Brooklyn, N.Y. – Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer joined a press call hosted by AFSCME President Lee Saunders and public service workers on the frontlines of the coronavirus response, expressing the need for additional funding for state and local governments that provide essential services and rebuking Leader McConnell’s suggestions that states declare bankruptcy and Leader McConnell’s attempts to put corporations ahead of workers. Below is a transcript of his remarks:
Thank you, Lee—you are one of the greatest leaders that working people have had in this country, and your steadfastness—we've known each other for decades - to defend the men and women who work in America, who work for our state, county, municipal governments, our federal government, and so many other workers is just breathtaking and wonderful.
I want to thank our four participants—one of whom, Jared is from New York, he’s from Dobbs Ferry—and every one of the workers, the government workers who work so hard. These are people who care, who make our country tick. They may not be feeling well one morning in a typical day, not even during coronavirus, but they go to work, because of their dedication. And all too often, too many have picked on government workers so unfairly, because we know how important they are.
I want to thank Speaker Pelosi—there is no one who has stood up stronger for both working people in general and our government workers than she has, and she and I stand shoulder to shoulder. We are going to make sure, absolutely sure, that a robust state and local appropriation is made in the CARES 2 bill. We need it, our country needs it, everyone needs it.
So it's amazing, with how important this is, and all the people that both Lee and Nancy mentioned, who are doing such vital jobs for our country, that Leader McConnell would show how out of touch he is, when he suggested that we should let the states that are being crushed by the coronavirus go bankrupt.
Now, bankruptcy is not an abstract concept when it comes to states and cities. And no one understands this better than Lee Saunders and AFSCME. What Leader McConnell is suggesting would lead to hundreds of thousands—hundreds of thousands—of vital state and local government employees—nurses and health workers, corrections officers, sanitation workers, and so many others – being fired or furloughed. What did they do, Leader McConnell? Why are you suggesting that they should lose their jobs? He is saying—and now, he's come up with a new little subterfuge—he's saying that average folks, hardworking people, like the people we just mentioned, don’t deserve the same help as big businesses get. Well, he’s wrong.
You, you the people who are represented by AFSCME and so many others, are the people who make sure the unemployment checks are going out, and keep your communities running, even during a global pandemic.
You are showing up at work, putting your health at risk, to support the American people. Are we really going to thank you with pink slips? No way. Not on my watch. Not on Speaker Pelosi’s watch. Not on Lee's watch.
During a health care crisis, unfortunately, Leader McConnell is playing politics and talking about red and blue states. This isn’t about politics, it’s about people—people’s jobs, people's families, people's communities.
Day and night, workers like the ones we're going to hear from remain on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic. But this public health crisis is putting a huge strain on state and local government budgets, and some have started to impose layoffs and furloughs.
Well, Congress should not abandon any workers, especially public service workers.
The challenge of containing the pandemic is too great. And know that Democrats, House and Senate, are working hard, fighting hard for all of you on the front lines.
America needs to do all we can to fight against coronavirus and rising unemployment. The McConnell plan will only drive up unemployment even higher.
The coronavirus doesn’t care if it’s a blue state or a red state; there’s no such thing. Cities and states have incurred huge COVID expenses. Because they’re doing the right thing with social distancing, they're not getting revenues.
So we need two things: We need a large increase in funding for state and local governments—big and small—and we need to make sure that they can use this money to make up for lost revenues, which Secretary Mnuchin and even President Trump said they would do. Let's hope they stick with it.
Economic activity has stopped right now. Until we have testing and treatment—we have to socially distance. That's not mismanagement. It’s sound leadership . So there are two choices here: the federal government steps up and helps our workers like we're helping small businesses, helps our public service workers like we're helping hospitals, like we’re helping other groups or the other choice, the worse choice, more layoffs and our economy will get much worse.
But guess what, now Leader McConnell says put a new wrinkle in this one. He says he will only consider relief for state and local governments in exchange for a liability shield for business owners.
How does that make sense?
That's another example of the Republicans’ misplaced priorities. During this global health crisis, they’re worried about protecting the companies. Democrats are fighting to protect the workers.
If an employer makes an employee do something that is untenable, shouldn't the employee have some rights here?
Instead of making sure businesses have PPE for their employees, McConnell wants to make it harder for workers to show up to their jobs to hold their employers accountable for providing safe working conditions.
Instead of fighting for more testing or to help everyone working on the front lines, Senator McConnell is fighting to protect corporate executives.
We want to want to reopen the country but we can’t get back to work without addressing the health crisis. The two issues are not separate.
Until we can reopen safely, the federal government must be ready to step in and help workers on the front lines—public servants, workers, and all workers—wherever it is needed because we’re in this together. Lee and the workers who are talking today, we will keep working hard for you, because you’re out there fighting hard for us.