES Act would continue enhanced federal unemployment benefits. The HEROES Act would also provide money for state and local governments facing an unprecedented budget crisis from declining tax revenue, money to keep the U.S. Postal Service solvent, and it would create an emergency temporary infectious disease standard to let employers know what they can and must do to keep their employees safe--something federal OSHA and the North Carolina Department of Labor have refused to do. “As a result, tens of thousands of health care professionals, grocery workers, transit workers, meat packing employees have died because their employers have not been protecting them from the virus,” said Samuel.

The HEROES Act would also extend the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), participation in which required employers like those in the airline industry to keep tens of thousands of workers on the job, including thousands of people working in North Carolina. With PPP set to expire, last week American Airlines started mailing out layoff notices.

“I’m here today because I am a single-parent, and I’d love to keep my job,” said Timmia Wiley, a member of CWA Local 3640, which represents workers at American Airlines in Winston-Salem. “My job allows me to make a living wage, take care of my family, and provide tutoring for my daughter who has a learning disability.” There are 300 people in Wiley’s call center who received a layoff notice. “We’re all mothers. We’re all working class people. We’re all in the same boat.”

“We believe in science when we need an operation. We should believe in science when there’s a disease spreading,” said Essie Hogue, who is a nurse at the Department of Veterans Affairs and serves as president of AFGE Local 1738, which represents V.A. workers across North Carolina. The HEROES Act would provide funding for masks and other personal protective equipment necessary to keep healthcare workers safe. “Everybody needs a mask. Everybody.”

“COVID is a daily issue for our members,” said Tommy Pintacuda with Teamsters Local 61 in Asheville, which represents essential workers at UPS. “We’re out there getting the job done, on the front lines, face-to-face with customers on a daily basis and moving packages in warehouses--including packages that contain COVID tests from health departments.” Pintacuda credits his union for being able to secure sanitation stations, equipment cleaning, PPE, and social distancing to keep drivers and warehouse workers safe. “For the far too many workers who don’t have a union, the HEROES Act is a necessity to provide these protections to all workers.”

Closing out the town hall, McMillan said working people can’t wait any longer for the U.S. Senate to pass the HEROES Act. “Each day is potentially a matter of life and death for frontline workers who need PPE and an infectious disease standard to ensure their safety,” said McMillan. “Each day, millions of unemployed workers face impossible decisions like do I pay the rent or buy groceries. Each day the Senate does not act is another day of needless suffering for working people.”

“We’re all in the same boat,” added Wiley. “That’s why we’re calling on Senators Thom Tillis and Richard Burr to be true patriots and pass the HEROES Act.”

Contact: Jeremy Sprinkle, Communications Director, 336-255-2711 / [email protected]


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.