AFT Resolution

PROTECTING HEALTH, SAFETY AND ECONOMIC WELL-BEING IN THE UNITED STATES DURING AND AFTER THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC

WHEREAS, the toll of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States is tragically vast: At this writing, more than 72,000 dead; 30 million lost livelihoods; miles-long lines at food banks; and tens of millions of students unable to attend class, receive needed services or reliably access meals at school; and
 

WHEREAS, President Donald Trump did not cause the coronavirus outbreak in the United States, but his actions, and failures to act, have worsened its effects. From dismantling pandemic preparedness programs; to his disregard for science, facts and experts; to his failure to deploy resources—adequate testing, personal protective equipment, ventilators and other basic provisions the federal government is responsible to have readily available for public health emergencies; to endangering lives by downplaying the seriousness of the virus and suggesting hocus-pocus “cures,” such as treating the virus with potentially deadly household cleaning agents; to inciting protests calling for reopening our society before it is safe; and peddling false hope that it is time to “reopen” the country, when the deadliest days may lie ahead; and

WHEREAS, these are the American Federation of Teachers’ priorities:

  • the health, safety and well-being of our members—especially our 200,000 healthcare workers and other members on the frontlines—and the communities in which we live and work;
  • the short- and long-term economic supports working people need;
  • the realization of new strategies and norms for our businesses, public schools, the U.S. Postal Service and other institutions so we can protect people’s lives and livelihoods, including their earned pensions; and
  • the integrity of elections, and the health and safety of voters; and

WHEREAS, because of the failed federal response, the AFT had to source, purchase, transport and distribute personal protective equipment so our members and other workers would have the protections necessary for their health and safety on the frontlines of this pandemic; and the AFT engaged in a day of action, with affiliates simultaneously filing Occupational Safety and Health Administration complaints, documenting OSHA’s failure to enforce standards in a total of nearly 100 complaints filed since COVID-19 hit the U.S.; and

WHEREAS, the American people are cautiously eager to return to some semblance of “normal,” and our public schools, in addition to educating students and acting as centers of the community, enable parents to work outside the home, meaning that safely reopening schools is a pivotal—if not the most pivotal—factor in remaking the country; and

WHEREAS, in the absence of widespread testing and a vaccine for COVID-19, the AFT has developed a “Plan to Safely Reopen America’s Schools and Communities,” a detailed road map grounded in scientific evidence and public health protocols that charts a path to safely and responsibly reopen school buildings and other institutions crucial to the well-being and economic vitality of our communities; and

WHEREAS, because the federal government failed to provide timely, science-based guidance for schools, businesses and communities to safely reopen; because President Trump encouraged states to reopen their economies as infections were still rising; and because several governors moved prematurely to reopen their economies, the AFT’s “Plan to Safely Reopen America’s Schools and Communities” is even more crucial to disseminate and enact; and

WHEREAS, we must meet an unprecedented challenge: reimagining our society and the places we hold dear—public schools, places of worship, workplaces, restaurants and more—in ways that put our ultimate priorities first: the safety and well-being of working families, especially frontline workers, and the economic health of society; and

WHEREAS, students, patients, families and other workers depend on our members as trusted messengers about the safety of their loved ones and their workplaces; and

WHEREAS, the 1.7 million members of the AFT are vital to reigniting the economy and a safe reopening of public schools, colleges and universities, state and local governments and other workplaces as a necessary step toward recovery; and

WHEREAS, AFT members have risen to this unprecedented challenge in countless ways; teachers and staff are putting enormous time, energy and creativity into teaching their students remotely, keeping them safe and engaged at home; school food service and transportation staff are doing their essential work in new ways and with long hours to provide meals to students so they do not go hungry; public employees are keeping services we rely on functioning, both behind the scenes and on the frontlines of this pandemic; and nurses and health professionals are treating the sick, consoling the dying, pushing themselves beyond their physical and emotional limits, and often working despite unacceptable risks to their health and well-being when they are denied the protective equipment they need; and

WHEREAS, structural inequities in communities of color and for American Indians and Alaska Natives have been amplified and worsened during the pandemic, as evidenced by even greater gaps in food insecurity; disproportionate economic impacts on minority small-business owners; projected increases in poverty and unemployment hitting families of color harder than white families; and exponentially higher rates of infection and death from COVID-19 than in non-minority communities—the true extent is unknowable because national and state statistics and data released to this point has been largely devoid of racial and demographic data; and

WHEREAS, since the onset of the coronavirus in the U.S., anti-Asian verbal harassment, physical assaults and shunning have surged, stoked by President Trump’s xenophobia and calling the coronavirus the “China virus”; and

