By Mario Cilento, New York State AFL-CIO President | March 29, 2020

The only thing welcome in the statement against worker protections from business leaders published on this website is they had the good sense not to thank the hardworking New Yorkers currently on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic. At the very least, they’re consistent in their disregard for the struggles of working people.

Although coy in framing the issue, they are advocating for insurance carriers to avoid paying workers’ compensation to those who as a result of their selfless service are getting sick and, in some cases, dying as a result of COVID-19. We’re talking about health care workers treating the sick; transit workers keeping people providing essential services moving; utility workers keeping us powered and online; construction workers building temporary hospitals; food and retail workers making sure we’re fed and have the medicine and supplies we need; first responders and law enforcement keeping us safe; and countless others performing essential services.

They’re also advocating against requiring that developers and contractors pay workers area standard wages and benefits, when government subsidizes their development. Protecting their bottom-line at the cost of the workers actually doing the job is their priority.

Keep in mind in both these cases, workers are not being “given” something to which they are not entitled. They’re being deprived what they should already be receiving. Workers’ comp insurance carriers should be providing health care and wage replacement to people injured on the job, but they know they can get away with denying claims and making workers jump through hoops. Contractors and developers know that the constitution provides prevailing wage on publicly funded projects, but they’ve figured out the loopholes to avoid paying it.

You see, they must be students of history and the adage of never wasting a good crisis; it’s an opportunity to further tilt the scales in their favor.

Well, we are also students of history, and have learned austerity is not the path forward. In response to the great depression, FDR enacted the new deal with robust worker protections. He launched the most expansive government stimulus project directly putting people to work, ushering in decades of prosperity.

By contrast, in response to the Great Recession of 2008, federal, state, and local level governments enacted austerity plans and the recovery that followed has only benefited the wealthy. Wages stagnated and many people slipped through the cracks.

Keeping money in the pockets of insurance companies and business owners will not stimulate the economy. Providing needed resources to workers and their families will. Workers in need do not have the capacity to save – they must spend and stimulate the economy.

And, we must go further. We must ask the wealthiest among us – those who have experienced all the gains in the economy in the last decade – to pay their fair share in taxes, so that we can protect the very services that frontline workers are now providing. If that imperative is not clear to people now, it never will be.

The path through this crisis and beyond is protecting, assisting and investing in working people; that must be our focus as a state if we care about the well-being of all New Yorkers.

The New York State AFL-CIO is a federation of 3,000 unions, representing 2.5 million members, retirees and their families with one goal; to raise the standard of living and quality of life of all working people. We keep New York State Union Strong by fighting for better wages, better benefits and better working conditions. For more information on the Labor Movement in New York, visit www.nysaflcio.org.