Op-Ed: In disaster, fair shot policies take on new dimension

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In the 87th session of the Texas Legislature, the Texas AFL-CIO will fight for a fair shot for all working families to get ahead. It’s what we do, and it’s always a steep uphill climb.

This time, as the longest declared disaster in our state’s history lays waste to day-to-day assumptions, worker power takes on new meaning. The pandemic has fully exposed the neglect of issues faced by working families in this state, including worker safety, job security and health care. As the legislature convenes in January 2021, the priorities of the labor movement are shaped by our call to honor the sacrifices and the commitment of Texas workers and to pass policies that place the needs of working families first.

The next Legislature needs to honor frontline work that has kept our society going by considering wage policy, workplace benefits, and myriad matters of racial justice and economic inequality in a new light.

That includes unemployment insurance. Nearly 4 million Texans who lost jobs through no fault of their own have applied for Unemployment Insurance benefits since the pandemic began. Decades of neglect and stinginess left the Texas Workforce Commission unprepared for the onslaught.

Despite heroic efforts by TWC employees, workers waited weeks or months just to reach an agency that was woefully out of touch. The Texas AFL-CIO has put forward a plan to fix the system so that it is responsive to the needs of unemployed workers. Despite leading the nation in uninsured residents, Texas stubbornly refuses to accept tens of billions of federal dollars to expand health coverage for the working poor. Instead, state leaders, incredibly, are still pursuing a lawsuit to kill the Affordable Care Act. The labor movement will fight this session to expand Medicaid and bring health insurance to millions of Texans.

The pandemic has reinforced the notion that no workers should be forced to choose between supporting their families and staying home to recuperate or take care of a loved one. We will continue our fight for paid sick leave this session, both at the state level, and also to keep state officials from undermining local protections.

We will also be fighting to protect our abilities to have our voices heard via the ballot box. The legislature should expand voting rights, not restrict them.

Finally, we will fight for all Texans to have a fair shot at achieving their dreams. That includes a fully funded public education system, access to job training and apprenticeships, a living wage, a fair immigration and criminal justice system, and the ability to come together to better our wages and working conditions through our unions.

In the pandemic, we have seen, yet again, that building a better Texas requires an understanding that what’s good for workers is good for Texas.

Rick Levy is the president of the Texas AFL-CIO

Photo: Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

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