Houston Unions Demand Paid Leave, Job Protections As Coronavirus Impacts Workers

The majority of sectors are seeing layoffs and furloughs.

Chris Paul/Houston Public Media
Mayor Turner with UNITE HERE and Airport Workers United in October.


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A coalition of labor unions in the region have called on the city of Houston to pass local laws to protect workers from the fallout from the coronavirus outbreak.

That includes requiring employers to provide personal protective equipment for employees who interact with the public, and keep landlords from collecting rent from struggling tenants for two months, as well as a paid sick leave ordinance.

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which President Donald Trump signed into law last week, leaves out the vast majority of workers, said Hany Khalil, executive director of the Texas Gulf Coast AFL-CIO.

Houston is the largest city in America without paid sick leave.

"Corporations with more than 500 employees were exempt and small businesses with less than 50 employees could ask for a waiver," Khalil said. "So we feel that kind of coverage, there's a major gap, and that's why we're calling upon the City of Houston to implement its own paid sick leave requirement here."

A new survey by the Texas Gulf Coast AFL-CIO found two-thirds of unions representing workers from more than 20 different industries have experienced layoffs or unpaid leave.

It shows theater workers are hardest hit with close to all of the more-than-600 people in greater Houston laid off.

Fifty-five to 70% of members of the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades have been laid off, according to Jennifer Hernandez, director of service at the union's district council 88.

"Our trade show decorators, who do convention show set-ups, they're at 100% unemployment throughout the entire state," she said.

Among service workers who are members of Unite HERE Local 23, there have been 1,300 layoffs and furloughs, lead organizer Darnell Tingle said. That union represents hotel, restaurant, concessions, airport and gaming industry workers.

Workers in several industries report no layoffs, although many hourly workers have seen their hours reduced. That includes educators, government employees, transportation and health care workers, among others.

Some of those jobs may be saved by a proposed $2.2 trillion federal stimulus bill.

"Without that funding, we would have had and suffered close to 60% layoffs," said Victor Hernandez with the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers. "But it looks like, from what we're seeing, that the Congress and the actual bill will help us keep airline employees working."


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