U.S. Markets closed

Coronavirus response from big companies has been 'shameful,' union leader says

Max Zahn
Health care workers tend to patients at the drive-in center at ProHealth Care on March 18, 2020 in Jericho, New York. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Wealthy companies, not just the U.S. government, should be held accountable for providing coronavirus relief — the Service Employees International Union, one of the nation’s largest labor unions, said on Wednesday.

On Wednesday, as the Trump administration and Congress weighed coronavirus relief measures that aim to soften the blow to the U.S. economy and provide assistance for everyday Americans, the Service Employees International Union — or SEIU — assailed financial support sought by large companies since the outbreak and demanded corporations play a central role in ensuring Americans can meet their healthcare and financial needs, while remaining safe on the job.

“It’s not the responsibility of government and taxpayers alone to respond to this crisis,” said Mary Kay Henry, the president of the nearly 2 million member union that represents healthcare workers, in a conference call with reporters Wednesday. “So far what we’ve seen from the biggest corporations is nothing short of shameful.”

“The COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare deep cracks in our system,” she added. “Let’s be clear: This health crisis has not caused those problems — it has exposed them.”

The demands follow a wave of criticism from workers and top labor unions over a coronavirus relief bill, set to become law, which requires employers to provide sick and medical leave for workers affected by the coronavirus but excludes large companies from the requirements, leaving 59 million workers reliant on additional coronavirus leave protections voluntarily provided by some but not all of the nation’s top employers.

An additional $850 billion coronavirus relief package backed by the Trump administration includes direct cash payments to Americans as well as roughly $50 billion in loans for major airlines, among other measures. The proposal follows a call from Boeing on Tuesday for financial assistance of at least $60 billion for the aerospace industry.

rUNITED STATES - APRIL 11: Mary Kay Henry, president of the SEIU, speaks during a panel discussion on labor at the House Democrats' 2019 Issues Conference at the Lansdowne Resort and Spa in Leesburg, Va. on Thursday, April 11, 2019. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

“Multi-billion dollar airlines are demanding multi-billion dollar bailouts without making clear what they’ll do for workers,” Henry says. “There must be no blank checks for corporations this time. Leading industries, from fast food to airlines to hospitals, must act to protect workers.”

On the call with members of the press, Henry presented a wide-ranging set of demands for large companies that includes guarantees of paid leave and medical coverage, financial relief for wages missing due to work reduction or job loss, and safety protections to ensure workers do not contract the virus while on the job. The union vowed to pursue these goals through an organizing campaign that will include virtual town hall meetings and direct advocacy from workers.

Tim Maddox, an airport worker at LAX in Los Angeles for the past 25 years, said he feared economic effects for workers similar to what took place after 9/11, referring to what he considered the insufficiency of financial support provided by the U.S. government for the industry during that crisis.

“Airlines got millions in bailout money,” he says. “Workers got laid off, their hours cut, some called back, some not. This time if Congress bails out the airlines we need to be considered this time around.”

He pointed to the risks that viral outbreaks pose for airport workers, some of whom interact daily with domestic and international travelers.

“We’re truly on the frontlines of infectious diseases,” he adds. “We are making huge sacrifices for our health, safety, and economic security.”

Read more: