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Bridge Michigan
Michigan’s nonpartisan, nonprofit news source

Opinion | A healthy economy needs a healthy workforce. Here's our plan.

This week is Occupational Safety and Health Week, and as plans for reopening the economy are developed, there is no better time than now to implement the strongest possible long-term workplace and workers' rights protections.

We have heard from thousands of workers across the state, many of whom are afraid to go to work and who do not feel their workplaces are ready for safe operation. We have heard from workers not being given masks. We know that no-touch thermometers for screening are scarce. We have heard from security and cleaning professionals who are bringing in doctor's notes to their supervisors as proof that they need to stay home, but who are being denied the option to do so. We have heard about unclean work sites where employees don’t have access to running water or hand sanitizer. We have heard that some employers are not notifying their employees when one of them has tested positive for COVID-19. More than 1,000 workplace safety complaints have been filed to the state since the pandemic began, and we know that these are just the tip of the iceberg.

We have a plan.

Every worker needs workplace protections to ensure they can do their jobs safely and without unnecessarily risking their lives or the health of their loved ones. We each represent communities that have been some of the hardest hit areas of the state by COVID-19. Our plan aims to ensure vulnerable workers are protected when they re-engage at their workplaces and takes into consideration their individual conditions — such as underlying chronic health issues or lack of access to safe transit — as we move forward from this public health crisis together.

We must require employers to provide a list of local COVID-19 testing sites to employees. We also need to issue guidelines to them clarifying the types of personal protection equipment (PPE) and disinfecting products proven to mitigate the spread of coronavirus most effectively.

Michigan should create a Statewide COVID-19 Safety Standard for businesses and increase funding for the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which needs to be able to hire and train staff who can adequately respond to COVID-19 workplace complaints.

Workers need guarantees in place that assure them they will be protected from retaliation if they complain about unsafe workplace conditions, or if they decide they cannot go to work due to chronic conditions or other barriers. Additionally, frontline workers deserve hazard pay for putting their health and livelihoods on the line.

We should expand paid sick leave coverage to all workers, regardless of company size and employment status, so that workers can accrue at least 72 hours of paid sick leave per year. We also need to ensure that working parents have access to the safe, accessible, and affordable childcare options they need — now more than ever.

We should expand grants for small businesses to secure PPE and conduct workplace safety training sessions with their employees.

As the Democratic senators who took part in a workplace safety workgroup — that listened to business leaders, health professionals, workers' rights organizations, labor unions, and more than 5,000 Michiganders who completed an online survey — we recently developed a set of recommendations based on this input and will soon introduce legislation to create long-term solutions for workers that protects them in the workplace.

Many of our residents live paycheck-to-paycheck, and we understand the need for them to get back to work so that they can provide for their themselves or their families — but no one should have to choose between going to work or staying safe.

We are committed to fighting hard to keep Michigan workers safe and to protecting the public’s health, because we cannot have a healthy economy if we don’t have a healthy workforce.

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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