Unions react to the HEROES Act proposal
- By Lia Russell
- May 14, 2020
Public-sector unions welcomed the HEROES Act proposal that House Democrats unveiled on May 12, calling the legislative package a needed solution for preventing massive jobs loss and protecting essential workers.
The HEROES Act establishes a $200 billion “heroes’ fund” to grant hazard pay to frontline workers such as grocery store workers, first responders and mass transit operators. It also proposes granting almost $1 trillion in aid to U.S. territories and state, municipal and tribal governments, and it includes provisions for the federal workforce.
The American Federation of Government Employees particularly applauded the measures aimed at mandating telework and guaranteeing that paid sick leave policies would include frontline Transportation Security Agency workers and Veterans Affairs personnel.
The union has filed civil suits to guarantee hazard pay for its workers at VA and the Bureau of Prisons who had been exposed to COVID-19 while on the job.
“We are glad to see that this legislation emphasizes the needs of front-line workers, who continue to put themselves and their families in harms’ way every day they report to work,” National President Everett Kelley said.
“Provisions included in the House bill would provide much-needed help and support to nurses and other health-care providers at veterans’ hospitals, to correctional officers and staff in our federal prisons, to federal meat and poultry inspectors at processing plants, and all the workers whose lives have been endangered or otherwise disrupted by this deadly contagion.”
The National Treasury Employees Union thanked Democratic lawmakers for proposing additional funding for agencies like the IRS, where it represents 66,000 employees. Late last month, the IRS recalled 10,000 employees to help process tax returns and perform other critical business functions that required an in-office presence.
“NTEU supports additional funding the legislation would provide to key federal agencies, including $520 million to the IRS for costs related to COVID-19 and the extended filing season,” NTEU President Tony Reardon said.
The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees launched a media campaign on May 4 to push members of Congress to enact legislation that would prevent layoffs of public-sector employees and protect frontline workers.
The AFL-CIO, which boasts 55 unions and represents more than 12 million retired and current workers, also welcomed the bill. “I applaud House Democrats for going big and bold in the face of this unprecedented crisis,” President Richard Trumka said in a statement.
Trumka vowed to lead the union in advocating for the legislation after Republicans expressed opposition to the bill.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) derided the bill as a “big laundry list of pet priorities” for the Democrats, adding that he doesn't feel "urgency" to take up the House legislation. At the same May 12 press conference, Majority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.) said the bill is "not going anywhere."