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Labor unions call on Alaska congressional delegation to extend COVID-19 aid at protest

Union members from the hotel and food service industries gather at A Street near 10th Avenue to voice support for extending expanded unemployment benefits and federal assistance for health insurance premiums in response to the pandemic on July 28, 2020. (Marc Lester / ADN)

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Several labor union groups protested on a busy Anchorage street corner on Tuesday, urging Alaska’s congressional delegation to reject a new $1 trillion COVID-19 relief package known as the HEALS Act. Senate Republicans unveiled the HEALS Act, short for Heath, Economic Assistance, Liability Protection and Schools, on Monday.

At the protest, attended by about 20 people, union leaders said that Alaska’s all-Republican delegation — Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Sen. Dan Sullivan and Rep. Don Young — should instead support the $3 trillion HEROES Act passed by House Democrats in May.

“Be a hero, not a zero,” the protesters shouted in unison, after Vince Beltrami, president of the Alaska AFL-CIO, laid out the group’s concerns.

The Republicans’ legislation would extend some pandemic benefits, including launching another round of the one-time $1,200 stimulus payment. But union leaders said unlike the Democrats’ version, the Republican measure would cut the pandemic federal boost for unemployment from $600 to $200 while providing no money for state and local governments, the U.S. Postal Service or for those who lose employer-sponsored health insurance.

The local chapter of Unite Here!, representing Alaska hospitality workers, helped organize the rally. Unions represented included the Alaska State Employees Association, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, the National Association of Letter Carriers and others.

Murkowski is “encouraging her colleagues to come to the table to put together a bipartisan bill that addresses some of the unique challenges in Alaska and helps respond to the crisis,” her office said on Tuesday.

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