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On the Front Lines of the Coronavirus: AFSCME Members Keep Us Safe

NIAID Director Anthony Fauci talks to reporters about the global coronavirus outbreak. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
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By AFSCME Staff ·

Like firefighters rushing towards a burning building or first responders at the scene of a mass shooting, public service workers are our communities’ first line of defense.

The public health emergency created by the spread of the coronavirus in the United States is no different. As schools and universities shut down, businesses urge their employees to work from home, and large events and gatherings are canceled, public service workers like custodians, hospital staff, nursing home employees and more are on the front lines of fighting the pandemic.

“While some people are being told to stay home, they’re telling the janitors to go in, to clean the bathrooms,” J. Michael Downey, president of AFSCME Rhode Island Council 94, told the Providence Journal.

Downey added that he would like to see custodial workers across the state, at least 500 of whom are members of AFSCME, get the respect they deserve from their employers.

“They’re going beyond the job, and it would be nice to be recognized,” he said.

Oscar Rosa, a housekeeper in the dining services department at Rhode Island College and a member of AFSCME Local 2878 (Council 94), told the Journal he’s “just a little worried” about his exposure to the virus, which has sickened nearly 140,000 people worldwide and killed more than 5,000.

“I try to kill all the germs,” he said.

AFSCME members who are on the front lines of fighting the coronavirus must do so in the absence of leadership at the federal level. From the beginning of this public health crisis, President Donald Trump has failed to take it seriously and respond accordingly.

AFSCME President Lee Saunders on Thursday called on Congress to protect the health and economic security of working families by passing the Families First Coronavirus Response Act.

“During this public health emergency, Americans are counting on their elected leaders to act quickly and responsibly,” he said in a statement. “The emergency legislation proposed today by Speaker Pelosi will provide needed funding to support state and local workers, who are stepping up to combat the coronavirus (COVID-19) and protect the health and economic security of their communities.”

The bill would, among other things, cover the cost of testing for the pathogen, establish a fund to provide paid medical and family leave for workers, and invest in unemployment insurance. It would allow those who feel sick to stay home and get tested without going without a paycheck.

“This administration has abdicated its responsibility to respond clearly and decisively to the coronavirus, repeatedly failing to provide the public with clear and timely information,” Saunders said. “By contrast, public service workers – as they always have when our nation has faced danger and uncertainty – are stepping up, often putting themselves at risk to keep us safe.”

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