A time for solidarity: Put workers and public health ahead of corporate giveaways

  • Published on April 28th, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has reinforced that we are only as safe as our most vulnerable neighbors. If grocery clerks aren’t provided with personal protective equipment or paid sick days, workers and shoppers alike risk infection every time they go to the store. If families are unable to wash their hands because their water has been shut off, whole communities are more likely to fall ill. And if the migrant farmworkers whom our agricultural system depends on get sick, we are all at risk of going hungry.

sierra club coronavirus solidarity

By Michael Brune
The Sierra Club

The COVID-19 relief bills passed by Congress offered desperately needed aid to many people, families, small businesses, hospitals, and testing providers. As congressional Republicans pretended we could heal this country through corporate giveaways, Democratic leadership fought to put workers and public health first.

But as a safety net, the COVID relief legislation Congress passed is still far too patchy. Many didn’t qualify for direct aid or haven’t been able to access it quickly enough to meet immediate needs. Even if they have been lucky enough to receive one, a single $1,200 check is far from enough for the millions of suddenly unemployed workers. With tens of thousands lining up at food banks, Congress failed to secure needed funding for food assistance programs. These bills didn’t require that the companies receiving aid provide paid sick leave, adhere to high-road labor standards, or clean up their carbon footprints. And all four bills failed to protect families against evictions and utility shutoffs — leaving those who can’t afford to pay in greater danger of contracting the virus.

All of us will be better off if we have a safety net that doesn’t let anyone fall through the cracks. The next COVID relief bill offers a crucial opportunity to repair the holes left by previous legislation and ensure that everyone has what they need to make it through this pandemic. We need more direct relief, expanded unemployment benefits, and measures to halt evictions, foreclosures, and utility shutoffs. And we need paid sick leave that covers all workers, as well as personal protective equipment for all essential workers — from transit workers to nurses. Congress’s work to help our country recover from this devastating pandemic is far from over.

This is a moment for our Sierra Club community to be in solidarity with movements working for economic, racial, and health justice. To defeat the powerful interests that seek to put profits before people, we need a truly big-tent movement. The only way to build a movement like that is by working with our partners, and that’s especially true at a time like this. We’ve collaborated with more than 1000 organizations to organize around a set of principles for a “People’s Bailout.” Nearly 100 members of Congress have signed on to a letter that reflects these principles, which shows just how loudly our voices resonate in the halls of power when we speak as one.

Every crisis is both a challenge and an opportunity. The decisions we make in the coming weeks as we respond to this one will shape our future for years to come. We don’t just want to restart the economy and return to a normal that wasn’t working for many people — including the low-wage gig workers now classified as essential, the families with no running water in their homes, and the undocumented immigrants whose situation was economically precarious even before the stimulus checks skipped them.

Our big-tent movement is working toward an economy that puts people and planet first. We are determined to put the millions of people left unemployed by the COVID crisis back to work in family-sustaining jobs. These must be jobs that benefit our communities: things like replacing lead pipes, restoring forests and wetlands, and building out green infrastructure. This is our chance to offer millions of people a path away from the jobs that treated them as disposable before this pandemic — and promptly disposed of them when it hit.

We can use our response to this crisis to mitigate the climate crisis as well. That means providing the hard-hit clean energy and electric vehicle sectors with the support they need to continue employing millions of Americans — and rejecting any bailouts for the already highly subsidized oil and gas industry.

We know that switching to clean energy will be an essential part of ending the climate crisis, but it’s only one part of the solution. We must also decarbonize our transportation sector and our buildings (including public housing), and reorient our agricultural system toward regenerative farming. If Congress invests in this crucial work now, it will be exactly the stimulus needed by a nation in the depths of a brutal economic crisis.

We need every Sierra Club member and supporter to join us under that big tent. Help build the People’s Bailout movement by telling Congress we need a COVID-19 stimulus that puts workers, health, the environment, and our democracy first – and that brings us closer to the future we deserve.

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