by Doris Jones
On May 1, just two months after the first COVID-19 case was confirmed in Indiana, Governor Eric Holcomb announced “Back on Track,” a five-phase plan to reopen businesses, government offices, and religious institutions by July 4. Citing “data-driven” decisions, Holcomb explained that they will use guiding principles including a 14-day decrease in the number of hospitalized patients, the capacity of ICU beds and ventilators, the ability to test all Hoosiers showing symptoms, and the ability to conduct contact tracing to determine the speed at which restrictions are lifted in each county.
But why are state leaders so motivated to get the economy back on track? Are they concerned about the safety of workers, or the safety of profits?
Indiana’s April revenue report showed individual income tax collections were nearly $669 million and revenue was $1 billion lower than predicted. Income taxes are 40% of the state’s budget, the second largest revenue stream. Sales taxes, which account for 50% of taxes collected, were $103.3 million below projections. Overall, tax revenue was 44% lower than expected — that equates to a loss of $964 million in revenue for the state.
State politicians will use this as a threat for cuts to public spending and to force workers back to work. Yet the state will direct any tax revenue they get to the rich landlords and developers, not the people. Last year, the state gave almost $400 million taxpayer dollars for the development of two sports stadiums, explicitly funneling the money away from public schools!
In addition, the U.S. Department of Labor reports that Indiana has received roughly 612,000 unemployment claims since March 15, part of the 33 million Americans who have lost their jobs. Despite trillions of dollars being promised to corporations and small businesses, companies eliminated 20.5 million jobs in April, bringing the official unemployment rate to 14.7% which is the highest level since the Great Depression.
Employers were compelled by the federal government to offer essential workers benefits such as hazard pay, paid sick days, and paid family leave. These temporary, small concessions were not implemented because these companies value workers — they help respond to growing demands by workers while ensuring that businesses remain or salvage profitability.
For example, Honda plants in the U.S. and Canada resumed operations on May 11. Employees at Honda Manufacturing of Indiana, located in Greensburg, were among the nearly 17,000 workers furloughed from their jobs since Honda ceased operations on March 23. The company states that safety measures will be in place when employees return and production start-up will be staggered. However, the virus in Decatur County, where Greensburg is located, continues to spread, with 210 cases with 78 deaths have been reported at the time this article was published.
The Tyson Foods meatpacking plant in Logansport, the county seat of Cass County, closed its doors on April 25 due to a high number of COVID-19 infections. Employees alerted the Pharos-Tribune that they were told eligible workers to return to work May 7 in order to receive guaranteed pay and an additional $30 daily show-up bonus. Logansport Memorial Hospital confirms that 1,000 of the 1,469 cases in the county can be traced to the plant. Because of the corporation’s carelessness for workers and motivation for profits, workers were infected on the job and are now being forced to get back on the line in order to provide for their families.
The primary concern for businesses like Honda and Tyson is their bottom line, not the health and safety of workers. Union demands and International Workers’ Day strikes are the tip of the iceberg of a new struggle. As companies continue to sacrifice workers for their profits, workers must stand in unity to protect themselves from greedy employers that mistreat and undervalue them.
We need a plan to get Indiana’s poor and working class back on track! Such a plan would entail free and on demand testing and comprehensive health care, the continued cessation of work until threat of COVID-19 is mitigated, and guaranteed living wage for everyone who is unemployed.