Skip to main content

Unions Condemn Chamber of Commerce for Defense Production Act Opposition

Photo Credit: Getty / Scott Olson
Unions Condemn Chamber of Commerce for Defense Production Act Opposition
By Pete Levine ·

The leaders of the nation’s four largest public service unions sent a letter Sunday condemning the U.S. Chamber of Commerce for lobbying President Donald Trump against invoking the Defense Production Act to order companies to ramp up production of life-saving personal protective equipment for workers battling COVID-19.

Our nation’s welfare depends on the front-line workers who are exposing themselves to grave risks from COVID-19. However, nurses, school janitors, EMTs, and many other workers, are facing frightening shortages of the personal protective equipment (PPE) they need to do their jobs safely.

The letter was written by AFSCME President Lee Saunders, SEIU President Mary Kay Henry, AFT President Randi Weingarten and NEA President Lily Eskelsen García. The four unions together represent 8 million workers in health care, service, education and public service occupations.

The 1950 Defense Production Act (DPA), gives the president the power to prioritize the distribution of existing supplies and accelerate the production of certain products, like the ventilators used to treat the sickest patients with coronavirus and other serious illnesses, as well as scarce PPE.

However, the chamber has lobbied Trump not to invoke the DPA because, according the union letter, the powerful business lobby “puts bottom-line profits and adherence to some mistaken principle of capitalism ahead of the safety of American workers and the public at large.”

“In times of extreme national crisis, we must put politics and profits aside, and we must come together to do what’s best for people: that means producing and distributing more equipment, quickly, by any means necessary,” the union letter said. “Lives literally depend on it.”

The letter painted a stark picture that front-line workers are facing in their fight against COVID-19: “Right now, nurses are assessing high-risk patients, school janitors are deep cleaning classrooms, teachers’ aides are delivering meals to children at home, home care providers are caring for the most vulnerable, public service workers are maintaining essential services, and cashiers are scanning groceries – all at greater risk of contracting the coronavirus without enough PPE to lessen exposure.”

Trump has invoked the DPA to compel GM to manufacture ventilators. However, a far broader use the DPA must be authorized.

“Every day we delay the production and distribution of vital PPE is costing lives and livelihoods and may drive the eventual collapse of businesses, from Main Street to Wall Street,” the letter said.

Learn more about what AFSCME is doing to support workers during the coronavirus pandemic and read stories of those who are on the front lines of this unprecedented crisis.

Related Posts