Community organizers and union leaders staged a demonstration on Tuesday outside Senator Thom Tillis’ Charlotte office as part of a nationwide effort to shame lawmakers for dragging their feet on the most recent COVID-19 relief package, telling senators around the United States, “Mitch better have my money.”
Representatives from Action NC, Unite Here, and the AFL-CIO held banners and signs calling on Tillis to back policies that would help working people throughout the state survive amid the coronavirus pandemic. During the action, the group passed out groceries and Harris Teeter gift cards to those in need in front of Tillis’ north Charlotte offices.
Organizers planned the protests in response to Senate Republicans, led by Senate Leader Mitch McConnell, proposing to cut the $600 a week in expanded federal unemployment that expired at the end of last month to $200 weekly through September. The GOP plan also calls on states to create a system after that time to ensure the federal subsidy doesn’t exceed 70% of an individual’s previous salary, including a $500 a week cap.
President Donald Trump recently signed an executive order extending additional unemployment benefits of $400 a week, doing an end-run around Congress, bringing questions of constitutional authority as well as feasibility. The plan would require states to provide $100 a week out of that $400, and would require the creation of a new system to handle the payments. Some, like New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, say the task is “impossible,” as states are also struggling to come up with COVID-19 relief money due to decreased tax revenue during the pandemic.
Participants at Tuesday’s action called for Republicans to adopt the Democrats’ HEROES Act, which would maintain the $600 weekly federal unemployment assistance through the end of January 2021.
“It is unconscionable that the Senate has gone home without acting on a new package to extend unemployment when the federal benefits have expired and a lot of people are desperate and having to make choices between, do they buy medicine, do they pay for their rent; do they get kicked out, or do they buy food?” said Aiden Graham, campaigns manager and field director for the North Carolina State AFL-CIO.
Graham, who estimated the group provided groceries and gift cards to around 30 people on Tuesday, said they have so far not heard from Tillis or his people. He said the group held an action a week ago in which folks knocked on his office door to call for COVID-19 relief and were left standing outside despite employees being inside.
“We want Medicaid continued, we want non-eviction continued, and we just want The HEROES Act passed, and for people not to be starving,” said Unite Here Local 23 shop steward William Voltz. Unite Here represents employees at the Charlotte-Douglas International Airport, and Voltz said the layoffs have impacted the union’s own operations, with staff being laid-off due to a shrinking of union dues coming into the organization.
Voltz pointed out that, pre-pandemic, 1,250 Unite Here members worked at the airport, but now only 440 are still employed. “So we’re about a third [of where we were], and we’re still fighting the struggle to keep people gainfully employed,” he said. “We are still able to do things like this with the little bit of dues that are coming in.”
Britney Andrews, an unemployed shop steward, added, “[Politicians] have never had to walk a mile in our shoes, so therefore they don’t understand our struggle. It’s mind blowing how they’re so selfish.”
“There will continue to be actions until he does the right thing,” she continued. “We’re going to keep the pressure up until the job gets done.”