AUSTIN (KXAN) — Joe Montemayor, the vice president and organizing coordinator of the Texas State Employees Union, was crystal clear at the podium when he addressed Texas Gov. Greg Abbott during a Texas AFL-CIO press conference Tuesday.
“Thousands of Texas employees are looking to your [Gov. Abbott’s] office for assurance,” he said. “Assurance that leave benefits won’t be denied because of technicalities, and assurance that a positive infection [of COVID-19] won’t be an economic death penalty.”
The state labor federation, which boasts 245,000 affiliated union members, rallied Tuesday morning at its office in downtown Austin to call for public officials and employers to make work-related moves to “help in the battle against the illness.”
Texas AFL-CIO president Rick Levy opened the press conference stressing to leaders, both political and business, to do more to protect the community and, “we’re here to center the voice of working people in the discussion of how to respond.”
Levy said the AFL-CIO is calling on the state’s leaders and policymakers to listen to the “front line workers” and do what isn’t just the moral thing to do, but “it is essential if we’re to be successful in limiting this virus.”
“We’ll be calling on policymakers to expand access to paid sick days, because no Texas should have to choose between going to work sick so they can pay their bills, and staying home without pay to keep our community safe,” he said.
Representatives from several groups spoke, and Selena Xie, president of the Austin EMS Association, described the current situation hospitals and paramedics are facing.
“Our hospital systems don’t have the surge capacity to take care of a large number of COVID-19 patients,” Xie said. “EMS needs to be prepared to transport patients from ERs to other hospital that might be further that have that capacity.”
Xie said she has talked to a few city council members, and she stressed that the city to think about “how to spend its resources wisely.”
“We need equipment like ventilators and pumps to transport patients between facilities that are critically ill,” she said.
Levy ended the press conference by calling out lawmakers, saying they haven’t expanded Medicaid, drop a lawsuit that “stands between thousands of workers having sick leave today in Austin and San Antonio,” fund emergency appropriations for more sick time and more health and safety equipment in businesses around the state.
“Now is the time for Texas political leaders to take immediate steps to protect workers in our community,” Levy said. “There are things that can happen today to help with this situation.”