WHEREAS, this pandemic, and the failed federal response to it, have exposed every inequality in the U.S. This is the moment to right these wrongs. It is not enough to aim for surviving—we must remake society in ways that are fairer and more just by shoring up the safety net, caring for people and families, and giving people real opportunity; and

WHEREAS, the shelter-in-place orders necessary to slow the spread of COVID-19 have caused economic distress for one in five workers in America who have lost their jobs, threatening to crater tax revenue for state and local governments as services will be needed most; and

WHEREAS, governors from all 50 states have issued emergency declarations and taken steps to reallocate their budgets; and

WHEREAS, when it is deemed safe for schools to reopen, our children will be returning with even greater needs; our healthcare system will have been strained beyond capacity, our frontline providers will have experienced the trauma of going through what many have compared to a war zone, and already underfunded public services will have been stretched to the max; and

WHEREAS, millions of the more than 30 million people who have filed for unemployment have lost not only their jobs, but also the health insurance they had through their jobs, a key flaw in tying health insurance to employment; and

WHEREAS, a safe reopening will require our federal government to build on the economic relief packages Congress has provided to offer immediate federal investment in our states, cities, public schools, colleges and universities; and

WHEREAS, states have incurred enormous unforeseen expenses by providing COVID-19 testing to their residents and acquiring PPE for their healthcare workers; and

WHEREAS, to rush this process or fail to put in place the safeguards advised by public health experts will risk both a second surge of infections and deaths and an even deeper economic downturn; and

WHEREAS, Republicans and Democrats alike are calling for the next COVID-19 relief bill to include at least $500 billion to stabilize their states to prevent public hospitals, public schools and public services like firefighting, policing and transportation from being decimated and job cuts in these critical areas, though the need is likely upward of $1 trillion; and

WHEREAS, essential public services have never been funded fully and are still recovering from the austerity measures following the Great Recession of 2008, and more is needed than the aid in the initial packages, including the CARES Act; government also has a responsibility to not forfeit our future or abandon our communities and to help our public schools, universities, hospitals, state and local governments, and the U.S. Postal Service provide services that will be needed more than ever:

RESOLVED, to help Americans recover economically, the American Federation of Teachers will organize our 1.7 million members, working with the AFL-CIO and partner unions, education, civil rights and other coalition allies to advocate for an immediate, massive reinvestment in public services, including urging congressional support for the following:

Measures to keep state and local governments, our public schools and the U.S. Postal Service solvent and working: a $1 trillion investment in state and local governments to stabilize public services; a total of $250 billion for education, including at least $175 billion for the Education Stabilization Fund distributed directly to local education agencies and institutions of higher education, with minimal state set-asides, in an equitable and targeted fashion; and at least $50 billion in direct funding for public colleges and universities and minority-serving institutions; voluntary summer school, before and after-school programs, child care centers, and community schools to help make up for the instructional time lost during the 2019-20 school year; and

Measures to keep Americans healthy: Protect and expand health insurance for all workers by including but not limiting to covering 100 percent of COBRA health insurance premiums; substantially increase Medicaid funding; and provide free COVID-19 testing and treatment for all regardless of immigration or insurance status; boost Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program maximum benefits by 15 percent, and increase the SNAP minimum payment from $16 to $30; and

Measures to keep frontline workers safe and secure: Provide necessary personal protective equipment, cleaning supplies and other materials necessary. And pass the Essential Workers Bill of Rights, to protect frontline workers during the coronavirus pandemic while offering these workers the child care, premium pay, paid sick leave and job protections they deserve; and

Measures to help America’s public schools and institutions reopen safely, including investing in recovery through more—not fewer—investments in public health and in our schools, universities, hospitals, and local and state governments; and

Measures to keep workers employed and to protect earned pension checks: permanently expanding eligibility for unemployment benefits; providing additional direct aid; institutions are tapping into reserves, emergency funds and other available savings before imposing cuts that make workers foot the bill; and

Measures to keep America competitive: funding infrastructure programs that will hire people and make long-overdue investments in this key pillar of the economy; and canceling student debt; and

RESOLVED, the AFT will use the full force of our membership, advocacy and political strength to elect allies to enact the priorities herein, including electing Joe Biden as president of the United States and winning a majority in the Senate so our new president has bicameral support to put the U.S. on a path to greater health, opportunity and economic security for all.

(2020)

Please note that a newer resolution, or portion of a resolution, may have superseded an earlier resolution on the same subject. As a result, with the exception of resolutions adopted at our most recent AFT convention, resolutions do not necessarily reflect current AFT policies.