Groups call on Governor & Workforce WV to protect at-risk workers as WV reopens

CHARLESTON, WV (WOAY) – Today a broad spectrum of TWENTY legal, social justice, labor and faith groups released a letter sent to governor Justice, Commerce Secretary Gaunch, and Workforce WV asking them to use both their emergency and regular powers to protect workers from losing unemployment if they or family members are at risk due to COVID-19 and they decline to immediately return to work when their employers reopen.

“Workers shouldn’t have to choose between getting sick or bringing home the virus to expose at risk family and continuing to have the income needed to buy food and keep their housing intact,” asserted Gary Zuckett, Executive Director of WV Citizen Action, “The Justice administration has the power under current state laws and emergency rules to keep this from happening.”

The letter outlines several concerns and documents remedies that could be used to protect workers from having to immediately re-enter the workforce if they are at risk: (see full text of letter at end of release)

Confirm that individuals with health conditions that put them at risk for complications due to COVID-19 are entitled to unemployment benefits if they leave or turn down work that risks exposure.

Allow individuals who live with at-risk individuals to continue to collect unemployment if they turn down or leave work that risks exposure.

Publicly release the conditions being used by WorkForce WV to determine suitable work during the COVID-19 crisis.

Ensure that the Commissioner is engaged in individualized assessments of suitability, taking into account the individual’s health, safety, and morals.

Issue a statement declaring it a public policy of West Virginia for employers to provide employees with safe workplaces in accordance with OSHA/HHS guidelines.

Take proactive steps to educate employees and employers about unemployment options during this crisis.

“As our state begins to slowly reopen, we must maintain the protections for at-risk workers and their family members who are at a heightened risk for complications from COVID-19. Just as business owners have the choice to reopen or to remain closed due to safety considerations, individual workers should be able to make that same determination for themselves, particularly if they are at elevated risk due to age or underlying health conditions,” said Kelly Allen of the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy.

The letter (text below) was send to the governor and state officials and signed by the following groups:

American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia

American Friends Service Committee

Call to Action for Racial Equality

Disability Rights WV

Fair Shake Network

Mountain State Justice

Mark Federici, President, United Food and Commercial Workers, Local 400, International Vice President NAACP WV

NAACP Charleston

National Association of Social Workers West Virginia

Our Future West Virginia

Rise Up WV


West Virginia Center on Budget & Policy

West Virginia Citizen Action Group

West Virginians for Affordable Health Care

West Virginia Working Families Party

WV Developmental Disabilities Council



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