Domino Effect for Workers as COVID-19 Layoffs Lead to Lost Healthcare and Uncertain Futures
HANOVER, MD – One of the largest and most influential construction unions in the country is calling on Congress to subsidize COBRA health plans for 11 million US construction workers who may lose their jobs as the COVID-19 virus spreads and wipes out the 6th largest employment sector in America.
“The construction industry is the backbone of the US economy. If Congress fails to take additional steps to support blue-collar construction workers, the short term and long term consequences will be dire for every industry. Supporting construction workers begins with ensuring they have access to medical care and prescriptions by shoring up the health coverage that thousands are losing every day as layoffs sweep across the industry,” said Ken Rigmaiden, General President of the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades (IUPAT).
The IUPAT estimates that at least 50% of construction sites across the country have already been shut down, and fears that number could rise as high as 90%. As the union works with industry stakeholders to develop new best practices and safety protocols for active jobs and essential job sites, it is calling on Congress to do its part in protecting the health of the millions of families that face potential loss of coverage in the construction industry and beyond.
Sonya Stalnaker, an IUPAT District Council 78 painter from Winter Garden, was laid off from her job as a Buena Vista Construction Company (BVCC) painter at Disney. With the news of indefinite closures, she’s worried about how losing her paycheck and her health insurance will impact her family. Sonya cares for her 95-year-old grandmother, a nephew with cerebral palsy, and helps out with her two nieces.
“The extra money from unemployment doesn’t cover the expenses I’ll have to take out of pocket if I lose my healthcare,” she said. “I’m a hard worker but with nowhere to work, I’m going to lose insurance, and as it stands, COBRA would be more than my rent.”
On March 24, the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), a federation of 55 international labor unions representing 12.5 million workers, issued an executive council statement that also advocates for emergency subsidies to cover COBRA health insurance payments.
Nationwide trends indicate that sites could be shut down entirely. Major U.S. construction stoppages in San Francisco, Boston, and Pennsylvania, in addition to nationwide private and local site shutdowns, have workers experiencing anxiety and uncertainty.
“Congress had a chance to grant real relief to this vulnerable workforce and didn’t. These financial assistance proposals are a band-aid when we need a tourniquet. Working people are being hit with wave after wave of setbacks – finances, healthcare loss, and now an indefinite date for a job to go back to. The IUPAT is demanding urgent assistance for America’s working people before they are bled dry and before this economy bleeds dry,” said IUPAT General Vice President Jimmy Williams. “We’re already behind and the clock is ticking. Congress and the Senate need to get in front of this with bold action and subsidize COBRA benefits so that the millions of workers facing the very real possibility of indefinitely losing their jobs have a very real option for health coverage.”
“In the midst of a pandemic, it is more important than ever that our nation ensures workers can go to the hospital without fear of financial ruin,” said Michelle Hennessey, a commercial painter and mother of two. “Any worker who has been laid off; is immunocompromised and unable to work; or is responsibly participating in isolation or quarantine shouldn’t have to choose between putting food on the table and the health and safety of themselves, their family and the public.”
In addition to the subsidization of COBRA health plans, the IUPAT’s Bold Action Platform for Working Families urges Congress to secure retirement plans affected by the crisis and invest in American infrastructure to quickly put construction workers back to work.