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Phase One Of Re-Opening Our Economy - A Labor Perspective From Western New York AFL-CIO Area Labor Federation President Richard Lipsitz

Published Wednesday, May 27, 2020
by WNYALF President Richard Lipsitz
Phase One Of Re-Opening Our Economy - A Labor Perspective From Western New York AFL-CIO Area Labor Federation President Richard Lipsitz Editor’s Note: Richard Lipsitz is President of the Western New York AFL-CIO Area Labor Federation (WNYALF), whose Regional Labor Federation’s 140 affiliated Local Unions combine to represent 145,000 Union Workers in the Public and Private Sectors and the Building Trades.


Since early March, we’ve engaged in a serious struggle to defeat COVID-19 and its devastating effects on the health and economic security of our community.

The brunt of this struggle has been borne by our Front Line Workers and those who became sick from the virus.

Unfortunately, many have died and many are still dying every day.

However, based in great measure on the wise leadership of the New York State and local governments, the pandemic has been reduced enough for certain basic elements of the economy to be reopened.

This is an important development, but it does not mean that vigilance can be loosened and best practices can be given up.

We are calling on everyone to continue to keep social distancing in place and to use the best personal hygiene on an on-going basis, including the wearing of masks.

We’re also calling on employers to provide a safe and healthy workplace, where communication and cooperation with the Union on the issues related to COVID-19 are in the forefront of everyone’s mind.

We do not want to see the economy go back into the status of pause again, because of a spike in the incidence of the disease.

For its part, the Western New York AFL-CIO Area Labor Federation (WNYALF) will continue to provide an information clearinghouse and will perform any important organizing activities related to the emergency to the best of its ability.

Around nine weeks ago, the reality of the impact of COVID-19 on the lives of tens of millions of Working Class People was just beginning to be understood.

Today, after over two months of a shutdown of the economy, we have some answers.

The results of the devastation are not pretty.

At least 95,000 people have died in our country.

As this being written, about 2,000 per day are still dying, especially in those states that rushed to reopen.

Unemployment is about 25%, with many jobs being eliminated forever.

Certain sectors of the economy won’t come back and others will be a shell of what they once were.

The emotional and psychological toll on literally millions of people - while hard to quantify, is surely another awful outcome.

Yet, despite this early reckoning, we continue to be optimistic that good can come out of this difficult situation.

The real question is what societal problems must be addressed and how should we proceed to do so?

Our Labor Movement must be an independent force, if it is to prove effective.

While our percentage of the workforce is at around 11%, we actually influence numbers much greater than that.

The COVID-19 crisis is laying the contradictions of American Society open for all to see.

Income inequality, the lack of a universal Health Care System, the denigration of health and safety in the workplace, a terribly regressive tax system where the rich get richer at the expense of Working People, and so many more ills have never been more clear.

Solutions to these vexing problems must be approached by answering the question: “In whose interests?”

It is time Working People have their own approach, one that aims at solving not exacerbating the contradictions we are facing.

In the coming period, let us not shy away from confronting this task.


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