Maine Labor Leaders, Doctors, and Public Health Experts Call on Congressional Delegation to Protect Frontline Workers During Pandemic

Environmental Health Strategy Center
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Leaders from Maine’s labor, medical, public health, and immigrant communities today sent a letter to the state’s congressional delegation calling for urgent federal action to protect all of Maine’s frontline workers providing essential services during the COVID-19 pandemic, including by increasing production and distribution of appropriate personal protective equipment, and to invest much more in public health to prevent future disease outbreaks.

“Workplace deaths due to COVID-19 can be prevented. Lives are at stake,” the letter notes. “In this pandemic, protecting worker health and safety also means public health protection for all.”

The letter signers urge Maine’s congressional delegation to implore the President to use every federal authority and resource to protect public health and safety, specifically calling for the federal government to adopt an emergency standard to require that all frontline workers be protected from airborne infectious disease, and for a significant increase in public health capacity at all levels of government to address COVID-19 and prevent future pandemics, in addition to addressing several other critical needs.

Read the full letter here.

“Across this state, frontline emergency workers like nurses, healthcare workers and first responders as well as grocery, construction, factory, home care and transportation employees and many others are lacking the necessary equipment to protect themselves from contracting COVID-19,” said Cynthia Phinney, president of the Maine AFL-CIO. “Our elected leaders need to do more to ensure that these workers are well compensated for risking their lives and have the necessary equipment to protect themselves, their families and the public from this potentially deadly virus. At the same, we know many families are experiencing tremendous economic pain and we call on our elected officials to strengthen safety net programs for all working people who have lost their incomes during this crisis.”

"Healthcare workers should not be getting sick and dying. We must protect all frontline workers who are putting their lives on the line to provide us essential services. That will protect public health for all,” said Mike Belliveau, executive director of the Environmental Health Strategy Center.

"There couldn't be a more critical time for immediate action from our government,” said Karen D’Andrea, executive director of Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR) Maine. “As health professionals and public health advocates, PSR Maine strongly urges the President to use his full power to move acutely needed supplies to all states and especially to those who are being impacted most severely. And to prepare for the coming needs of frontline support as well as bolstering our health care system."

“Sadly, one of the reasons we find ourselves in this tragic situation is that public health is poorly understood and poorly supported until a crisis comes along like this one. Now we see the gaps and deficiencies all too clearly, and some Maine people are paying with their very lives. But it is not too late to take fast action to save others, getting needed protections to all frontline workers and committing to adequate support for public health,” said Dr. Lani Graham, a family physician in Portland, Maine. “We must make our voices heard now by those who represent us at the federal level. As resourceful as we are, this kind of effort must be coordinated at the national level!”

“The shortage of healthcare workers across Maine and the nation must be addressed urgently. By addressing obstacles facing foreign-trained medical professionals in their efforts to obtain full medical licenses here in Maine, we can tackle those workforce challenges,” said Alain Nahimana, executive director of the Greater Portland Immigrant Welcome Center.

The letter was signed by Maine AFL-CIO, Environmental Health Strategy Center, Physicians for Social Responsibility Maine, Maine Labor Group on Health, Greater Portland Immigrant Welcome Center, and by several Maine doctors and nurses.

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Environmental Health Strategy Center works for a world where all people are healthy and thriving, with equal access to safe food and drinking water, and products that are toxic-free and climate-friendly.

The Maine AFL-CIO Is a state federation of over 160 local labor unions representing over 40,000 working men and women and retirees across the state.  We work to improve the lives and working conditions of our members and all workers in the state.  We are dedicated to represent the interests of working people at the state and local level. We mobilize our members and community partners to advocate for social and economic justice and we strive daily to vanquish oppression and make our communities better for all people—regardless of race, color, gender, religion, age, sexual orientation, or ethnic or national origin.

Physicians for Social Responsibility Maine is a statewide organization of health professionals and advocates with over 3,000 members concerned about health threats from toxic chemicals, climate change, and nuclear weapons.

Maine Labor Group on Health offers affordable workplace health and safety training and advocates for an informed empowered Maine workforce.

The Greater Portland Immigrant Welcome Center serves as a hub of collaboration that strengthens the immigrant community through language acquisition, economic integration and civic engagement.