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Michigan lawmakers are frustrated with extended stay-at-home order, think the economy is more important than people dying from COVID-19

April 13, 2020

On Friday, MLive ran a headline that read, With Michigan’s coronavirus stay-at-home order extended, frustration builds over what’s been deemed non-essential.

As is often the case, this headline is a bit misleading, especially since it does not identify who are the ones that are frustrated about the extended stay-at-home order. Of course, many people are frustrated and for a whole range of reasons. However, this article only cites state officials, both elected and appointed, and one business spokesperson.

Governor Whitmer is cited, defending the extended stay-at-home order, along with Chief Medical Executive Dr. Joneigh Khaldun. The primary people cited who are expressing concern and opposition to the extended stay-at-home order are House Speaker Lee Chatfield and Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, both Republicans. Their complaints both have to do with how the extended stay-at-home order will hurt businesses. Rep. Chatfield said the extended stay-at-home order, “puts fear ahead of public safetyand  Sen. Shirkey said, it will unnecessarily hurt regions of our state and sectors of our economy that can operate, safely.

Senator Shirkey, also said in a statement he released on April 9

We believe business owners will act responsibly and take care within their establishments to clean and disinfect their equipment, protect their workers and customers, and meet strict health and safety standards. We believe parents will protect their children, clergy will make worship services safe for their congregants, and neighbors will look out for their communities.

Ok, so I get the point that in the regions of the state that are not having many COVID-19 cases, there are businesses that want to open back up. However, I really think that the extended stay-at-home order is in the best interest of all of us. First, we still do not know how many people will be affected and how many will die all across the state, since we have not yet flattened the curve. What will happen if those communities that currently do not have high numbers of COVID-19 cases, all of a sudden see an increase? The stay-at-home order is in place to protect the greater good, until everyone is safe from pandemic.

Second, when Sen. Shirkey says that that businesses will be responsible when protecting their workers, we should all be highly skeptical. The Occupation Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has been weakened in recent decades, meaning there is limited accountability with health and safety standards for businesses. Third, we do not have nearly enough testing, which means that people who are positive for the coronavirus might not even know they are infected.

Fourth, Chatfield and Shirkey, both have a history of relying heavily on campaign funding from corporations, the Chamber of Commerce and members of the business class, like the DeVos family John Kennedy.

Fifth, when looking at all of the pronouncements from Senator Shirkey and Rep. Chatfield, since the beginning of March, there is not one statement from either of them that expresses “frustration” or rage and sadness of any kind of emotion having to do with the number of deaths that have happened in Michigan from COVID-19. There is not even an acknowledgement that a disproportionately high number of African Americans are dying from COVID-19, especially on the east side of state.

Neither of these two Republicans have bothered to make any public denouncements of the anti-Asian racism that has increased due to the current pandemic and neither of these two lawmakers have made public pronouncements thanking the front line workers – health care workers, migrant farm workers and those in the food service industry. I could not find anywhere on these two politician’s websites and indication that they have nothing but the greatest of admiration for “essential workers” during this pandemic or any kind of workers. Not surprising, both Shirkey and Chatfield DO NOT support organized labor nor the right of workers to organize for workplace democracy.

Within a system of capitalism, the profit motive is always more important than the well being of workers. Senator Shirkey and Rep. Chatfield are just defending capitalism when they express their frustration over the extended stay-at-home order. And like most politicians, regardless of which party they belong to, defending the system of capitalism is a priority.

This week marks the anniversary of the 1911 Grand Rapids Furniture Workers Strike. In an upcoming post, we’ll look at ways in which organized labor can be re-imagined in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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