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Unions see big new worker interest amid coronavirus threats

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Coronavirus is exposing the inequities in the U.S. economy, posing incredible danger to the most vulnerable workers. Republicans and employers are eager to take advantage of this moment of high unemployment and risk, but workers are also ready to try to wring some added power out of the crisis.

“In literally a day, grocery store workers have gone from ‘just a job,’ to having a job that’s incredibly stressful, demanding and scary,” AFL-CIO policy director Damon Silvers told Politico. “The nature of the job has been transformed. Employees are saying, ‘If I’m going to risk my life, how about paying me more?’”

The attention to the importance of essential workers has helped those workers—many of them in low-wage jobs—see the importance they’ve had all along, and expect that other people will see it, too.

“Without your Dollar General or your Amazon warehouse workers, Americans wouldn’t be fed,” one local union leader said. “Maybe these workers will start to understand the value they have for society, because for decades they’ve been told they have no value and that they’re replaceable.”

That’s translating to a rush of calls to union locals from workers asking how they can join a union. “I was just talking to a dental hygienist who wanted to know how she can get a union started,” the Chicago Federation of Labor’s Bob Reiter said. 

Democrats are pushing to set up a victims’ fund for essential workers, but what workers need more than compensation for being victims is power in the workplace: unions, strong laws, workplace safety oversight, and did I mention unions? (Many of those being policies Democrats also support, but need to see as part of this moment as well, and fight for them.)

This blog originally appeared at Daily Kos on June 15, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson has been a Daily Kos contributing editor since December 2006. Full-time staff since 2011, currently assistant managing editor.


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