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Unionized public-sector workers call for more COVID-19 help from feds

They say the last week’s $2 trillion stimulus doesn’t go far enough in providing support for employees.

Keith Richardson. president of the American Postal Workers Union Local 0001.
Keith Richardson. president of the American Postal Workers Union Local 0001.

Chicago-area labor leaders, including those for postal workers and government employees, highlighted their need for protective equipment Monday and said the $2 trillion federal stimulus passed last week doesn’t go far enough.

Keith Richardson, president of the American Postal Workers Union Local 0001, said the stimulus measure’s $10 billion line of credit for the U.S. Postal Service is insufficient. The agency, which is an essential service that must continue under law, isn’t properly cleaning facilities or providing workers with enough protection, he said.

Richardson said there are four confirmed COVID-19 cases among Chicago-area postal workers, with two more possible. “We need help,” he said.

“They’ve been told to bring their own sanitizers, their own gloves,” said Dorothy James, describing the situation faced by unionized workers at Veterans Affairs hospitals. James is District 7 national vice president of the American Federation of Government Employees.

On a teleconference with news media, Robert Reiter Jr., president of the Chicago Federation of Labor, said the stimulus is really a “survival” bill that was a good start but doesn’t go far enough. “We will need more help in the long term. It’s still unclear how quickly aid will find its way to households, and once it does, it will only last a few months,” Reiter said.

He said a followup bill should provide subsidized COBRA health insurance for workers without a job because of COVID-19. Reiter also called for increased funding for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, free testing and treatment for undocumented workers and more aid for the beleaguered postal service. The CFL is an investor in Sun-Times Media.

“This virus will continue to spread until workers know that we can feel safe on the job or stay home without taking a financial hit,” Reiter said.