Brett Voorhies (USW) is president of the Indiana State AFL-CIO, a federation of more than 400 local unions representing nearly 300,000 working Hoosiers.
When [Vice President] Mike Pence returns to Indiana on Thursday, he’ll find Hoosiers in the grips of a crisis unlike anything we’ve witnessed in generations. Cases of the coronavirus are climbing, our health care system is being overwhelmed and countless working people are being forced to choose between our health and a paycheck.
We need more than a photo-op. We need help, and we need it now.
Unions are working to empower and protect those in harm’s way, but we should not have to do this alone. Our government must do its part to protect working people from infectious diseases.
But for months, President Donald Trump has stood in the way of the full-scale federal response that this moment demands. He ignored his own advisers, downplayed the virus, and wasted precious time that could have been used to prepare for the coming pandemic. He did not heed the labor movement’s early call for action and did not act quickly to secure testing, workplace plans and protective equipment. And as the crisis has worn on, he’s broken promise after promise.
In February, Trump suggested that the virus wouldn’t spread beyond 15 U.S. cases. Today, the United States has suffered more coronavirus deaths than any country in the world—including nearly 1,000 Hoosiers.
Once the crisis was too devastating to ignore, the Trump administration promised to deliver 27 million tests by the end of March. When that deadline arrived, they had fulfilled less than 4% of their own goal.
That national failure is hurting us here in Indiana. Earlier this month, the state health commissioner announced a goal of processing 6,300 tests per day, but equipment shortages have limited us to just half that rate. Across the state, Hoosiers are in the dark about our own status as well as the severity of the outbreak in our communities.
That lack of information is even more dangerous given working Hoosiers’ inability to stay safe on the job. Nearly a month ago, the state health department announced that the Trump administration would not send any additional protective equipment to Indiana. Since then, Hoosiers have been forced to scramble for donated—or even homemade—supplies.
Months into this pandemic, health care workers across Indiana are still being forced to ration gloves, reuse masks, and wear garbage bags in place of protective garments. It’s a travesty of historic proportions. At a time when our leaders are asking everything of working people—from punishing hours to emotional and physical exhaustion—the very least they can do is keep us safe.
This White House isn’t interested in putting the needs of working people ahead of political self-preservation. When pushed to distribute emergency supplies, Trump told reporters he wasn’t interested: “We’re not a shipping clerk.”
His son-in-law’s response was even more chilling: “It’s supposed to be our stockpile.”
That kind of selfishness is putting Hoosiers’ lives in danger. This virus doesn’t care about politics or party. It doesn’t care about news cycles or petty spats. It’s coming for all of us, and we’ll only be able to fight back if we work together.
Working people have always known that we’re stronger when we act collectively. More than ever, this is a time for our country to rally behind a cause that affects each and every one of us. To do that, we need a federal government focused on delivering results—not photo-ops.
This op-ed originally appeared at IndyStar.