Local essential workers will now be given a voice to improve working conditions during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic after the Harris County Essential Workers Board was established during the Harris County Commissioners Court session Nov. 30.
The HCEWB is the first of its kind in the U.S., Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis said Nov. 30, and it will be made up of frontline workers and local advocates. The board will meet and discuss safety improvements to be made for essential workers during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, and their suggestions can be passed onto the commissioners court.
“Sometimes it's necessary, particularly on an issue as important as this one, to make sure somebody is focused on that [issue],” Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said. “And so who better? Just as we have a flood resilience task force, we should have other workers at the table help—with support from the county—figure out what can be done to make sure we're doing all we can.”
Several members of the public spoke in favor of the board’s creation before commissioners voted at the meeting. Among the speakers was Claudia Sosa, a Precinct 3 resident and essential worker.
“Myself and many other workers need better opportunities for health and work security,'' Sosa said via a translator. “It's hard to work without fear when we see a coworker is getting sick. ... We request protection and safety. The board of workers can fight for this and much more.”
The HCEWB was established in a 3-2 vote, with commissioners Jack Cagle and Tom Ramsey opposing. However, both commissioners stressed they support essential workers.
“I don't think we need another government board,” Ramsey said. “I don't think that's the answer. I think we need to work with our businesses, work with our nonprofits, work with our churches [and] continue to see ... what they need to better the environment for the workers.”
When the HCEWB will next meet was not discussed during the commissioners court meeting.