New Jersey Construction Workers Speak Out: Fear of Being Left Behind by Congress as COVID-19 Grinds Industry to a Halt
NEWARK, NJ -- COVID-19 has decimated the U.S. construction industry and Congress has done little to stop it or to provide relief for workers in this major jobs sector, a leading international building trade union charged Monday, March 23.
Although construction is the sixth largest U.S. employment sector -- larger than the transportation, financial, and information sectors -- the needs of construction workers have been excluded from COVID-19 relief bills currently being considered by Congress.
Construction labor officials say the industry is being overlooked.
“Millions of construction workers and their families are getting totally wiped out and Congress is doing very little about it,” said Ken Rigmaiden, general president of the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades (IUPAT), which represents more than 100,000 building trade workers. “If construction workers don’t work, they don’t get paid. They can’t work remotely. They don’t receive furloughs or paid leave. But not one Congressional COVID-19 bill grants real relief to this vulnerable workforce.”
As a result, the nation’s 11 million construction workers and their families are getting left behind.
Emilio Muracchioli, a painter and father of three in Kingsbridge, NJ, is worried about the impact a potential illness may have on his family. “I can’t bear the thought of not being able to provide for my wife and my family,” he said. “I’m here to tell Congress: ‘don’t leave construction workers behind.’”
Muracchioli was working in a hospital at the beginning of the week and is forced to choose between paying the bills and ensuring his family’s health and safety. He is one of millions of construction workers losing their jobs as cities and states have been forced to close down construction sites and bring U.S. construction to a grinding halt.
The IUPAT estimates that at least 50% of construction sites across the country have already been shut down and fears that number could rise as high as 90%. The union agrees that shutdowns are necessary in many places to protect the health of employees and the public, but believes Congress has a responsibility to act so that workers are protected both on and off the job, especially in states with few, if any, worker protections. Layoffs are forcing workers to choose between their safety and making ends meet on basic items like food and prescriptions.
The union is urging Congress to take four bold action steps to stand up for vulnerable construction workers:
- Provide immediate unemployment to laid off construction workers at 100% lost wages.
- Provide continued health coverage so no one goes uninsured in the crisis.
- Secure retirement plans affected by the crisis.
- Invest in American infrastructure to quickly put construction workers back to work.
The bills Congress is considering include provisions like student loan suspension and airline industry bailouts, but nothing to specifically address key needs of the millions of working families in construction who are finding themselves out of work and with uncertain futures.
“Not a single Congressional COVID-19 bill gives construction workers relief for the specific needs they have in the wake of this pandemic,” Rigmaiden said. “That’s why the IUPAT has proposed a Bold Action Platform for Working Families to demand Congress act now for these workers.”