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Washington Policy Center Is Endangering Frontline Workers and Communities of Color By Pushing to Re-open Businesses Before It’s Safe

Last week, the peer-reviewed science journal Nature issued a report showing that shutdowns and social distancing have prevented 60 million COVID-19 infections in this country. That hasn’t slowed down extremist right-wing groups like the Washington Policy Center (WPC), who have been banging their drum against Washington State’s Stay Home, Stay Healthy measure for months. With baseless arguments, WPC has been obsessively and dangerously pushing for a premature re-opening of the state.

The drive to send people back to work too soon not only endangers the workforce in general, it maliciously puts workers of color, who make up an outsized percentage of frontline staff, at greater risk.

Working families and communities of color have already borne a horrific burden from the coronavirus pandemic. The Associated Press reports that 42% of victims of the novel coronavirus are African-American. The AP also discovered that essential workers who have stayed on the frontlines during the pandemic are mostly women, people of color, and more likely to be immigrants. Nearly a quarter of Black Americans work in the service industry, and 16 percent work in transportation, production, or delivery.

Jocelyn Frye, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress described the grim reality for many frontline workers, “The reality is people who will continue to get COVID are low-wage workers, people of color, who feel they must go back to work and don’t have the flexibility to stay at home.”

The Washington Policy Center has entirely disregarded the safety of frontline workers and people of color with their continued focus on a pro-corporate, ‘get back to work now’ agenda. They’ve attacked Washington’s Stay Home, Stay Healthy regulations with every possible empty argument:

  • April 17: Mocking farmworkers for requesting safety guidelines at their workplace.
    Pam Lewison, WPC’s Director of Agriculture, attacked two farmworkers’ unions that were requesting support for safe distancing in the warehouses and fields where they work, as well as access to handwashing stations. Lewison accused the essential workers of being vain for thinking they were at greater risk of infection. She further downplayed their risk by cluelessly suggesting the workers were probably all friends anyway. Meanwhile, one fruit packing warehouse in Yakima has reported its 29th case of infection.
  • April 17: Marginalizing the danger of COVID-19 to one age group. Paul Guppy, Vice President for Research at the WPC, wrote an article suggesting that it’s really only senior citizens that need to worry about COVID-19. He proposed most everyone else should just go back to work because for younger age groups the virus is “much less deadly.” In reality, people 60 and older make up only 27% of total COVID infections in Washington, and 66% of those infected in our state are between 20 and 59 years old. While it’s true that older victims have a higher rate of death, Guppy neglected to discuss the horrible effects of the virus even for patients that survive, at any age.
  • May 4: Stoking economic fears to push for rapid re-opening. Director of WPC’s so-called Small Business Center, Mark Harmsworth, painted a mural of economic doom in Washington. Fear-mongering with phrases like “depleted at a record rate” and “massive drop,” he finished his warnings with a solution – that people need to return to work as soon as possible. He also thinks that workplace safety precautions should be handed over to employers and owners but apparently not epidemiologists or employees.
  • May 22: Discrediting the Department of Health’s efforts to monitor COVID-19. In an Op-Ed at the Wall Street Journal, WPC’s Todd Myers tried to invalidate the Department of Health’s work on the virus with calls of conspiracy. He accused Gov. Inslee of abandoning science entirely and using the pandemic as an opportunity for partisan gain. Myers later joined right-wing pundit Laura Ingraham on a segment entitled, “Left justifies power grab in the name of ‘science.’” While Myers plays collusion games with Ingraham, Washington has just seen its 24,354th case of infection.

It’s not a surprise that the Washington Policy Center is trumpeting a ‘get back to work now’ message, as many of their uber-rich donors also champion pro-corporate agendas. While workers stay home, away from the virus, they are not creating profit for their employers.

The WPC needs to look away from its pocketbook for a moment and start listening to the communities most severely impacted by the coronavirus. A recent survey of Black Americans found that 8 in 10 believe we “should hold off on reopening businesses until we can assure safety.” By ignoring these voices, and the mountain of evidence showing danger to working families and communities of color, the Washington Policy Center has shamed itself and further hobbled its ongoing struggle for credibility.

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