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Essential Protections for Essential Workers

As we sprint to overcome the current public-health and economic crisis, we must also prepare for the marathon of fixing the systemic imbalances that have left workers vulnerable to infection and economic hardship. Only by building an economy that truly works for everyone can we prepare effectively for the inevitable next crisis.

NEW YORK – The COVID-19 crisis has exposed deep vulnerabilities in our economies and societies. Just as those with pre-existing health problems are more likely than their healthy counterparts to face serious complications and even death if they become infected, workers and small businesses are most at risk from the pandemic-induced economic downturn. This disparity is particularly pronounced in the United States.

To be sure, the COVID-19 crisis is threatening the livelihoods of workers everywhere. But in most developed economies, social protections – including guaranteed paid family leave and sickness benefits, affordable health care, robust pension systems, and effective labor unions – are softening the blow.

That is not the case in the US. For example, workers at McDonald’s – for which gross profits exceeded $11 billion last year – lack fair wages, paid sick leave, and the right to unionize. The Fight for $15 movement, which has long advocated for McDonald’s workers, has sought additional protections during the pandemic – including furlough pay during restaurant closures and tighter safety protocols – to no avail.

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