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Opinion | Don’t let businesses force workers back into offices amid COVID

This week a newly formed coalition of business lobbyist associations are calling on the governor and Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration to weaken safety regulations to line their own pockets.  

Right now we are in the midst of a crisis, and there is no indication that workers who are able to work remotely are less productive or effective in their jobs. The goal of this coalition of business lobbyists is to force workers back into workplaces as quickly as possible, simply because that’s what they want.

Ron Bieber
Ron Bieber is president of the Michigan AFL-CIO. (Courtesy photo)

Strikingly, the statement from this group does not mention what workers need.  Other than one sentence on “knowing how to keep workers safe,” it focuses solely on their own economic goals. 

This underscores exactly why the governor’s action this week was so needed: forming a new workgroup including business leaders, labor leaders and others on a plan for a phased return to in-person work. This group will take into account the trajectory of the pandemic, vaccines, and mitigation measures. 

The governor knows that in order to make sure we get people back to work safely, working people need a seat at the table. This workgroup ensures we’ll have our voices heard, so we can follow the science and data and keep working people safe on the job, so they don’t get sick and bring a deadly virus home to their family. 

Right now we simply don’t know enough about how we can return to work safely. Some people might be able to keep working completely remotely, while others may prefer a more flexible arrangement. What no one wants is to get sick at work, threatening the health of their family and their ability to keep earning a living.  

With childcare hard to find, schools offering a mix of in-person and virtual learning, workers are having to navigate many challenges as well.  Fortunately, many have been able to continue working through circumstances that have been much more friendly to workers and families. And now bosses want to suddenly roll all that back, even as this could threaten all the progress we’ve made in beating back this pandemic?

We are at an inflection point right now. If we can just hold on for a few weeks longer, we will be able to get the majority of our population inoculated against the virus, making it safer to return to some form of normalcy. 

Loosening or eliminating restrictions right now would be the worst possible move. We have reached a point where defeating a pandemic that threatened mass death on a scale not seen in our lifetimes is within our sight. We can’t act irresponsibly now by relaxing restrictions that could allow variants to run wild in unprepared work environments. 

We are so close to the finish line. Now is not the time to take shortcuts which will risk the health and safety of workers. If we can just find within us the will and the courage to finish this fight together, we will defeat this awful virus and restore a Michigan economy that will work for everyone. 

Bridge welcomes guest columns from a diverse range of people on issues relating to Michigan and its future. The views and assertions of these writers do not necessarily reflect those of Bridge or The Center for Michigan. Bridge does not endorse any individual guest commentary submission. If you are interested in submitting a guest commentary, please contact Ron French. Click here for details and submission guidelines.

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