Sarah Riggs Amico: Investing in Working People Will Lead America Through Crisis
Tuesday, May 5th, 2020
We’ve seen the numbers.
More than 30 million workers have filed for unemployment.
Nearly 20 percent of the US workforce is jobless.
One in six Americans has lost their source of income.
Half a billion people around the world could be pushed into poverty.
All in the last six weeks.
There’s no doubt COVID-19 has shaken our economy. It’s nerve-wracking to watch experts debate whether we’re headed towards another Great Depression or Recession. Rebuilding our nation’s economy will require leadership and policies that will not only mitigate the crisis in the short-term, but prepare for long-term recovery — all while centering the health, safety and economic security of working families. It will call for business leaders to make sacrifices that put protecting working people first.
Prior to running for the U.S. Senate, I served as Executive Chair of my family’s trucking business, Jack Cooper, helping grow our company from 120 to 3,000 employees during the Great Recession. It wasn’t easy, but we invested in our people from the start. While other executives were cutting back on health care benefits, we chose to pay 100 percent of our employees’ health care premiums, including for their spouses and family. We also protected our unions, provided paid parental leave, for both men and women, and even built a daycare in our Kennesaw headquarters.
During the Great Recession, our family worked to rescue companies on the brink of collapse. Not many people thought we’d succeed, but we were driven by a belief that those companies — and jobs — were worth saving. It wasn’t easy work. Over the years, our business faced many challenges: the rise of non-union competitors, worldwide economic turmoil, the bankruptcies of two of our largest customers — General Motors and Chrysler, and the Trump Administration’s reckless trade wars.
By far the toughest crisis we have faced is America’s looming pension crisis. The multi-employer pension that secures the retirement for thousands of our employees and retirees is projected to collapse in 2024, which would have triggered a $2 billion liability and forced our company to close. We faced an impossible choice: do nothing — risking the jobs of thousands of employees, or build an unprecedented coalition with our unions, lenders and pension fund, to save the business, the jobs, and our employees’ retirement security. We chose the latter.
Saving the company and jobs required a painful restructuring of the business in a bankruptcy. Our family forfeited every penny we had invested in the company for 11 years to save all 3,000 jobs — and thousands of pensions — with no wage concessions or healthcare cuts. Thanks to that decision (and the willingness of our stakeholders to work with us to save the business), the company still provides fully-funded health insurance for thousands of employees and their families and paid parental leave. We’re still fiercely proud to be a union company.
The way business owners treat their employees during this pandemic will be remembered for years to come, and so will the way leaders in Washington treat our working families. But right now, we are chronically under-investing in our people and in the infrastructure that supports our economy. That includes our frontline and essential workers — the doctors, nurses, grocery store clerks, truck drivers, farmers, meatpackers — who are risking their lives every single day to make sure our people are safe and fed.
I know how important these roles are in normal times from learning about my mom’s work as a NICU nurse and my grandmother working the cash register at a grocery store, so I extend my gratitude to those whose work is keeping our society running.
The current economic crisis brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic is exacerbating the burdens of America’s working families — from dwindling access to affordable health insurance, to perpetually low minimum wage, to growing unemployment. I believe that no one should be sick because they’re poor, or poor because they’re sick. And it’s never been more important that Georgians elect a Senator who will go to bat for working people. That’s what I’ve done my entire career, and it’s exactly what I’ll do in the U.S. Senate.