Montanans Deserve Better After COVID-19
April 1, 2020
Life is changing before our eyes. With COVID-19's rapid spread, we've witnessed first-hand institutions we once took for granted being put to the test in ways we couldn't have imagined just months ago.
As a nurse with advanced training as a Master of Public Health as well as being an attorney, I know one of the many important steps we need to take during this time is social distancing to allow health care workers to stay on top of this virus. The more we do right now, the sooner life can get back to normal. While key to slowing the spread of the disease, this practice has caused millions across the country to lose their jobs - including approximately 17,000 Montanans filing for unemployment.
The federal government passed a relief package to provide some benefits to workers being impacted. However, it shouldn't take a crisis for us to realize we're not doing enough to support America's workers. Even in good economic times, nearly half the U.S. lives without a savings account and are one paycheck away from financial ruin.
Although I applaud the actions of many in Washington to help those in need right now, we need to make permanent changes that protect working Montanans. We have average salaries thousands of dollars behind what the average salary is in the nation. According to the Equal Pay Task Force, women in Montana are paid only 73 percent of what men earn; for every $1 a man earns, a woman earns $.73 for equal work. Equal work but not equal pay. This hits families especially hard - hurting the ability to buy a home, pay for child care, and save for retirement. Inadequate affordable and safe child care is available for working families to care for their youngest while parents work. Too many Montanans live paycheck to paycheck and are struggling to provide for their families. They have inadequate savings and little or no paid family medical leave.
We need a comprehensive improvement of our work environment. Although we want to get back to normal, this is our time to decide what parts we want back and what we are going to demand be changed. As your Attorney General, I'll support reforms for:
Equal pay for equal work
Paid family medical leave
Adequate child care
Affordable and comprehensive health care
Living wages that allow people to save so they have resources in times of crisis
Fair taxation where everyone pays their fair share
Strong worker protections to stop unsafe and unfair work conditions, harassment, and discrimination
I grew up in a union household in Frenchtown, Mont. These are issues close to me and my family. I know how hard families work to just put food on the table. As the first working mom to give birth during the Montana legislative session, I was able to shed light on some of the difficulty families face trying to balance work and family life. Working with Montana lawmakers from across the state, rural and urban, over the past eight years we've improved working Montanans' lives, reforming the law to provide such things as access to healthcare, workers' compensation for presumptive diseases of firefighters, increased apprenticeships and worker training programs, and strengthened wage and unemployment laws.
But more needs to be done. Study after study shows that the stronger our economic safety net is, the stronger our economy will be. The more financial security one has, the more they can participate in the economy, and the faster it will grow. Not only is an anti-worker agenda heartless, it doesn't make sense - financial or otherwise.
The millions working paycheck to paycheck don't need a pandemic to be told our laws don't favor workers over big corporations. They feel it every day - and we're seeing right now how not putting workers first has left hardworking families struggling.
Montana is best when we come together and put differences aside to focus on strengthening our communities. Moving forward, the changes to protect those most affected by this pandemic shouldn't be one-time fixes - they should be institutionalized reforms. As your Attorney General, I will work every day to make that a reality.
Dudik is a Democratic Attorney General candidate and current state legislator.