AFL-CIO criticizes makeup of governor’s Economic Recovery Group

By , Daily Memphian Updated: April 17, 2020 2:47 PM CT | Published: April 17, 2020 2:47 PM CT

A Tennessee labor leader is questioning Gov. Bill Lee’s Economic Recovery Group, contending it leaves out an important part of the state’s workers.

Meanwhile, a push is on for Congress to approve tens of billions more to help small businesses survive the COVID-19 crisis.

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“Gov. Lee’s idea of an Economic Recovery Group is not only incomplete but also an inaccurate snapshot of Tennessee’s economy,” AFL-CIO President Billy Dycus said in a statement. “The fact there is not a single labor or employee representative listed speaks volumes about his true priorities.”

The governor announced the makeup of the group Thursday, including seven of his cabinet members, the Republican House and Senate leaders, a member of his COVID-19 Unified Command, administration members, two county mayors who lead county and municipal groups and several lobbyists from the state’s business sector. Beverly Robertson, president and CEO of the Memphis Chamber of Commerce, is on the committee as well.

<strong>Bill Lee</strong>

Bill Lee

“Gov. Lee is clearly more concerned with ensuring that his business associates and friends make the important decisions and get back on their feet first, rather than our state’s working families,” Dycus said in the statement. “It is both critical and frankly non-negotiable that labor have a seat at the table during these conversations. Until that happens, it is impossible for our state’s economy to begin to fully work for all Tennesseans.”

Lee named the 30-member group this week after announcing the state plans to start reopening the economy in phases when a “safer at home” concludes April 30.

A Kroger distribution facility in Memphis shut down in late March after an employee there was infected with COVID-19. Likewise, the Carrier plant in Collierville stopped operations for a short period in late March after a worker tested positive, according to Dycus.

Across the state, Nissan and Chattanooga furloughed workers for about a month. Bridgestone Americas reopened U.S. plants, including those in Dyersburg, La Vergne and Morrison, according to the Tennessee Journal.

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Asked about the matter during his Thursday press briefing, Lee said: “The Economic Recovery Group is made up in vast part by industry folks who are employing tens of thousands of workers. … Restaurant owners who employ thousands of restaurant workers, their restaurant association who represents those employers and those industries and workers, that’s how we put together that team.”

The union leader, though, said workers across the state are feeling the impact. He said he has been getting notices on up to 10 layoffs a day, and as a member of the state’s Unemployment Compensation Advisory Council was told the state had paid $94 million in unemployment claims this period. The unemployment insurance fund had about $2.2 billion before the crisis hit.

Aside from seeking input for labor, Dycus said a bigger push needs to be made for Congress to approve more funds for the Small Business Administration and the national Paycheck Protection Program. It allows loans of up to $10 million to businesses with fewer than 50 employees and forgives the loans if 75% of the money goes toward wages.

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Jim Brown, executive director of the National Federation of Independent Business in Tennessee and a member of the Economic Recovery Board, agreed the federal SBA loan rollout has been “challenging and frustrating to say the least.”

As of April 9, only 4% of his members who applied for loans had been approved and only one NFIB member he knew of had received a $10,000 emergency grant.

Likewise, “flow” in the Paycheck Protection Program needs to improve, he said, or the number of business closings is “going to be significant.”

Congress needs to approve another $50 billion because self-employed people and independent contractors just started applying last Friday, April 10, according to Brown.

“They’re going to need that to survive,” he added.

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In its survey, about half of the NFIB’s members said they can’t survive any longer than two months under the current conditions, and even before the COVID-19 crisis, 20% of the members were running into cash-flow problems, Brown said.

“It was almost like a paycheck-to-paycheck situation for some of these businesses,” he said.

The pandemic has pushed them to a new level, and even some businesses that were doing well are suffering in this climate, Brown said.

Dycus pointed out, conversely, that the COVID-19 emergency has shown Americans the importance of people such as garbage haulers, grocers and milk delivery workers.

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And even though he’s not a big supporter of Walmart, a non-union company, Dycus said workers there need to be given credit for “sticking their neck out” and risking infection.

“I don’t care if you’re in a union or not, you’re still labor, and we’re all in this together. And it’s working people, and working people are my biggest concern,” Dycus said.

The governor’s Economic Recovery Group is made up of:

  • Sammie Arnold, Chief of Staff
  • House Majority Leader William Lamberth, R-Portland
  • Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson, R-Franklin
  • Brandon Gibson, Senior Advisor to Governor Lee
  • Bob Rolfe, Department of Economic and Community Development
  • Greg Gonzales, Department of Financial Institutions
  • David Gerregano, Department of Revenue
  • Dr. Charles Hatcher, Department of Agriculture
  • Dr. Jeff McCord, Department of Labor and Workforce Development
  • Hodgen Mainda, Department of Commerce and Insurance
  • Tony Niknejad, Governor’s Office
  • Brig. Gen. Scott Brower, COVID-19 Unified Command
  • Dr. Morgan McDonald, TN Department of Health, Deputy Commissioner
  • Butch Eley, Department of Finance & Administration
  • Jim Brown, National Federation of Independent Business 
  • Bradley Jackson, TN Chamber of Commerce
  • Beverly Robertson, President & CEO of the Memphis Chamber of Commerce
  • Rob Ikard, TN Grocers & Convenience Store Association
  • Rob Mortensen, TN Hospitality & Tourism Association
  • Colin Barrett, TN Bankers Association
  • Fred Robinson, TN Credit Union League
  • Dave Huneryager, TN Trucking Association
  • Will Cromer, TN Hospital Association
  • Mayor Kevin Davis, President of TN County Services Association
  • Mayor Jill Holland, President of TN Municipal League
  • Jeff Aiken, TN Farm Bureau
  • Tari Hughes, Center for Non-Profit Management
  • Roland Myers, TN Retail Association
  • Clay Crownover, President and CEO of Associated Builders & Contractors of Tennessee

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Billy Dycus Bill Lee Jim Brown AFL-CIO National Federation of Independent Business
Sam Stockard

Sam Stockard

Sam Stockard is a Nashville-based reporter with more than 30 years of journalism experience as a writer, editor and columnist covering the state Legislature and Tennessee politics for The Daily Memphian.


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