Harris County Commissioners Court votes to create essential workers council

The Harris County Commissioners’ Court voted on Tuesday to create an essential worker advisory council to represent the needs and experiences of low-wage frontline workers in the county.

The motion to create a 13-person Harris County Essential Workers Council passed 3-2, according to party lines.

The Workers Defense Project, an advocacy group supporting the initiative, says it is the country’s first-ever essential worker council.

The vote to create a council of essential workers came nearly two years after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, which disproportionately threatened the health of frontline workers who were more likely to be exposed to the disease .

Core workers – including guards, airport staff, and construction and domestic workers – spoke out in favor of the council being created, many in Spanish.

“Unlike many people in this country, I didn’t have the luxury of being able to work from home,” Candido Batiz, a construction worker and member of the Workers’ Defense Project, said in Spanish.

Batiz explained that during the pandemic, he had to continue to show up in person for his construction work.

“I got sick with the disease (COVID-19) and passed it on to my wife,” Batiz said, “then when I got better my employer didn’t hire me for work and didn’t didn’t want to pay me for the days I worked.

Batiz said the new board will make him feel more protected as a worker in Harris County.

Mercedes Taylor, airport security officer and head of the Service Employees International Union, also spoke in favor of the creation of the board of directors.

“My responsibilities have only increased since the onset of COVID,” Taylor said. “It is important that those most affected during the pandemic have a place around the table to discuss worker safety concerns.”

According to the statutes of the organization, the workers’ council will be composed of 13 essential low-wage workers who are representative of different industries. As counsel, they will make recommendations to the Harris County Equity and Economic Opportunities Department and other departments and advise tribunal commissioners on how their programs and policies protect and serve workers’ rights. .

The council will represent janitors and domestic workers, as well as workers who work in home care, health care, child care, education, retail, pharmacies, construction, transportation. , hotels and restaurants, among others.

“The least we can do is support our workers,” said Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, a Democrat who voted for the Workers’ Council but acknowledged the county would face jurisdictional limitations .

District 3 commissioner Tom Ramsey, a Republican who voted against the new board, said there was no need to create another government council.

“We have to work with our businesses, work with our nonprofits, work with our churches, continue to see what they need to improve the working environment,” Ramsey said.

Seven workers’ rights groups advocated for the council’s creation, including Workers Defense Project, SEIU, Fe y Justicia Worker Center, National Domestic Workers Alliance, United for Respect, We Dream in Black and Jobs With Justice.

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