COLORADO, USA — A coalition of workers' groups have made a plea to Governor Jared Polis and lawmakers to expand protections and resources available to Coloradans as the COVID-19 pandemic continues. The platform was created in cooperation with 17 groups including unions, labor lawyers, and advocacy groups focused on economic equality.
They want a uniform paid leave policy, increasing health care coverage to as many people as possible, housing protections and the ability for workers to organize. The idea is to act now to try to have improvements in place ahead of an economic downturn.
“Our plan focuses on six key policy areas we believe are critical to provide working families with the opportunity to recover from this crisis both physically and financially in order to ensure no one is left behind,” said Lizeth Chacon, executive director of the Colorado Peoples Alliance.
Without this help, Chacon said many small business will be forced to close and families are headed towards a “complete catastrophe.” The main action the coalition called for was implementing paid leave for all. Scarlett Markus is a home care worker in Colorado Springs. One of her patients is 100 years old, and she said she is worried she might accidentally infect them.
“I have to continue going to work, risk the health of my patients and my family members or find myself without any income,” Markus said. “No one should have to choose between their job and caring for themselves or a family member during the crisis.”
The Department of Labor explained on their website that paid leave would be available for up to two weeks at full pay if someone is experiencing symptoms, and two-thirds of an employee’s normal wage if they are taking care of a child. However, this applies only to businesses with fewer than 500 employees. This loophole concerns the coalition, who claims this leaves out a significant part of the Colorado workforce.
Another gap illuminates the struggle residents will have paying rent now that many people are losing income. Department of Labor data, which is at least a week behind, showed 19,429 people filed for unemployment. That is a jump of more than 700 percent. Dennis Dougherty, executive director of the Colorado AFL-CIO, also called for a moratorium on all evictions, foreclosures and utilities shut-offs for as long as possible.
Emilio Fernandez works in restaurants in Denver and normally supplements his income by walking dogs, but stopped because he did not want to increase his risk of exposure to COVID-19. Work at the restaurant has trickled down to one shift delivering takeout orders. Fernandez’s landlord is willing to work with him, but he fears others won’t be as lucky.
“Colorado workers like me are under a tremendous amount of stress and are fearing for our health and job security,” Fernandez said. “The last thing we need is to be worrying about ending up on the streets.”
Governor Jared Polis said in a news conference last week that he wants to be sure people are not fearful of an eviction during the pandemic.
"It’s absolutely critical,” Polis said. “I think that landlords know what's going on, too here. They generally want to keep good tenants and they generally know that if their tenants are out of work for a month or two, they need to work with them if they want to be able to keep them there."
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development said in a news release on March 18 that there would not be foreclosures or evictions for 60 days, but that only applies to single family homes with a mortgage insured by the Federal Housing Administration.
Another centerpiece of the coalition’s requests centers around health care. Tests for COVID-19 are free, but uninsured Coloradans may not get the care they need. This could risk spreading the disease further. Markus, the home care worker, said she is worried about being able to “flatten the curve” without access to a doctor.
“Times like these are a stark reminder to all of us that health and safety should come first, and all workers deserve access to paid leave and affordable health care of their industries and professions,” Markus said.
Governor Polis’ office did not return multiple requests for comment.
Read the full details of the coalition’s positions here:
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