Trumka praises workers, slams Trump and profiteers on coronavirus pandemic
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka | AP

WASHINGTON—Workers, union and non-union, are responding magnificently to the coronavirus pandemic, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka says. Business and GOP President Donald Trump are another matter.

“Workers of every stripe are supporting the sick, the isolated and the vulnerable,” he said in a March 19 Facebook telecast. “Even in the face of this emergency, working people are showing no crisis is too great and no task is too small.”

“Our values are needed more today and more than ever before,” Trumka declared. “We can rebuild America and we will,” once the immediate coronavirus pandemic health care crisis has run its course, he said.

But workers need the federal government to step in and provide both guidance and supplies, and they’re not getting that from GOP President Donald Trump, Trumka asserted. And he warned business against taking advantage of the pandemic to both line their pockets and trash their workers.

Trumka spoke as Congress started work on a $1 trillion-plus emergency spending package designed to help the economy – and workers – against the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

One centerpiece of that package would be $1,000 checks to every U.S. adult, and $500 to every child, to especially help workers who have lost their jobs due closures in a wide range of industries, from restaurants and hotels to airlines and construction.

The plant closures already show up in federal jobless data. The Labor Department’s weekly tally of new unemployment benefits claims jumped by one-third — to almost 270,000 – in one week, and that was before big closures really started to hit.

The initial $8.3 billion anti-coronavirus bill, which Trump signed March 18, also includes extended and expanded jobless benefits, another move Trumka endorsed.

The virus, officially called COVID-19, has now affected hundreds of thousands of people worldwide, not counting those who are carriers and don’t know it (asymptomatic).

But workers, especially health care workers, face particular shortages, of N95 masks and respirators to protect themselves as they treat coronavirus victims, of hospital beds to put those victims in, and of a vaccine against the virus.

Nurses in Ohio “are making their own masks out of hospital gowns,” Trumka said.

Marshaling and providing resources to protect workers and aid victims is where Trump has fallen down on the job, Trumka said. He particularly faulted the president’s rush to deregulate everything – including Trump’s shelving of an Occupational Safety and Health Administration planned rule forcing health care workplaces to craft and implement anti-viral protection plans.

But that end of OSHA’s rule-making “is part of his pattern. Instead of strengthening worker protections, he’s dismantling them.”

“They were woefully unprepared” Trumka said of Trump and his crew, before demanding the president “put someone in charge to make sure the national stockpile” of N95 masks and respirators and other protective equipment gets to the nurses and other health care workers.

“We’ve endured 9/11” and the Great Recession, Trumka said. Now the nation “must come together in the face of a lawless president who’s a threat to our lives and to our livelihoods” by his inaction against the pandemic.

Trumka also put corporate honchos on notice, too. He pointed out they’ve been using past profits to line their own pockets. That, he declared, must stop.

When those firms get money from the trillion-dollar aid bill, they must use it on workers, not themselves, he said.

“No layoffs, no wage cuts, no benefits cuts, no stock buybacks, no bonuses. No way, no how, no more,” he emphasized.

If past is prologue, the corporations will give workers the back of their hands. One lobby, for independent petroleum refiners, is already using the coronavirus and its interruption of shipping to lobby Trump to waive U.S. maritime laws – the Jones Act – which mandate that cargoes carried between U.S. ports must be on U.S.-flagged, U.S.-crewed ships. Most of those ships are unionized.

And after the 9/11 attacks, then Chamber of Commerce President Thomas J. Donohue pledged his member firms would not use national unity as a cover for anti-union attacks. He also promised to crack down on businesses that did. But the next week, Oklahoma businesses launched a successful referendum to make Oklahoma a right-to-work state – and the Chamber did nothing.


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.