The future of major industries hinges on how we treat essential workers

The following statement was released on September 14, 2020

Right now corporations, investors and fiduciaries must understand a crucial fact: the future of commercial real estate, airlines, and other industries that depend on close contact between people must be built on a foundation of clean, secure, and safe workplaces — and that starts with supporting essential workers. This is not only vital for the future of these industries and to manage risk for those who invest in them, it is a matter of life and death.

When janitors like Carolina Rocha in Sacramento, California put themselves and their families at risk to protect us, they deserve to be protected too. Carolina cleans office buildings — a high stakes job during a pandemic — but she has to buy her own masks and her employer doesn’t notify staff or allow them to quarantine if they’ve been exposed to COVID-19.

Janitors like Carolina all across the country are sounding the alarm. They don’t have the supplies or training they need to contain this virus. Some are cleaning with water because their employers aren’t providing disinfectant. Most don’t have paid sick days or even adequate time to wash their hands. Many workers are getting sick. Some are dying. Unions representing commercial cleaners report dozens of deaths among their members since the COVID-19 outbreak.

Frontline workers like Carolina and millions of security officers, airport workers and other essential workers don’t have the option to work from home. They can’t shelter in place. Instead, they are working through the pandemic to keep us safe, to clean the spaces where we work, live, and shop, and to make it possible to take that essential flight to see a loved one.

During these trying times — when communities are facing a triple threat of racial injustice, COVID-19, and the economic crisis — we are counting on major corporations to do their part too. We believe proactively addressing these risks is critical. If you do business in our states, the health, safety, and financial security of front-line workers must be a priority.

We need to prioritize people like Stephanie Chisem, who has been a security officer in Hartford, Connecticut for 22 years. She has health issues that put her at higher risk for COVID-19 yet even though she works to protect a health insurance company, she has no health care herself — in the middle of a pandemic. Nevertheless, she is risking everything for our security. It’s time insurance companies and their contractors step up to ensure Stephanie and other security officers that secure their buildings have that same protection.

We can’t wait any longer. The Black and Latino community are hardest hit by COVID-19 and the economic crisis. Black workers are more than twice as likely as their white counterparts to have seen possible retaliation at work for raising concerns around COVID. This is simply unacceptable. Major corporations have a responsibility to make urgent, life-saving changes now for workers of all races. They can start by allowing frontline workers the right to form a union so they can negotiate for paid sick days, affordable health care, and pay that parallels the risks they take for us every day. Workers must be able to safely report health and safety issues on the job in order for businesses to safely operate.

It couldn’t be any clearer: our health is more connected now than ever before. And if the essential workers who clean and protect the buildings we all use aren’t safe, no one is safe.

Businesses must take proactive steps to protect frontline workers and ensure employees have the tools they need to implement impeccable cleaning and safety standards. Building owners and airlines can lead in this moment by hiring responsible contractors that provide adequate cleaning supplies, training and PPE to stop the spread of COVID. They need to hire enough staff to do the job right and keep the public safe.

We can and must get this right. Our good health during the COVID crisis depends on the diligence and care of countless essential workers like Carolina and Stephanie. They deserve actions and commitments from their governments and their employers that demonstrate at least as much diligence and care from us.

Signed,

Maine State Treasurer Henry Beck

Nevada State Treasurer Zach Conine

Illinois State Treasurer Michael Frerichs

Wisconsin State Treasurer Sarah Godlewski

Massachusetts State Treasurer Deborah Goldberg

Maryland State Treasurer Nancy Kopp

Vermont State Treasurer Beth Pearce

California State Treasurer Fiona Ma

Rhode Island State Treasurer Seth Magaziner

Oregon State Treasurer Tobias Read

Pennsylvania State Treasurer Joe Torsella

Connecticut State Treasurer Shawn Wooden

Colorado State Treasurer Dave Young

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