Justice Must Be at the Heart of How We Build Back Better

By Michael Brune, Mary Kay Henry and Maurice Mitchell

Now more than 100 days into Joe Biden’s presidency, working families are continuing to tell our elected officials exactly how we want to build our country back better. We want lawmakers to take bold, decisive action that leads to an inclusive, resilient country where every family can thrive no matter what color we are, where we’re from, or what we do for a living.

That’s why we’re calling on Congress to pass the THRIVE (Transform, Heal, and Renew by Investing in a Vibrant Economy) Act introduced on April 29 by Rep. Debbie Dingell (MI-12), Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), and others.

We represent a union, a political party, and an environmental organization, and we’re united in our desire to live in a nation that is working to heal the underlying conditions that have made the pandemic disproportionately devastating for working people and people of color — conditions that factor into nearly every challenge our society faces. The THRIVE Act is a road map for getting to the society we need — one where healthy communities are centered on racial, economic, gender, and environmental justice.

We must reorient our economy toward care for our shared home and one another. Everyone — Black, Brown, API white, Native and newcomer — should be able to earn a good living and have a good life, no exceptions. With over 500,000 Americans dead from COVID-19, with fires and storms getting worse every year, and with an unabating crisis of racial injustice, we have no time for half-measures. The THRIVE Act presents a once-in-a-generation chance for Congress to pass a transformational economic recovery package that advances gender, environmental, Indigenous,economic and racial justice.

The virulent systemic racism in the U.S. results in disproportionate rates of premature death among people of color, even in “normal” times. The coronavirus pandemic has laid bare and exacerbated this fundamental truth. Communities of color, which continue to face discrimination and disinvestment, lack equal access to health care and are disproportionately exposed to air pollution that weakens the lungs’ ability to fight a respiratory virus like COVID-19. Workers of color are also less likely than white workers to have the kind of job that enables them to work from the safety of their homes. The impact has been devastating: 62 out of every 10,000 Black Americans and 73 out of every 10,000 Hispanic Americans have contracted the virus, compared with just 23 out of every 10,000 white Americans.

Communities of color entered the pandemic with lower wealth and higher rates of unemployment than white people, and have borne the brunt of job losses since. To repair the harm and end up in a better place than where we started, we need jobs that put millions of people to work caring for their neighbors, communities, and the environment. According to a recent analysis from economists at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, an economic renewal plan that invests in green jobs and care jobs, like the investments of $1 trillion per year proposed in THRIVE, would create over 15 million family-sustaining jobs — enough for every person currently looking for work.

We can build a bright future for all by ensuring that these are good union jobs that pay at least $15 an hour. Throughout the pandemic, we have seen that working people who are members of unions are more likely to have access to personal protective equipment and paid sick time. Giving every worker who wants it the benefit of having a seat at the table through a union would help prevent working people from being disproportionately harmed by future crises.

We also must address the legacy of centuries of racism and discrimination. Every community must have the resources to be resilient to future calamities such as public health threats and climate disasters. The THRIVE Act will direct substantial investment to all communities — but with a specific focus on Black, Brown, and Indigenous populations — to fund things we all need: schools, hospitals, high-quality health care, healthy food, economic ownership opportunities, and access to clean air and water.

Reorienting our economy around climate and care jobs would begin the process of repairing the damage extractive corporations have inflicted. To prevent the worst impacts of climate change, we must value and invest in taking care of our shared home. The THRIVE Act will put people to work protecting and restoring our wetlands and forests, building clean energy on an unprecedented scale, and investing in climate-resilient infrastructure that will protect our homes, schools, and communities during the fierce storms of the future.

Such a bold plan for economic renewal may seem out of reach in our bitterly divisive political landscape. But throughout this pandemic,recent storms, fires and uprisings against anti-Black racism, we saw people coming together to care for each other like never before. Now it’s time for Congress and the Biden Administration to follow their lead by passing the THRIVE Act and build an economy that offers a good life for all.

Michael Brune is Executive Director of the Sierra Club. Mary Kay Henry is the International President of the Service Employees International Union. Maurice Mitchell is the National Director of the Working Families Party.

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