Workers Left Out Of Government And Business Response To The Coronavirus

As the coronavirus crisis unfolds, workers and families around the country are finding out how weak the U.S. social safety net is.

Nearly three-quarters of Americans live paycheck to paycheck. About 30% of the workforce lacks employer-paid health insurance. One-third of workers lack paid sick leave. Most of those working in the self-employed economy as independent contractors don’t even qualify for unemployment benefits.

Those are the people who will most need whatever emergency relief may be coming from the government or their employers. But at the moment, they have no direct voice in the amount, or form, that aid may come in.

I have studied work and employment relations for over 40 years and worked directly with employers and unions to build partnerships capable of solving their most difficult problems. Lawmakers representing working-class communities, union lobbyists and advocates for the poor are doing what they can to get help, but they seem to be on the sidelines.

President Donald Trump has repeatedly trumpeted his interaction with corporate leaders to help address this crisis – but never said a word about talking with labor leaders about what support workers might provide.

The lessons of U.S. history and the actions of other countries right now suggest there are opportunities for government, business and workers to collaborate on ways to get through this crisis. That effort may, as it has in the past, also lay the groundwork for a new, more inclusive social contract that better prepares society for future crises and gives Americans better lives during good times as well.

A wartime footing

The historical lesson comes from World War II. As the U.S. entered the war in 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt called on leaders from business and labor to join the war effort. He created the National War Production Board to convert the economy to meet the country’s wartime needs. He also set up the National War Labor Board to oversee workers’ relations with management, aiming to avoid production disruptions and keep prices stable.

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This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license.

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