With coronavirus spreading in Texas, labor unions demand paid sick leave from Abbott


Labor groups representing hundreds of thousands of Texas workers held a press conference in Austin on Tuesday, asking state leaders and businesses to put the health of workers first during the state’s emerging coronavirus outbreak.

“This virus really points out the consequences of the decisions we’ve made in this state,” Texas AFL-CIO President Rick Levy told reporters, criticizing state lawmakers for not expanding Medicaid through the free federal dollars provided by the Affordable Care Act. 

Levy went on to demand a number of solutions from state and federal leaders that could help working-class families during the outbreak, including expanding access to paid sick days for those exposed to coronavirus, offering free testing for the virus, and the waiving of “work-search” requirements and waiting period requirements to increase access to unemployment insurance. 

In particular, Levy asked Gov. Greg Abbott, Attorney General Ken Paxton and the Texas Public Policy Foundation to drop their lawsuit opposing paid sick leave in Austin and San Antonio, where their court challenge has stalled the implementation of a paid sick leave ordinances. 

“No Texans should have to choose between going to work sick so they can pay their bills and staying home without pay to keep our communities safe,” Levy said in a statement. “In the case of the coronavirus, that bad choice could be a matter of life and death.”

The demands from the Texas AFL-CIO were backed up by other major unions, including National Nurses United, Service Employees International Union and Texas American Federation of Teachers.

Joe Montemayor, an organizing coordinator with Texas State Employees Union, said during the press conference that not getting paid while sick at home amounted to an economic death penalty for many public employees who are some of the most at-risk workers because of their regular contact with the public.

“We’re asking Governor Abbott to enact emergency leave for employees to ensure they don’t have to come to work while sick because unfortunately, state workers are so low-paid they have to work all the time,” Montemayor said.

So far, 13 cases of coronavirus have been confirmed throughout Texas according to Texas Health and Human Services. The state health agency is advising Texans to wash their hands often, avoid touching the face, and to stay home when sick. 

Photo: Drew Anthony Smith/Getty Images

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