As Vermonters, we have heard the warnings to avoid crowds and unnecessary travel. We have heard the recommendation to wash hands frequently. And now we are hearing that some institutions, like Vermont Law School, Middlebury College, & Champlain College are closing their campuses. We also hear rumblings that school districts and perhaps even aspects of State Government will follow suit if and when the infection rate grows. We are being told that this is to diminish the transmission of the Coronavirus and therefore to save lives. What we have NOT heard is how 10,000s of workers are expected to survive with no wages and a limited access to healthcare if and when more workplaces shutdown.
So if I work for private non-union shop that closes its doors in reaction to the virus, and if I am receiving no pay, and if I have no healthcare, how I am expected to feed my family, pay rent, get medical care, and not face an economic disaster? Conversely, what if my work stays open but my kid’s school closes down? Without public (or affordable) childcare how am I suppose to care for my children? Where is the plan to protect working people not only from the virus, but also from economic ruin? Must we as workers decide between exposure to a deadly disease or total economic collapse? Or will that bad choice be made for us?
This is unacceptable.
What we need to deal with this and any future medical crisis is a functional social system. At minimum one where we have:
* Single payer universal healthcare (so ALL Vermonters can receive quality medical care);
* 12 weeks of paid (personal) medical leave (so sick Vermonters can stay home and get better and not inadvertently infect more persons);
* Right for all workers to earn minimum of 14 days of paid sick leave (so workers who may have come in contact with the infected can quarantine themselves);
* Affordable ($5 a day) high quality public daycare for children (so if schools are closed, but parents still are forced to work that children can be cared for);
But TODAY, in the here and NOW, we need:
* The VT Department of Labor to suspend any and all threshold requirements for workers collecting unemployment insurance for any and all people who labor or live within any county that has even a single case of Coronavirus. This benefit should be extended not only to those suffering from a workplace closing, but also to any non-essential workers who decide to not report to work while there is an active Coronavirus outbreak in their county;
* For any worker who suffers loss of work due to the shuttering of a public entity (i.e. school, town/city, etc.), and when that public entity already has a dedicated budget with accounted for funding, for said employees to continue to receive their regular pay and benefits for the duration of the public health crisis;
* For healthcare deductibles to be waived for the duration of the healthcare crisis;
* For hospitals and medical centers to be ordered to charge no persons without insurance for any treatment related to the virus;
* And for mortgage payments and evictions of renters for persons out of work (or on reduced hours) as a result of the virus to be suspended for the duration of the healthcare crisis;
An the end of the day the threat of the Coronavirus is laying bare the failures of Vermont’s social system. And even while our social safety net may be better than in most states, it is far from adequate when faced with a potential public health crisis. And here former Governor Peter Shumlin (Democrat) deserves his share of the blame for killing single payer at the start of his third term. And our Present Governor Phil Scott (Republican) must own his share too for refusing to support universal paid family and medical leave. Vermont: We must do better than this!
David Van Deusen,
President of the Vermont AFL-CIO